Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Humanities Education’ Category

King Lear

King Lear, 1874. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Dan Bruno

King Lear, in its embodiment of the horrors of human existence, is the black hole at the center of the Shakespearean tragic universe, drawing in any sense of light and hope and keeping it from escaping.

The big questions at the center of this play challenge us as human beings to confront a difficult truth: namely, that love is the source of Lear’s evil.

None of the deeper thinking that this post hopefully represents would have been possible without the resources the Folger Shakespeare Library offers. I arrived at the library on a Thursday morning and did some research in the library.

That night, I attended the engaging performance of King Lear put on by the Globe Theatre. The next day, I was part of a teaching workshop on the play. As you read the rest of this, consider that in a two-day period, I watched the play, researched the play, and learned about the play in a single place.

I first started my Lear thinking while I was under the streets of DC, in the stacks at the Folger, looking up and down the lengthy corridor for resources on a different project, when I came across the section on King Lear and began leafing through the books on the shelf. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Why is being a teacher worth it? What is it that draws you to the classroom?

English teacher Rachel Ravreby Lintgen, a 1994 graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts, gives her own answers to these important questions in a recent blog post. The Folger has a special connection to Amherst since the college is Henry Folger’s alma mater. But anyway, we enjoyed her blog post, and we wanted to share some of it with you:

In the past year, especially, I have thought long and hard about why it is I chose teaching. After a six-year hiatus to stay at home with my two children, I decided to return to the classroom this last year. As I re-entered the workforce, I found myself wondering why and how I had, again, chosen teaching as my path. More precisely, I found myself reflecting on what sustains me in a field that is difficult, time-consuming, underpaid, often criticized, routinely scapegoated, and typically misunderstood. The answer is both simple and multi-faceted: Curiosity. In my classroom, I wonder aloud how a writer crafts her prose. I ask my students to be critical inquirers, to ponder the complexities of a text and resist easy answers. And among my colleagues, we question our practice and investigate new ways to engage with the content and with our students. As a community of teachers we, too, are a community of learners who puzzle over the how and why kids learn. At our best, teachers are explorers – curious about not only the material of the course but about how best to communicate our passion to students.

Read more at Well Mixed, an Amherst College alumni blog.

What sustains you as a teacher? Is it curiosity, or something else? Tell us in the comments.

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 658 other followers