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Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

In June we hosted a small group of students from the University of Georgia at the first stage of their Transatlantic Shakespeare summer program. One of the students, Abigail Berquist, was gracious enough to share her experience with Shakespeare thus far:

I’ve come from a rich Shakespeare background due to private school teaching
me a play-a-year starting in about 3rd or 4th grade, to living in London a year which allowed time to go to Stratford and the Globe Theatre, yet I have always been intimidated by it. The language prevented me from fully understanding the play. When I’d read a work by the great playwright for class, I’d summarize as I read; that was my main objective so I would fully understand what seemed complicated to me.

I chose to come on the Washington-Oxford Program with the University of Georgia to study Shakespeare because I love English, so I felt I should gather a larger understanding of Shakespeare, our dear adopted playwright. I am not going to be an English teacher, and I am not a theatre major, so many would ask why would I, a Public Relations major, want to study Shakespeare?

At first, I thought I had chosen the wrong program. The workshops were more teaching-based, and I believed I could gain nothing from them since they weren’t in regular English course structure – but I was wrong, extremely wrong. The workshops helped me delve into the text of Shakespeare’s plays in ways I would’ve thought wouldn’t work. It was very hands on in a way that made the words come alive. No longer was I focusing on the words we don’t use as much anymore, but I was focusing on the humor and the meaning behind the words. Not only did the hands-on, acting-geared workshops help me understand the text, but I realized I actually love to act in a comfortable environment. The staff made sure to quickly acclimate the students into a comfortable classroom setting in a way that would cause us non-theater majors to enjoy the acting and activities.

Abby Berquist - UGA

I have a newfound appreciation of Shakespeare, and I can even say now that I would be willing to read and watch a Shakespeare play on my own time. I didn’t realize his works would not intimidate me so soon into this program, but I stand here exactly that confident. If I were to teach, I would do it the way the Folger has laid out; people will not fear his works, but enjoy them proficiently.

Abby Bergquist is a third year student at the University of Georgia who is a Public Relations major with an English minor. She is a new Shakespeare convert, who has loved English as long as she can remember, but has just added a whole new element to her love of literature.

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Folger Educatin Intern Samantha Smith writes about her experience at our Elementary Educators’ Conference

On the last day of the 2013 Shakespeare in Elementary Education Conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, students from Capitol Hill Montessori took to the stage in the Folger Theatre to perform a short play entitled “Much Ado About Shakespeare.”  The play’s title summed up the three-day conference in which I was able to watch educators, authors, and graduate students talk, shout, and jump their way through nine presentations highlighting different ways to introduce children to Shakespeare’s text.  To me, the smiles and articulate answers of the Capitol Hill Montessori students as they replied to questions posed by educators in the audience illustrated the theme of the conference, which centered on how engagement with Shakespeare’s plays positively influences elementary students’ academic, artistic, and personal growth.

As a college senior eager to blend my academic interest in Shakespeare with my desire to work with young students, it was heartening to talk with professionals of different backgrounds who demonstrated diverse ways to encourage their students to study and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays.  All of the participants in the conference shared a love of Shakespeare’s words but each drew on his or her own education, training, and personal interests in ways that reinforced for me that there is no solitary path leading to a career based on engagement with Shakespeare’s plays.   Ken Ludwig, best known for his Tony-award winning plays and musicals, explained how he combined his writing talents with the enjoyment he felt teaching his own children to memorize passages from Shakespeare in his book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.  Author and musician Daeshin Kim shared how his daughter’s positive response to nursery rhymes as a language-learning tool sparked his interest in composing short children’s songs sung from the point of view of Shakespeare’s characters.  As I read Mr. Kim’s book, A Horse With Wings, and listened to a song sung by Cordelia entitled “I don’t know what to say,” I was as delighted to learn about such an innovative way of sharing Shakespeare with children as I would have been listening to Mr. Kim’s songs as a pre-school student.  I learned that my lack of crafting talent was unchanged from my pre-school years while participating in a craft-based lesson by Holly Rodgers (a teacher from Fairfax County public schools) for The Merchant of Venice, which demonstrated a visual and tactile way to connect ESL students with Shakespeare.  The effectiveness of performance-based teaching was reinforced for me as I participated in Renee Vomocil of The Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s examples of warm-up games, Virginia Palmer-Fuechsel’s combination of spoken word and movement activities, and the movement-based exploration of Romeo and Juliet led by OSU/RSC Stand Up for Shakespeare educators Lorraine Gaughenbaugh and Anna Meyer.  These exercises made me excited to act portions of the plays I so enjoy reading.  The effectiveness of these lessons on younger students was clear when I watched Jennifer Ventimiglia’s class in the Czech Republic dramatize sonnets and heard from Dr. Barbara Cobb about how her Shakespeare in the Schools Partnership Initiative was successful in getting children excited about Shakespeare.

