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Last December, we led a Master Class on teaching Romeo and Juliet, streamed live from the public television studio we have tucked inside our building.  Six hundred of you joined us, asked questions and made comments on the air, and lit up the chat box during the hour.  A whole bunch of you were kind enough to participate in the survey that we sent you the following day.  In the course of your feedback, several of you suggested that the Folger hold office hours on a regular basis  . . . and on Twitter.

We loved the office hours idea!  For the last few months, we’ve done that–but for sure we don’t have the hang of it yet.  So we’re asking you to help us get this right. . . because that’s how we roll here.  We don’t ever plan anything without input and advice from teachers.

First, a reality check:  office hours for an hour or two on a monthly basis . . . overall a good idea?  If it is, then I’m gonna keep on asking:

  • What time of day, and which day, is best for you?
  • Is Twitter the best medium?  Our notion was to give quick answers and then follow up with  more detailed info in a blog entry that’s posted the following week.  Does that make sense to you?
  • What would make you want to show up at office hours?
  • Should office hours be on topics of your choosing, or should that be on us?  “January’s office hours: Teaching Macbeth
  • Should we schedule topics way in advance?
  • What other good ideas should we be having about this that we’re not?

Answer in the comments section and straighten us out.  Thanks.  Help.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011.

Today we’re featuring a lesson plan from among the highest rated teaching modules on our website. It’s written by Kevin J. Costa, a 2010 Teaching Shakespeare Institute alum and an English teacher at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD, where he also serves as Director of Fine & Performing Arts.

Read Costa’s introduction to this lesson plan, “The Bullies and the Bullied,” which is tailored for Othello but can be adapted for other Shakepeare plays:

“In this lesson, students will approach Shakespeare’s Othello through the lens of bullying — a modern-day adolescent problem of which students may have first-hand experience. By drawing on their own understanding of bullying and on definitions and descriptions of bullying widely available, students will have a powerful entry point into one of Shakespeare’s most psychologically complex plays.

This lesson will likely provide ample opportunities to engage students in timely discussions of pressures they might be facing in their own experiences, and the hope is that beginning with a focus on a highly charged issue like bullying, this will allow students a way to start “doing” things with Shakespeare’s language instead of getting caught in the idea that they can’t understand it. An engaging issue can help students to bypass this block.

Students will participate in a pre-reading discussion of bullying in order to establish definitions from which they will draw in discussions of the play as it is studied.

At the conclusion of their reading, students will stage select scenes from the play in order to understand and assess whether characters in Othello are perpetrators and/or victims of bullying as our culture understands the term today. Final staging of scenes will follow the festival model proposed by Folger Education as a way of creating a capstone project for your study of the play.

This lesson is designed to frame an entire approach to Othello and will take approximately two to three 50-minute classes prior to reading the play and approximately one to two weeks following the conclusion of reading. The staging of scenes may be tailored to the class’s interests, time, and student size; however, teachers should adapt any part of this as they see fit.”

Interested? Read step-by-step instructions for this lesson plan on our website, where we also have links to related worksheets and a video.

Emily Jordan Folger Children's Festival, 2013. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Festival, 2013.
Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week we wrapped up our annual Secondary School Shakespeare Festival.

Students from close to 50 local schools performed 25-minute scenes from Shakespeare plays onstage at the Folger in front of their peers.

(You can see some photos and tweets at #FolgerFest. A lot of fun had by all!)

Now we’re getting ready for our Children’s Festival in May, for local students in grades 3-6!

We’ve got a great thing going on here in the DC area, but student Shakespeare festivals have cropped up in other parts of the U.S. too.

There’s the Shakesperience: NJ festival in May, hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library and Rider University.

Then there’s the Shakespeare Scene Festival for middle school and high school students, held at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock–a festival that was inspired by a workshop at the Folger!

We could go on naming them, but we want to ask you these questions: Is there a student Shakespeare festival in your area? If not, what’s standing in the way of you starting one?

The Folger has some great material to help you organize and prepare for a festival. Find what you need on our website:

And if you’re participating in or preparing for a student Shakespeare festival right now, how’s it going? We’d love to hear from you and your students.

Novels can help engage students not only with Shakespeare’s language (as we discussed in Tuesday’s blog post about That Shakespeare Kid) but also with his characters and stories.

With spring break coming up, maybe your students will be interested in a little light reading that also keeps them thinking about the Bard.

