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Archive for the ‘Tales from the Classroom’ Category

Guest post by Deborah Gascon – Dutch Fork High School, Irmo, SC

Performance in AP?  Didn’t think you had time with all the other pressures? Make time. Using Folger strategies in my AP classes has transformed student comprehension of difficult texts and improved their abilities to read closely–and has actually SAVED me time.

This week my AP Lit and Comp students completed poetry presentations.  There were several requirements but one of them was to make the presentation engaging–there is nothing worse than sitting through 57 poetry presentations, is there?

I was impressed and amazed at how many of my students incorporated some sort of performance in their presentations.  Josh taught Frost’s poem “Home Burial” and had 3 volunteers perform the different parts to show the contrast in mood.  Tyler assigned each of his classmates a line of a Plath poem and asked them to create a physical movement to express the tone in the line.

My students quickly realized that performance is key to understanding and chose to incorporate in all facets of our classroom.  I know that with performance my students are engaged, class is interactive, students aren’t insecure about delivering presentations and the senior slump hasn’t happened.

Here are the top 5 things I did (and suggest!) to incorporate Folger strategies in the AP classroom: (more…)

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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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We know that Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays – though not all of them are taught in our classrooms. We love teaching the recognizable and easily-found HamletMidsummer, Othello, and Macbeth, but there are so many to choose from if you have the time and the inclination to dig deeper. In this week’s Teacher to Teacher videos, teachers like you make the case for the plays they enjoy teaching:

Image

You may remember Gina Voskov’s impassioned post on this very blog, “Fighting With Truth,” in which she described her students’ affinity for learning Shakespeare and her comparison of Titus Andronicus to modern events and other authors. Hear more from Gina in her video, below. 

 

Then, of course, there’s something to be said for a play that can generate fantastic discussions. One of Shakespeare’s more modernly controversial plays, The Merchant of Venice, provides us with ambiguous characters and tough questions. Four of our teachers chose this play, but Dr. Robert Thompson sums it up nicely:

 

Finally, you may already be teaching King Lear, but we love what Gabriel Fernandez has to say about how personally relatable this play is for everyone. It appeals to our love of fairy tales, but does not give us the resolution we want. What can we learn from that?

 

What is your favorite play to teach? Why so? Let us know in the comments!

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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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~by Jessica Lander

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

On the grass behind the theater – once a fire station – two teenagers embraced each other and slow-danced.  They wore sheepish grins as they took each other’s hands, swaying and revolving to the music.  Iron & Wine and Graffiti6 and Elliot Smith floated from my portable speakers.  Curious dog walkers with waddling pugs and sweaty joggers threw sidelong glances.

It was week four, opening day, only hours before curtain.  Our Romeo and our Juliet were nervous.  Would their performance be believable?

The three of us met behind the theater to explore the act of falling in love.   The two teenagers began by locking eyes, standing quiet for twenty minutes without once letting their glances dart sideways.  Most students would feel too awkward to dance along the streets of Charlestown.  But these two seventeen-year-old actors were willing to try.

In theater such willingness is called “saying yes.”

Saying yes is the number one rule of improv.  If your improv partner says: “That soup you’re eating looks delicious!” and you respond, “I’m not eating soup,” the skit falls flat.   In our converted black box theater saying yes became the first rule and promise of our ensemble.

Last summer, as a teaching artist for Actors Shakespeare Project, my July crackled with witches and Scottish thanes.  This year we – ten students and four teachers – took up residence in the bloody streets of Verona.   Our students were a demographic chart of the Boston area. Our ensemble came from the suburbs and from the heart of the city; from public schools, from exams schools and from private schools.  Some had previously lived in youth detention centers.  Some had years of acting experience in camps and school plays and some came with no formal theatrical training.  What set them apart from their peers was that these ten teenagers were willing, even eager, to say yes.

Saying yes can be challenging in any setting, particularly in the confines of a traditional school classroom.  Raising your hand, offering up the answer to a math problem, sharing a poem, proposing a hypothesis – they all open you to vulnerability.  I have had 6th graders and college students of mine say no.  I have had students as far as Thailand and Cambodia and as close as Charlestown say no.  School textbooks and tests are lined with “right” and “wrong” answers and school halls are varnished in peer pressure and the shine of social status.

