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Archive for the ‘Humanities Education’ Category

Harvard University professor Stephen Greenblatt knows a lot about Shakespeare. He’s the author of “Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” and he came to the Folger Shakespeare Library this spring to participate in a research conference on “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography.” But Greenblatt did not immediately latch on to the Bard in his student days. As he put it recently in an interview with the Harvard Gazette:

I was no child prodigy. In fact, I encountered “As You Like It” in Miss Gillespie’s eighth-grade class — and it seemed like the worst, most boring thing I ever read in my life. I can still remember the shudder with which I received the words “Sweet my coz, be merry.” I just didn’t get it at all. So it’s not like I awakened as a child to the wonders of Shakespeare.

Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt at the “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography” conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, April 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Later in the Q&A, we learn which Shakespeare plays Greenblatt would rather have studied in middle school, how videos can make a difference in the English classroom, and at what moment the Bard was reclaimed in Greenblatt’s imagination. (more…)

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On a lovely spring afternoon in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, I was sitting on one of the marble benches in front of the Folger Library. I was the Library’s head of education then, a high school English teacher from DC Public Schools creating and running the Library’s work for teachers of grades 3-12 and their students.

I was on this bench for a few minutes, waiting for a friend to pick me up for a lunch appointment. And as I sat, I looked up to see the Library’s front door open, and into the sunshine walked a woman of really grand stature and presence in a great-looking “grown up” suit. “OH MY GOD,” I thought, “WHY DO I THINK THAT’S MAYA ANGELOU?” Because it was Maya Angelou.

(more…)

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Folger Library Exterior: Bas relief: Julius Caesar

by Gina Voskov

One of the courses I teach at my school is 6th grade Humanities, and next up in our year’s curriculum plan is learning about Ancient Greece and Rome. I’m excited about getting the kids up and out of their seats for this class, and the best way I can do that is by getting them to interact with Shakespeare.

For this unit, I’ll be giving them some Julius Caesar, the Cinna the Poet scene in particular. This scene never fails to get all kids speaking, thinking, and moving. It’s also just about the easiest scene in the books with respect to language–there’s none of that stuff that turns so many kids away–the thee‘s and thine‘s and whatnot. I love giving this scene to groups of kids at the start of the year because it’s a great way to build community. But now that we are 3/4ths of the way through the year, I’m going to open our unit with performance. This scene will definitely have them asking questions about history, which is what we teachers hope for, right? (more…)

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The Folger Shakespeare Library is a hotbed of education staff, scholars, actors, directors, curators, librarians, docents, and digital geeks in Washington, DC, teamed up with teachers all over the country – in an endless collaboration focused on your teaching and your students’ learning.

What do we believe about teaching and learning? Read on:

1. We believe that teachers are the most important and the most powerful people on earth. Period.

2. All students should have access to Shakespeare’s rigorous texts and compelling ideas. Students at all levels of proficiency can and should engage deeply with these plays.

3. You and all of your students can dive into, engage with, and make sense of these complex texts with great success. This work will enhance your students’ close reading and analytical skills. Yours, too. And all of you will have an enormous amount of fun in the process!

4. It’s all about the language. Approach, connect with, and befriend Shakespeare’s language head on. Your students’ direct connection with his language is the key to unlocking the plays – and everything in them. We don’t mean you, as teacher, translating for them. And we don’t mean using those “made easy” books. We mean THEM speaking and moving and figuring out HIM… words, lines, scenes, plays. His language in the mouths of your students is splendid and exciting all on its own. And it is the essential step that results in sending his ideas into their brains.

5. So… if you are teaching Shakespeare the way you were taught, you might need to give that up. If you are teaching Shakespeare from those dumbed-down versions of the plays created by publishers who believe that both you and your students are not smart enough to understand the real thing, throw them out. Right now.

6. The Folger continues to produce – with and for teachers – ever-evolving sets of language tools, active close reading strategies, performance techniques, and pathways through the plays that are energizing and fun, and that relentlessly focus on text. In DC and all over the place, we teach teachers how to do this work. A poorly kept secret: teachers use these tools and strategies to teach all kinds of literature, and subjects way beyond English.

7. Using these tools and strategies, you and your students work in the plays rigorously and vigorously in the way that scholars and actors do. Your students make their way actively – reading closely, thinking deeply, and citing textual evidence all over the place. They build their skills and their knowledge. And you do too. Research has shown us that learning this way dramatically increases students’ confidence – in their ability to tackle something hard, to figure it out, to “own” this playwright and his plays – and boosts their enthusiasm for learning the next hard thing: August Wilson, reconstruction, Lear, calculus, Arabic.

