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Archive for the ‘Activity Idea’ Category

In honor of #ThrowBackThursday, we’re sharing one of the more popular videos from our Teaching Shakespeare series.

Sue Biondo-Hench, a curriculum specialist (and alumna) of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute and an English teacher at Carlisle High School for more than 29 years, often starts off a new Shakespeare unit by having students explore character and motive using a key passage of text—sometimes just a single line.

 


“What makes Interpreting Character such a successful exercise,” says Biondo-Hench, “is its multiple points of focus. Students explore a play-specific character, engage in performance-based methods for interpreting the text, and learn how Shakespeare’s language allows for multiple meanings”.

Interpreting Character uses scenes from Henry IV, Part 1  and centers on Prince Hal, but the exercise works equally well for any Shakespeare play—or any other play!

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By Josh Cabat

It happens every time I give a presentation on performance-based teaching or on using student-created projects to assess understanding of Shakespeare. After the session, two or three people come over to me privately and ask the same question. These sound like wonderful activities, they say, but how do we assess students’ performance on them?

The answer I want to give, naturally, is that these activities transcend anything that could be marked on a scale of 0-100 or A to F. In the real world, however, where classroom time is so precious and students (and parents) are often grade-conscious to a fault, dodging the question or rising loftily above it is not acceptable.


#NCTE14: Join us for a workshop on Shakespeare and the (Common Core) Assessments this Friday, November 21, at 4pm. It’s one of five Friday sessons we’re leading on teaching Shakespeare.


One simple answer, of course, is the use of rubrics. In the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free series, there are several excellent examples of these assessment tools. Some relate to smaller activities along the way. For example, in her unit on Romeo and Juliet in SSF, Sue Biondo-Hench includes a grading guide for her Shakespearean Snapshots exercise for Act 3, scene 1. Another example in SSF that anticipated the CCSS is an exercise where students are responsible for learning vocabulary based on context. This might lead to short traditional vocabulary quizzes, or using apps like SurveyMonkey and Quizzam to assess comprehension in digital classrooms.

Most of the rubrics in SSF, not surprisingly, relate to culminating student performances. Among the categories that are included in these assessment tools are understanding of plot, character and language, use of blocking and costumes and some wiggle room for “something extra.” This is an excellent place to start, but there are many variations on this basic theme.

One such possibility, which dovetails with elements of the CCSS very nicely, is to create an original performance rubric along with the students in the class. Start by asking them what the elements of a well-performed scene are; chances are they will come up with a list exactly like the one above. Then, within each category, discuss what high, medium and low results might look like for that element, and you’re ready to go.

In my experience, student-created rubrics work because they afford students a sense of agency in their own assessment, and because expectations are clearly laid out from the beginning of the assignment.  The use of rubrics, of course, extends to student-created projects like videos, trailers, digital storytelling, soundtracks with liner notes, graphic novels and the many other such projects that have been detailed elsewhere in these pages. One thing about assessment is clear: it is self-defeating for a teacher to give performance-based or creative assignments without clearly laying out the expectations for that project as early as possible and in the context of a rubric.

As useful as rubrics are, they may not alone suffice. An additional form of assessment that is essential to the success of activities mentioned above is having students write about process. For my students, every scene they put on and every creative project they hand in must be accompanied by a brief (4-5 paragraph) essay describing their process and tracing the progression of learning that happened throughout. This kind of writing, which should itself be assessed with a rubric, is critical for several reasons. First and foremost, it gets students thinking in a metacognitive way about themselves as learners, an awareness that will prove extremely valuable down the road. And considering that the CCSS puts progress above pure achievement as an aim, the student piece will enable both teacher and student to get at least an anecdotal account of that progress.

The next step in assessment employs variations on a more traditional exam. In New York, we are gearing up for the implementation of the new CCSS-based Regents test. This exam reflects the trend towards making upper-level exams similar in form to the AP Language and Composition exam; it features text-based multiple choice, a synthesis essay and a rhetorical analysis essay.

Now imagine creating an exam such as this to give to students at the end of a unit where the central text is a Shakespeare play; let’s say that play is Romeo and Juliet. Your multiple choice questions could be based on excerpts from the play that you have paid particular attention to in class. These questions, as with most assessments based on the CCSS, would be focused on inference, authorial purpose and rhetoric/structure; the excerpts themselves would be included on the exam, since this is an assessment of skills and not of memorization. For the synthesis essay, you might put together a series of four or five non-fiction articles that reflect how, as in the case of a joint Israeli-Palestinian production from a few years ago, the play has been used in performance to explore the power of love to transcend cultural and ethnic differences. Finally, you might use an excerpt from a critical piece on the play as the foundation for the rhetorical analysis essay. Since the essence of approaching any text via rhetoric is, “What is the argument of the piece, and how is language used to promote that argument?” the students’ strong knowledge of the play will help them understand the critical piece and argue either for or against it in essay form.

In employing these creative approaches to teaching Shakespeare, we might agree with Lear when questioned by doubting administrators and say, “O, reason not the need!” In the age of data, accountability and the CCSS, we as teachers must justify and quantify. The good news is that we can still push the boundaries of Shakespeare in the classroom using performance and student-created projects while also being able to walk away with useful data that measures achievement and progress.

Josh Cabat is currently serving as Chair of English for the Roslyn (NY) Public Schools. For the preceding decade, he taught English and Film Studies at Roslyn High School in Roslyn New York. Previously, he taught in the New York City public high schools for more than a decade. He was the co-founder of the New York City Student Shakespeare Festival. He has published many articles on Shakespeare and Film in publications such as the English Journal. He earned an MA from the University of Chicago and a BA from Columbia University.  