The black box exists outside this norm.

Over the course of four weeks I watched as ten teenagers chose instead to just say yes.

They said yes to playing improv games that required them to squirm like jello and row furiously like Viking warriors.

They said yes to walking and running and crawling through our theater to explore the space.

Two young men said yes to locking hands and attempting to push each other across a room while yelling their lines and furrowing their brows.

One young woman said yes to chortling like an old man with a beer belly and then cooing like a baby girl.

Everyone said yes to playing games of Mafia every day (four weeks straight) during lunch, holding heated debates and flinging accusations, in each subsequent game, about who might be suspect.

One young man said yes to swinging his arms in the air for an entire monologue.  Another young woman said yes to trying not to smile (a real feat for her).

In four weeks our students said yes to dancing in the rain, to singing, to arguing about character backstories, to fake punching each other in the nose, to sharing painful stories, to laughing out loud and crying out loud.

It is not easy saying yes.  You need three things.  You need peers that won’t snicker, you need teachers who won’t seek “correct” answers, and you need a space wide open to allow students to spin and floors strong enough to encourage students to leap.

And if you are lucky enough for such a convergence, then Romeo and Juliet waltz in a park, while dog walkers stare and at least one teacher smiles.

What can you and your students say YES to? Let us know in the comments!

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

 

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~by Emily DenBleyker

I am not a teacher. I dropped my education major my first semester of college, and I have never looked back. And yet, somehow, in the funny way that life seems to happen to us, I ended up scheduled to teach a writing class for 8-10 year-olds at the day camp where I worked as an assistant.

“Ok,” I thought. “This won’t be too bad. I know how to write. I’ve been with these kids all summer. I’ll just pull out what I know and it’ll be great.”

What I know is Shakespeare.

So day three of the class was dubbed “Literary Flourish Day: Metaphor, Imagery, and Meter.” The day before, I had been trying to explain “showing versus telling” to the students, and these elements are good examples of how to do that. And what better writer to use an example than the master of showing?

We started with metaphor, using Romeo’s “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright./It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/As a rich jewel in and Ethiop’s ear.” We worked through all the language and figured out what it meant, and we discussed how we knew how beautiful Juliet was to Romeo, without him ever using the word “beautiful.” Then the students drew a picture of Juliet – how they saw Juliet through Romeo’s description of her. Most of them picked up on the image of an earring and had Juliet wearing large hoops; some of them even picked a time period and made “’80s Juliet,” in neon and teased hair.

For imagery, we used The Seven Ages of Man, from As You Like It. I wrote each age on a giant notepad, and again, we worked through it and visualized each stage, picking out the characteristics of the age, both physical and emotional. Then each student (luckily, there were 7 that day) picked an age and acted it out. Their favorite image, undeniably, was the infant, “mewling and puking.” They all pretended to mewl and puke for about 10 minutes.

Lastly, we tackled rhythm. We talked about rhythm in music, and then we turned to Macbeth, using some of the “Double, double, toil and trouble” rap to show it in literature. Then the students made metrical lists of their favorite things and presented them to the class.

I am not a teacher. But being able to show these children how beautiful life can be, on the page and the stage, made me so thankful for the teachers we do have: those with a passion to take the beautiful things we’ve been given and introduce them to the next generation, passing wisdom and the value of aesthetics down through the ages.

People hundreds of years ago recognized the value of Shakespeare’s words, the relevancy they carry even to 8-10 year olds, so let’s continue that tradition. Share the lessons you’ve learned from Macbeth and the Henrys, from Cordelia and Miranda. Show them the richness of words, the images they can conjure, and the meaning they can give to life. We can all be teachers. Some people just get paid for it.

And for the record, when I asked the students at the end of the week what their favorite activity had been, a good majority of them said, “Learning about that Shakespeare William guy.”

Emily DenBleyker was the spring 2013 Folger Education intern. She is now a senior at Gordon College, completing degrees in music and communications. Her roommates tolerate her rants on the beauty of words, if only because she edits their papers.