8. Any teacher can teach this way. You don’t have to know anything about acting or directing or any of that stuff. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. He knew how to write. You know how to teach. And if you’re worried about this last part, we can help you with that.

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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At the end of last week’s Teacher Tuesday, I shared a link to a video, Interpreting Shakespeare, with our Master Teacher Sue Biondo-Hench. In one section of the video, around 3:10, Sue breaks her students into groups to interpret and perform a single passage from Henry IV, part 1. They each interpret how performing one character’s speech as a group lends them insight into the text. They don’t have to make natural performance choices as if it is their single moment onstage delivering a soliloquy – rather, they’re approaching the text chorally to show different ways of interpreting complex text with their voices, movements, and group dynamics. This doesn’t necessarily mean they read it all together in unison – they can assign individuals lines or words to make them stand out, whisper or shout, create tableaux (stage pictures) to set the scene or its tone, or anything else they deem necessary to their point.

Choral Reading

Students perform at the 2013 Secondary Festival

A choral approach like this can be especially useful for group discussions. It gets small groups discussing their interpretation, which they then share with the whole class. No group will make all of the same choices, after all, because there are so many different ways to say and do any passage or scene – why not try a bunch and see what works? Discussing everyone’s choices (and knowing that none are “wrong”) gives the students more control and less fear of interpreting the text.

We have a few examples of teaching modules which use a chroal approach:

Complexity of Character in The Merchant of Venice: In this play, especially, no one is wholly “good” or “bad.” In this lesson, high school student groups take on a character apiece and perform one or two passages of text for that character to determine what their character is like, and in what ways they are complicated.

Shakespeare Sound Out: Building Atmosphere: For elementary and ESL/ELL students, getting over the language together is especially easy when approached chorally. With text from Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, students use the rhythm and word choices in the text to determine the tone of the scene, and incorporate their choices into a performance.

Sonnet Performance: Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Scripts: The choral approach can even apply to poetry! As Louisa Newlin and Gigi Bradford say, “Breaking a sonnet down into parts for different speakers and presenting it dramatically can help students to listen carefully to the language and hear different “voices” in the poem.” Students shed some light on these sometimes ambiguous poems to create their own meanings.

How else would you use the choral approach with your class? Other plays, poems, or even books may be ripe fodder for a group to tackle. Have you used a chorus before? How did it go?

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Inspired, today, by David Tennant‘s affirmation in the power of performing Shakespeare, today we’re rounding up some of our favorite Teacher to Teacher videos about performance in the classroom. Getting students on their feet is one of the most important things we stress about working with Shakespeare’s language – they are, after all, plays!

Teacher to Teacher Title Screen - Performing

What can be nerve-wracking for everyone, though, is the thought of being”onstage.” In your classroom, though, it’s certainly not about putting up a full performance – perhaps not even a whole scene – it’s about saying the words out loud and discovering the action that supports the language and makes it more dynamic.

Some students like getting up to read in front of the class – but a lot may hang back. Get your audience involved as reactors and directors, as explained in these videos by Tory Virchow and Erica Smith:

Finally – see performance-based teaching in action with Sue Biondo-Hench and her students from Carlisle, PA. From group activities to personal reflection, her students find ways to bring Shakespeare’s language to life!

How do you incorporate action in your classroom?

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The amount of new technology springing up around us can be dizzying, especially when our students are picking it up so quickly. Much of their daily life is conducted online – so how can our classrooms extend into that area of their life?

Teacher to Teacher - Technology

In these Teacher to Teacher Videos, we’re highlighting some ways teachers are using technology and the internet to engage their students even more deeply in their Shakespeare studies:

Videos in class are tried-and-true, but sometimes might feel like a cop-out. In this video, Josh Cabat gives us several ways in which to use video effectively as a teaching tool with many active applications to try right away!

 

Why should you even consider using new technologies? “It’s collaborative, and it’s available 24 hours a day,” says teacher Robert Barker. Students can connect in their own time to their classwork and each other – strengthening their connection to the material.

 

Finally – you don’t even have to use the technology during class-time. Assigning online homework in a “flipped” classroom, according to Greta Brasgalla, gives you more time and more material to discuss in class.

You can hear more from Robert and Greta from their recorded “What’s Done is Done Online” webinar from last spring.

What technologies are you trying in your classroom? How are your students responding to it? Let us know in the comments!

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