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By Sara Lehn

Teachers have long taken advantage of students’ love of music as a tool for the classroom, writing catchy tunes to act as mnemonic devices, playing educational songs and music videos, and so on.  Watch students in the hallway or cafeteria and you will inevitably find them with headphones blaring, blocking out the world.

As a singer, music speaks to me because of how it reflects the raw emotion of the human soul, and had you asked me at the age of seventeen what song best defined who I was, I could have answered quickly and without hesitation with a choice that clearly illustrated my mindset at the time.

I find that many of my students have an equally personal connection to their music. As a result, I have started to consider the ways that music can be used in the classroom as a tool to reflect the most human part of literature: the characters.

I ask students a simple question: what song represents this character the way your “anthem” represents you?  There is no wrong answer to this question, but a thoughtful response requires careful character study and exploration of textual evidence.  Students need to consider questions such as:

  • What does this character want?
  • What matters most to this character?
  • What emotions does this character most prominently feel?
  • What are the most significant personality traits that the character exhibits?

These questions can instigate a thoughtful and deep exploration of characterization within the text.  Students may also decide that more than one song choice is necessary, as characters frequently change and develop from one moment to the next. (more…)

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“Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”: The Weird Sisters (Andrew Zox, Cleo House, Jr., and Eric Hissom) in Macbeth at Folger Theatre (2008). Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Chris Lavold

If you are a fan of Folger Education, you are well aware of the focus on performance-based teaching and how getting kids up on their feet is an effective way to understand and appreciate Shakespeare’s plays.

I have found that an excellent complement to this is to view film clips of performances to generate intelligent class discussions. Some of the most interesting and insightful days of my ninth grade Macbeth unit were the days we watched multiple interpretations of the same scene. This also fits the Common Core Standard RL.7  perfectly:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production…), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.

The clips I mostly use are from the Folger 2008 production and the Polanski 1971 film. For certain scenes I might use the 2006 Australian version, the 2010 BBC version starring Patrick Stewart, or the 1948 Orson Welles film.

On  video analysis days, my class uses Michael LoMonico’s video expert sheet. I break the students up into four or five groups. Each group has five individual jobs, and each student in the group will do their task while watching the film clips.

  • The screenwriters follow the text and write notes about which lines were omitted or rearranged.
  • The cinematographers watch the camera angles and lighting. They ask questions such as  “Is the lighting trying to portray a theme?  Does a low camera angle tell the viewer someone is in an authoritative position?”
  • The sound editors are not allowed to watch the clip. They must have their backs to the screen and write down sounds they hear. Examples would be natural background sounds like a dog barking or the wind blowing. They also observe what the music tells us about what may be taking place on the screen.
  • The set and costume designers pay attention to the location, costumes, and props. This is always fun to talk about during the opening witch scene in Macbeth or the banquet scene where Banquo’s ghost appears.
  • The last group are the actors who concentrate on an actor’s performance paying close attention to accents, tone, subtext, and emphasis on certain words or lines.

(more…)

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By Deborah Gascon

Have you ever seen any silent films of Shakespeare’s plays?

During the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, I sat for hours in the belly of the Folger Shakespeare Library watching black-and-white silent films of Othello and Romeo and Juliet—and it was the best day ever.

I was fascinated—how does a play with such essential language become silent? I realized while sitting in that basement that this would be an effective and quick tool to teach emotion, facial expressions, and pantomiming in acting (which all lead to understanding tone!).

When you watch a silent film, the most important words and emotions pop up on the screen, which makes it an effective way to help students engage in close reading and narrow the text for the main idea (which leads to understanding theme!).

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By Deborah Gascon

It’s September and the weather is cooling down, but your students’ love for Shakespeare is warming up, right? Okay, maybe not love like, “will you go to the homecoming dance with me?” love, but maybe a lukewarm shyness sort of love? Your students aren’t ready to dance with Shakespeare, but definitely have been making eye contact and passing notes in class (or sending iMessages for you techie-teachers?).

My new batch of students haven’t experienced too much Shakespeare yet, but I have been dotting my daily lessons with a little bit of Shakespeare and performance-based instruction. By prom, they’ll all be asking their new love Super-Shakes to be their date.

Let me tell you about a quick and easy way to include the Folger’s approach to performance-based learning in our daily classroom lives. (more…)

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Guest post by Deborah Gascon

Eighteen years ago, days before my first year teaching began, my principal gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about the first day of school. She simply said, “Make the students want to come back.” She told me to forget the syllabus and classroom procedures—the students won’t retain those rules and did I really want my first impression to be about how to ask for the bathroom pass?

As suggested, I followed through with my hopefully-memorable plans on that first day. When I ate dinner that night (in my pjs because I was so exhausted!) I had visions of my eighth graders at their dinner tables telling their families about their invigorating English class. I’m still not sure if that happened, but they all came back the next day with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. They were optimistic. And so was I.

With that advice in mind, on the first day of school for the past two years I’ve incorporated Folger performance methods in my lesson plans.  What a difference this has made. No longer were my sleepy seniors glaring at me (and the clock) and no longer were my freshmen struggling to sit still in a desk after a summer of hyperactivity.  Instead, students were on their feet, participating and laughing (and learning!).

Here are some quick methods to get the students up on their feet and loving the first day (and every day after!) in your classroom:

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