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I was speaking with Folger Theatre’s resident Dramaturg, Michele Osherow, this morning as she prepared for an on-camera interview. While catching up, I mentioned that my husband would be working on a performance of Measure for Measure during his first year of graduate school – one of my least favorite plays. Michele replied that Measure for Measure is one of her favorites because it is so messy and unsettling, the same reasons I don’t like it.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Michele went on to point out that while her college students express distaste for Measure for Measure or Troilus and Cressida during her class, those complicated and uncomfortable plays are the ones they return to explore in their final papers and presentations. They’re the plays that stick in their minds because there’s so much to explore even as it discomfits us.

My favorite plays tend to contain comic banter. I like how the words intersect and dance around each other, especially out loud, in plays like Much AdoTwelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet (before it becomes a tragedy). I also enjoy the bumbling comic characters in Midsummer, as you already know, because I feel so close to Shakespeare as a player in those scenes. I enjoy talking about the use of language and the playing with the several meanings of words in performance.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

For Michele, those complicated plays are very close in nature to modern theatrical experiences. They make us question how we feel and what we think about the world we live in – just as Shakespeare’s audience must have felt and thought. Is marriage a reward or a punishment? Is your best friend a good or bad person – are you? Who do you relate to: the villain or the hero – or is there a character you can identify as either role?

This reminded me of several videos in our Teacher to Teacher series – especially ‘Beauty in Difficulty‘ from Kristyn Rosen on plays that will challenge her students. Additionally, there is a whole section of videos related to teachers responding to the question “What is your favorite Shakespeare play to teach?” They cite relatability, good discussions, fun, and playable moments as their best reasons for one play or another.

What is your favorite play to read, see, teach, or talk about?

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~by Christopher Shamburg, New Jersey City University

Shakespeare can be a powerful tool for the cognitive, emotional, social, and linguistic development of all kids.

I saw this phenomenon when working with the students of A. Harry Moore School in Jersey City, a comprehensive school for students ages 3-21 with severe medical, physical, and cognitive disabilities.   This year a group of 14 students did a variety of production-based activities with Shakespeare, culminating in a performance of The Winter’s Tale in June.

Students take a bow after performing The Winter's Tale.

Students take a bow after performing The Winter’s Tale.

A production-based approach is where kids come to understand Shakespeare through performance and technology—using Shakespeare’s Language.  It’s based in the Folger Teaching Method, and it’s great for all kids for several reasons.

1)      It is a deeply immersive experience.  In this case, students were dancing, sheering sheep, getting pursued by bears, consulting oracles, and coming tolife from marble statues.  They were engaged like they would be in a fun game or an exciting sport.

2)      These are fault tolerant activities.  You do not have to do it perfect or right to make it work well.

3)      There is a wide zone of engagement.  It’s been said that engagement occurs when there’s a balance between skills and challenge.  If a person is over-skilled, then boredom sets in.  If a person is over-challenged, then frustration sets in.  A teacher can easily balance skills and challenges with a production-based approach.

4)      It’s a great tool for building students’ executive function.  Executive function is a relatively new and helpful way of looking at brain activity.  It’s a combination of planning, working memory, multiple perspectives, and impulse control.  The methods of a production-based approach develop executive function.

Here are a few of the activities that worked for us.

Shadows

One of the activities we used was “Shadows,” a method for students to get familiar with the physical space of the theater, experiment with their range of motion, and understand the contrasting emotions of the main character of The Winter’s Tale, and the catalyst for the action of the play, Leontes.  In “Shadows,” one student acts as “Good” Leontes and another student follows as his “Shadow,” enacting contrasting lines from “Good” Leontes.  Leontes wore a white mask or hat, and Leontes’ shadow followed wearing a black mask or hat.

Leontes Leontes’ Shadow
Stay your thanks a whileWell said, Hermione Too hot, too hotI am angling now

(see full activity Shadows).

Seven-Minute Version

To better understand the plot and the language in the play, the students frequently performed “Winta: The Seven-Minute Winter’s Tale”.  Every student enacted at least one line as a teacher read the narration and cued the students.  The lines were designed for both readers and nonreaders, who would say their lines with a prompter.

e.g.

NARRATOR:  Leontes is sorry (12).  But it’s too late.  His wife is dead and his baby is gone.  Antigonus has taken Perdita to Bohemia and leaves her in an abandoned place (13).

Student lines:

12)  I have deserved all tongues to talk their bitterest.