A line from recent Georgetown University graduate Angela Ramnanan’s presentation on her master’s thesis best summarized the conclusion I took away from the conference: ‘results obtained from the research project provide compelling evidence of Shakespeare’s relevance in our current curriculum based on his cultural and linguistic influence.”  There is indeed much to do to further incorporate Shakespeare education in elementary school curriculum, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to learn about so many ways that educators are already inspiring their students to love Shakespeare.

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~by Ken Ludwig

Today is the publication date of my new book, How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare (Random House Publishing), and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share this book with you as parents and educators, arts advocates and fellow Shakespeare fanatics.

Kids Shakespeare Drawing - Ludwig

I’ve spent my career in the arts, and I have staked my life as a writer on the proposition that the arts make a difference in how we see the world and how we conduct our lives – how we view charity to our neighbors and justice in our communities.

For me, Shakespeare, towering as he does above all other writers, has always been central to this vision.  And because I’m such a lover of Shakespeare, I’ve been teaching my children how to read and memorize passages from Shakespeare since they were six years old.  The purpose of How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is to pass on the torch and create a whole new generation of Shakespeare lovers.

I’ve based the book on four very simple premises:  (1) in order to be an educated, literate  member of our society, you have to know some Shakespeare;  (2)  reading Shakespeare’s plays is daunting for everyone, adults and children alike, because his language is so complex;  (3) it isn’t hard to crack the code of Shakespeare if you treat it like a foreign language and learn a few simple rules; and (4) the best time to learn Shakespeare is when you’re young because then you aren’t afraid of him.  Children are sponges.

This fourth premise is key to my book.  I’ve had several recent opportunities to teach Shakespeare workshops to youngsters using the methods described in the book and I’ve realized more clearly than ever how eager children are to learn about Shakespeare, especially when they’re young enough to be unafraid of him.  Children naturally have open minds, and their brains really are like sponges.  Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night says that his love is “as hungry as the sea and can digest as much.”  A child’s curiosity is the same:  it is hungry, limitless, and can digest anything and everything we have to offer.

HTTeachKidsShakespeare-1

While teaching one of these workshops, I had a very personal realization (perhaps epiphany is not too strong a word in this case):  For me, memorizing a passage from Shakespeare is like giving myself a present.  Every time I say the passage aloud, it’s like taking in a breath of fresh air.  It’s like creating a moment of pure joy whenever I need it.

The quotation that comes to mind as I write this is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1:  the moment when Oberon calls to Puck and orders him to fetch the magic flower.  Reciting it from memory is like putting a little Mozart on my iPod.  It refreshes my spirit in the same way.  But it does so more profoundly, with even more joy and with deeper meaning.

My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou rememb’rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maid’s music.

Even as I type these words, they make me happy.  Is there a better present we can give our children than teaching them how to recite Shakespeare from memory?  If there is, I’ve never heard of it.

Ken Ludwig is an author, theatre educator, and award-winning playwright of Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You. Ken will give the keynote address at our Conference for Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom on June 24 (registration is still open!) and a demonstration from  How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. Copies will be available for signing after the session. Find out more about his work and new book at www.kenludwig.com.

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by Ken Ludwig

Since my early teens, I’ve felt strongly about Shakespeare—about the value of studying and memorizing significant passages by the greatest writer who ever lived—but it wasn’t until I became a father that I figured out how to share my passion with the people I loved.

One day, when my daughter Olivia was six years old, she came home from first grade spouting a line of Shakespeare:  “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows.”  Her first grade teacher was an English woman who took a particular interest in the hero of her youth, and she had decided to pass the torch on to the younger generation.  When I heard my daughter happily quoting this line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a light went off in my head.

From that day on, I set up a routine.  My daughter and I would spend one hour on Saturday and one hour on Sunday memorizing my favorite speeches from Shakespeare’s plays.  We started with short accessible passages from the comedies and, gradually over time, increased the length and complexity of the passages.  To my delight, my daughter took to it immediately, and it turned out that these hours spent together learning everything from As You Like It to King Lear were some of the best family times of our lives.   For two hours each week, we sat next to each other totally engaged in something we both loved, and we had enormous fun doing it.

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Sir Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night – who, along with Richard Clifford and Frances Barber, made special recordings of passages from the book. Photo by Geraint Lewis.

About two years ago, it occurred to me that other parents and teachers might enjoy hearing about our family’s adventures with Shakespeare, and I sat down and started writing this book.

