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Archive for the ‘Tales from the Classroom’ Category

Karen Peakes (Emilia) and Janie Brookshire (Desdemona) in Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Karen Peakes (Emilia) and Janie Brookshire (Desdemona) in Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

By Deborah Gascon

I set a goal this school year to include several, less time-consuming (but equally as meaningful), mini-research projects into my teaching of literature. Enter resident experts!

This quick strategy to get students researching more frequently scaffolds the skills they need to complete the big, scary research paper we assign in the spring.

The research also provided another opportunity to delve deeply into the text and study Shakespeare’s language. I started using resident experts with Othello, but this project is universal to anything you teach.

I provided my students with a list of possible research topics regarding Othello and Shakespeare and the time period.

Topics included, but were not limited to, Moors, Cyprus, Venice, maps, naval officers, interracial marriage laws of the time period, rights of women, love tokens, willow trees/the willow song, sumptuary laws–the list goes on.

Some students added topics while we read: one student researched the psychology behind jealousy (after reading Iago ironically boast “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster”) and another student asked to research the symbolism behind strawberries. The topics were vast and self-selected.

After students chose a topic, they were given time to research during our reading of Othello.  I told my students to find the five most interesting points about that topic related to the reading and then to back up those research topics with evidence from the text, combining Shakespeare’s language with their research. (more…)

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Secondary Festival 2013

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, 2013. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Mike Klein

Year after year kids in my classroom have strikingly similar reactions to my announcement, “Tomorrow, we’ll be starting Shakespeare.” That reaction is usually a series of “Ughs,” or “Oh nos!” or “Whys?” The most dreaded by English teachers everywhere is, of course, “I hate Shakespeare!”

Perhaps I am different, perhaps I’m a masochist, but I relish these answers. I see them as my opportunity to do what I set out to do when I decided to become a teacher – change minds.

Teaching Shakespeare in my class begins by starting not with books, but with words. Not just any words, Shakespeare’s words. The most effective method of getting kids of any age (I know because I do these lessons with my middle school drama kids!) comfortable with Shakespeare is by leaving the books on the shelves. Books can be cumbersome and have copious notes and footnotes so I begin by giving them a single page of lines from the play I’m going to start them with.

Almost any play works with an exercise called “Three-Dimensional Shakespeare,” outlined by Michael Tolaydo in Shakespeare Set Free. I use it for Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing.

(more…)

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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:

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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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