13) There weep and leave it crying; and, for the babe is counted lost forever, Perdita.

(See full activity)

Emotion Chart

AHM Emotion Chart

Chart with different degrees of emotions

A frequent reference during many of these activities, rehearsals, and performance was the emotion chart.  It offered visual cues for nonreaders and some subtle emotional distinctions for the more dramatic players.  It was based on the work of Christine Porter in Mary Ellen Dakin’s Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults.

(See full Emotion Chart )

AHM Shakespeare 2013 -3

Three students smiling after performing The Winter’s Tale

Creating sound effects for the play–using voices, Foley techniques, and audio editing tools–was fun, engaged us in the text, and was a real crowd pleaser during our performance.  We used the Audacity audio editing program to create numerous sound effects (e.g. party, bear, sheep, crying baby, stone breaking apart).

Adaptive Use Musical Instruments

AHM Shakespeare 2013-4

Student using AUMI

One piece of software that was particularly useful was Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI).  It allowed students with limited mobility to create music for the show.  A user can create music or activated sounds with a variety of gross motor movements.

Embedded Word Files

To use the sound effects and music during the show we embedded they audio in a Word document.  These sounds added production value and also worked as a memory device for the actors.  Embedding mp3 files in a Word document is a standard, though underused, feature in Word that proved valuable during activities, rehearsals, and performance.  We opened the file with the script and played the sounds along with the production.

AHM Embedded Word File

A screenshot of a Word file with audio embedded

Good Script and Prompting

Our director Terry MacSweeney from Actor’s Shakespeare Company did an excellent job of abridging Shakespeare’s language to a 30-minute show.   He devised a system of cue cards, scripts and prompters that aided our actors just enough.

In Conclusion…

This was the Actor’s Shakespeare Company’s fifth production at A. Harry Moore.  This year the work was a part of the NJCU Educational Technology Department’s Partnership and Projects Program.

The production was organized by Marissa Aiello, a speech language pathologist at the school, with assistance by Matt Masiello, a speech language pathology intern.

Christopher Shamburg is a Professor of Educational Technology at New Jersey City University.  He is a workshop leader and consultant for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Education Division.

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~by Susan Lucille Davis

Some decades ago, the little girl I used to be sat on her bed and listened intently, enthralled by the words that came from her sister’s mouth as she read her homework aloud.  “Double, double, toil and trouble…” Listening to the magic of those words ultimately led me to become a writer, a reader, and a teacher. So, when I encounter adults who think Shakespeare is too hard for kids, I am mystified. Wouldn’t the magical words of Shakespeare’s plays and poems capture the imagination of any child if presented in the right way?

This year, I tested my theory with my 6th-graders as we read A Midsummer Night’s Dream together. Just as I do when I teach older students, I started out with a bit of “Shakespeare Therapy,” where we hash out our fears and concerns about taking on such a daunting project. I shared my own difficulties with learning foreign languages as a pre-curser to asking my students to wrestle with Shakespeare’s peculiar brand of English. And this time I offered a challenge that would turn out to make all the difference in my students’ motivation to learn: We would create a puppet show for the entire school based on scenes from the play.

As we began to read the play in class, using the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free as a guide, I overheard students muttering comments like “That’s my puppet!” as each character was introduced. Their interest in each character’s development was sparked from the beginning – and my gender-blind assignments even drew in boys who were given Titania or the young female lovers’ characters, for instance. Students “previewed” the play at night (reading for as much understanding as they could muster, but not worrying about getting it all), and we worked out the staging as we read each scene during the day.  My students were hooked!

Meanwhile, their puppets were coming along in Art class, as they added leaves to Puck and learned how to fashion a hairdo for Hippolyta. One student asked, “Do I need to make a donkey mask for Bottom?” I asked her to go back to the play and find where Bottom’s “translation” occurs. When I assigned scenes for our performance, would this apply to her puppet?  Then we dove into the play within the play in Act V, and another student wailed, “You mean my character is a lion! Oh no!” And he went back to square one to redesign his puppet for Snug the Joiner as he performs the role of Lion in “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.”

Susan's students perform a scene from MIDSUMMER for the elementary student body.

Susan’s students perform a scene from MIDSUMMER for the elementary student body.