What I have tried to do in How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare – which will be published in early June by Random House – is offer to parents and educators the techniques and strategies I developed over the years for my own children.  I realized early on in this process that Shakespeare is a lot like a foreign language.  Some of his words are unknown to us, even as adults; Shakespeare’s sentence structure can sounds odd to our modern ears; and Shakespeare is constantly speaking in complex metaphors that can sometimes be difficult to understand.

So what I did for my kids – as I do in the book – was teach them how to understand every word in the Shakespeare passage being studied, then memorize the passage so that their knowledge of Shakespeare became fluent, the way a foreign language can become fluent.

ImageIn total, the book presents the first 25 passages that I taught my kids, ordered into a specific sequence to make learning them as easy as possible.   And as each passage is discussed, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Tempest (with a lot more plays in between), I talk about the stories, the characters and the meanings of the works so that, ultimately, the kids get the kind of knowledge of Shakespeare they’ll need to become great students, great thinkers, and great teachers.

Recently, I had the opportunity of trying this method out on a large group.  I was invited by Random House, as part of Take Your Children to Work Day, to spend a couple of hours with the 9-11 year olds, about 35 of them.  I thought it would be fun to see if they could memorize a few facts about Shakespeare, along with one of my favorite passages from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth mistook by me,
Pleading for a lovers fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!

The kids had a fantastic time. At the end, when their parents came in, they proudly recited what they’d learned from memory.  Shakespeare triumphed again!

There is no doubt in my mind that knowing Shakespeare will make our children better citizens of the world.  It will better prepare them for the joys, as well as the whips and scorns of time (as Hamlet says).  It will introduce them to the rich world of literature, and, from there, to the universe of cultural references embedded in that literature.  It will give them confidence.  And it will, ultimately, by giving them Shakespeare’s perspective on the world, make them more moral human beings.  To quote Hamlet again, it’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Ken Ludwig is an author, theatre educator, and award-winning playwright of Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You. Ken will give the keynote address at our Conference for Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom on June 24 (early bird registration discount ends June 3!). and a demonstration from  How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare to be released June 11, 2013. Copies will be available for signing after the session. Find out more about his work and new book at www.kenludwig.com.

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~by Carol Kelly

“We hope that what happens here in Vegas this week , does NOT stay in Vegas!”

This was the opening message to all attendees at the National Council for Teachers of English conference. Teachers from all over the country assembled to attend sessions on the newest ideas for literacy, sample the latest online resources, pick up fiction and non-fiction hot- off- the- press and hear notable authors talk about their latest work. The organizers hoped that the teachers would return to their classrooms fired up with renewed enthusiasm and share all that they had learned from the exhibitions and presentations with their colleagues.

Folger Education hosted a booth in the Exhibition hall where we met with over 3000 teachers. Many were diehard Folger fans who use our website regularly and were keen to hear about our latest resources, workshop offerings, webinars and teacher materials. We also signed up 400 new subscribers to Bard Notes, our electronic newsletter and provided swag such as our Quoting Shakespeare poster, “Let them play” buttons, Folger Education pencils and bookmarks which list all our web addresses on the back to all who stopped by. The booth was hosted by Folger Education staff and alums from the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institutes.

Folger Education also presented a series of sessions, Act 1 through 5 covering pre-reading, language activities, technology, film and video, and assessment tools. All the sessions were interactive and well attended. Lucretia Anderson, our Elementary Coordinator also presented a new session on teaching Shakespeare to students in grades 3 through 6. More than 580 attended our six sessions over the weekend! This was well received and promises well for the planned conference on this topic scheduled for June 2103.

We’re looking forward to NCTE 2013, and hope to see you there!

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I have been thinking about Las Vegas.  This year’s National Council of Teachers of English convention will take place there in November. However, what prompted thoughts of Vegas wasn’t the convention or the slots, but a recent article on broadway world.com about that noted the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s announcement that it would be undertaking a capital campaign to fund the renovation of the historic Reed Whipple Cultural Center.  What fascinated me was the fact that the theater company won a unanimous vote from the Las Vegas City Council last September to lease the building.  According to the article, the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company (LVSC) has been “producing and performing world-class theatre plays and musicals since 2008 … [and] by early 2014, LVSC will continue bringing the Bard to high school students across Clark County through its Shakespeare in the Schools program and staging the beloved Shakespeare-In-The-Park and spring children’s musical for the City of Henderson.”  The mission of the LVSC is to “create a vibrant professional resident theater and cultural arts institution to help promote a better quality of life for all residents of Nevada.”  It sounds like Las Vegas has much more to offer than gambling.  It also sounds like the city council understands the importance of the arts — and Shakespeare — to its community.  Are there any other city councils helping to pave the way for arts development in their communities? 

If you’re headed to Vegas for the NCTE convention this November, it might be a good idea to check out what the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company has in production when you’re there.  And, if you are attending the convention, be sure to visit us in the exhibition hall, and plan to attend one of our sessions.

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The World Shakespeare Festival (WSF) starts April 23rd.  It  is a celebration of Shakespeare as the “world’s playwright.” The Royal Shakespeare Company is producing the event, which runs until the November. This event is an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organizations. It’s the biggest celebration of Shakespeare ever staged. Approximately 60 partners will be coming together over the next few months to participate in the Festival.  According the the RSC’s website, “Thousands of artists from around the world will take part in almost 70 productions, plus supporting events and exhibitions, right across the UK, including London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham, Wales and Scotland and online.” Over 1,000.000 tickets will be on sale for the festival.

Folger Education will be participating in the Worlds Together Conference to be held in London, September 6-8.

Are you planning to attend any of these events this summer, when school is out?

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“How far a modern quill doth come too short
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow”
~Sonnet 83

A few videos were sent our way this week (or were found by us and shared with the group), and though the content varies it seems that giving Shakespeare a modern voice is quite popular on the YouTube. Below are two of my favorites:

First, comedian John Branyan laments the decline of the English language, and resolves to tell bedtime stories in a more “Shakespearean” tone. He begins with an 8-minute rendition of The Three Little Pigs. It’s truly a marvel:

Next, hip-hop artist Akala speaks at a Tedx Conference  about how both Shakespearean verse and modern hip-hop seek to use the power of language to preserve truth. He demonstrates how they work together and how, at times, it’s even hard to tell them apart:

Do you think work like Branyan’s and Akala’s are helping to preserve Shakespeare’s language? Do they make it more accessible for modern audiences, or is it separating the Bard from us completely? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Folger Education booth at this year's NCTE Convention

Folger Education staff recently attended and presented workshops on teaching Shakespeare at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Chicago.  The convention celebrated the 100th birthday of NCTE, and it offered teachers in attendance many sessions that focused on the new Common Core State Standards set for implementation in schools from approximately 46 states and the District of Columbia in 2014.  Shakespeare is included in the Common Core Standards as suggested readings for high school students, and many of the skills students will be required to demonstrate a proficiency in are introduced in the elementary grades.  What have you and your school district been doing to get ready for the integration of the Common Core Standards in your classroom?  If you would like to get started, join us for our Shakespeare and the Common Core Standards webinar on Monday, December 5th, from 7-8:30 pm EST.

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~by Holly Rodgers

Exposing students to great literature is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can give to a student.  Alice Owens, my beloved teacher, who also exposed me to great writers of feminist prose, presented me with a gift that would greatly influence my life and lifetime reading habits.  I was 13 and reading Romeo and Juliet for the first time in my 8th grade honors English class and it was love at first word.

What was this astounding new language that infected my adolescent soul with vim and vigor at each new verbal infusion?  I was completely smitten with Shakespeare, not to mention Leonard Whiting as Romeo in Zefferelli’s adaptation.  Many plays and many years later, I continued to reserve Shakespeare for my personal enjoyment, until I decided to share him with my elementary English language learners (ELLs).  While many of my colleagues thought I was insane to attempt Shakespeare with youngsters who didn’t speak English fluently, I experienced only positive results.  My students were intrigued and enthusiastic for this enchanting new world of stories, words, and characters.  By sharing my love of Shakespeare, instilled in me by my teacher, I was sharing his literary legacy with a whole new generation and population.

A truly great gift is one that continues to benefit both the benefactor and the recipient long after it has been presented.  My classroom decided to pay Shakespeare forward by performing his work for others in our school and community and ultimately the Folger stage.  In preparing for the Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival, my students and I were permanently altered.  As a teacher, I found myself never satiated unless I was teaching more Shakespeare.  The high of watching their discovery and interpretation of his words was addictive.  My students began making connections to learning and the world around them in a way they had never done before.   Their vocabulary, reading comprehension, and English proficiency improved by leaps and bounds, but the benefits were not limited to the academic sphere.  My cast of players, from grades 3-6 spanning five continents, learned valuable teamwork skills and found a renewed sense of self-esteem.  My ELL students frequently feel inferior to their peers academically, socially, and in socioeconomic status.  By distinguishing themselves as young Shakespearians, they felt more confident as people and as active participants in their school and community.  Exposing your students to Shakespeare may cost you instructional or rehearsal time in class, but the value is absolutely priceless.

How can you share the gift of Shakespeare in your school or community?

Holly Rodgers is an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher at White Oaks Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. See more of Holly during our upcoming Elementary Education Webinar course featured in this month’s BardNotes e-newsletter (www.folger.edu/enews).

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