With only a week for rehearsals and some of the puppets not quite finished, we readied ourselves for our performances. I pared the play down to its most puppet-friendly scenes, and then I assigned readers for each part. Like many directors, I’m sure, I doubted it could all come together in time, but the students performed beautifully in front of our K-4 students. The goal of performing live drove them to understand the scenes in ways they might never have done otherwise. Hermia did almost lose her head when her puppeteer rather overzealously jiggled her up and down during her insult contest with Helena, but otherwise we had no other mishaps and the children in the audience laughed and shrieked at all the right times.

My students couldn’t have been prouder of their hard work. Their end-of-year reflections often mentioned the puppet show and learning how to read Shakespeare as major accomplishments. One student wrote, “The puppet show helped me understand Shakespeare a lot more than I did before. When we were being puppets we really had to understand our role. We had to know when our person exited and entered and when they were asleep or awake. I think that really helped me understand because I had to know what was going on the whole time. That really helped me and I think it made me read with a different perspective.” More than anything, my students experienced Shakespeare as something fun and challenging, and I hope something magical they will come back to again and again as they grow up.

Susan Lucille Davis teaches 5th and 6th-grade Language Arts at St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Houston, Texas. She has been introducing readers of all ages to the magic of Shakespeare for three decades.  She has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a BA in English from the University of South Carolina. When not teaching Language Arts, she also blogs at The Flying Trapeze and as a featured “Smart Teacher” at Getting Smart.

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~by Holly Rodgers

The benefit of exposing students to Shakespeare is paramount to establishing strong literary foundations in the classroom, for all learners, regardless of age and academic abilities.  While I could give testimony of the many advantages to be gained by doing so, I would like to focus on one in particular, the ability of Shakespeare to serve as a metaphorical gateway drug to get students addicted to reading. While I had known that allowing my young ELL (English Language Learner) students to participate in performance-based Shakespeare study would improve their developing language skills, and perhaps make them more critical evaluators of what they read; I had underestimated the stepping stone Shakespeare could provide to gain access to other challenging works of literature.

My 5th and 6th grade ELL students had spent the first nine-weeks of the school year studying Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  While they were enjoying working with the plays, they also began to complain that they missed reading novels.  They wanted something “hard” to challenge them, but I was struggling to find them something that would segue nicely from Shakespeare.  Due to the extensive fantasy worlds woven into the plays my students had studied, I felt the mythology and adventure of J.R.R. Tolkien would suit them well.

We proceeded to read The Hobbit during the month of December and I soon became aware of how well-prepared my students were for the challenging vocabulary, complex plot lines, and colorful characters, which are all signature trademarks of Shakespeare’s works.  While my students were unconvinced that they would ever find another writer  they would worship at the feet of like Master Will, they quickly grew to love Tolkien and reading about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and his band of dwarves.  Many of the themes and motifs present in the plays we studied were also found in the fantasy world of Middle-Earth.  My students had no difficulty accepting the existence of fantastical creatures such as dragons, dwarves, hobbits, wizards, and elves when they had already been exposed to fairies, witches, and ghosts in MSND, Macbeth, and Hamlet.  The rhythm of Tolkien’s language also required their ears to acclimate, as was also necessary to establishing the beat of iambic-pentameter.  Challenging vocabulary was not intimidating to them as Shakespeare had taught them to have no fear of unknown words.

While Shakespeare will always be their first love, my students are learning that their relationship with The Bard is not exclusive.  There are many great writers out there worth reading and I believe that Shakespeare has given my students the courage to tackle each one with no trepidation.  Always up for a challenge, my students have now chosen to take on a new literary task.  They are attempting to read the entire Lord of the Rings by the end of the school year.  For those of you who would like to follow along with our progress, we are chronicling our reading adventures on our recently-founded blog Teaching Tolkien.   My students are completely hooked on reading and for that, I am eternally grateful, Master Shakespeare.

Holly Rodgers is an elementary school ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.  She has been a presenter at the Folger Elementary Educators Conference and has created ELL (English Language Learner) and elementary focused lesson plans for the Folger Education Website. She has spent her varied educational career as both a language and music teacher.  She earned her M Ed in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University and her BME in Instrumental Music from Louisiana State University.

Keep the conversation going with Holly on Twitter @hmrodgers

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