Reading the Folger Shakespeare edition of Hamlet. Photo by Chris Hartlove.

Drawing on some suggestions that first appeared in Folger Magazine, here are a few of the books out there:

The Dream of Perpetual Motion

By Dexter Palmer

“Prospero, Miranda, and other characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest resurface in this darkly imaginative novel set in a steampunk universe. The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the story of islands—both paradises and prisons—and the hero’s dream of redemption through impossible love.”

Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs

By Ron Koertge

“In this charming and clever sequel to Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, fourteen-year-old protagonist Kevin Boland explores baseball and poetry with equal enthusiasm. A novel in verse form, the book reads like the journal entries of a sharp and observant teen—funny, self-reflective, and disarmingly honest.”

The Fool’s Girl

By Celia Rees

“Forced to flee Illyria in disguise with only her fool for company, young Violetta embarks on a dangerous mission to regain her kingdom. This historical tale weaves together plot twists from Twelfth Night with vivid scenes from Shakespeare’s London into an engaging tale of a gutsy heroine’s quest for justice.”

Here are two blog posts from our archives with even more book suggestions:

Extra Credit: Romeo & Juliet

Extra Credit: Hamlet

Tell us: What books do you recommend to your students? What are some of your favorite Shakespeare-inspired novels for teens?

That Shakespeare KidWe have teachers ask us all the time how to introduce Shakespeare’s language in a way that’s engaging to students.

One possible approach: young adult novels that weave the Bard’s words along with the kind of dialogue familiar to students.

“That Shakespeare Kid,” by Folger Education’s senior consultant Michael LoMonico, presents just this combination.

Fourteen-year-old Emma narrates the story of her friend Peter, who, after a bump to the head, finds himself able to speak only by using the words of Shakespeare.

What a pickle!

This excerpt picks up the story the day after the accident, when Emma sees Peter at the bus stop and finds his conversation much altered:

—————————————————————————————————————

I went right over to Peter. “Hey,” I said. “I was so worried about you. Are you feeling better today?”

Peter hesitated a while and before he could stop himself, he found himself saying, “Methinks I see these things with parted eye.

“What are you talking about? I said.

But soft, methinks I scent the morning air,” he said.

“Huh? Start making sense,” I said.

All the world is cheered by the sun,” Peter answered.

“Very funny,” I said. “Methinks you’re an idiot.”

Go Rot!” said Peter.

“What’s with you and this stupid way of talking?” I asked.

I never was so bethumped with words,” said Peter. “Tis my occupation to be plain.”

“Listen, Peter,” I said. “You’re really starting to get on my nerves.”

Alack,” was all he said.

Just then the bus pulled up.

“Well, methinks that I’ll be sitting as far away from you as I can on the bus. You’re really creeping me out.”

Peter avoided all conversations on the bus, which wasn’t very hard because, as I said, except for me, he really didn’t have many friends. I always thought Peter was a bit odd, and I found his oddness kind of fun. But that morning I just wasn’t in the mood for this latest goofiness, so I sat next to my friend Melanie, and Peter sat in the back seat—alone.

He wasn’t quite sure why he was speaking so funny, he told me later. “My thinking seems pretty normal,” he thought to himself. “But each time I open my mouth, these strange words come out. Until I figure this out, I better try to say as little as possible.”

Peter got into school with the decision to keep quiet until he could figure out why he could no longer speak a simple sentence. He just shook his head when Mr. Scott, his math teacher, asked him if he did his homework. Of course he had done his homework, but he knew if he had said yes, he’d blurt out something like, “Shall we go draw our numbers and set on?” He did the same thing in Social Studies because if Ms. Delaney asked him a question, he might say, “To be or not to be. That is the question.

He wasn’t the kind of student to just sit in the back and keep quiet, so he felt frustrated all morning. He was sitting alone in study hall when I came in and sat across from him. “You don’t look too good,” I said. “Are you feeling alright?”

I am not merry.”

“Well that’s OK, but I hope you’re still not talking that dumb way you were this morning.  I don’t know what you were trying to prove.”

Why ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.”

“Huh? Not again,” I said. “Why are you acting so lame? What do you have to be sad about?”

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. I have this while with leaden thoughts been pressed.

“So you don’t know why you’re talking so funny and you don’t know why you’re depressed,” I said. “Well if you ask me, start talking like a normal person and see if that helps.”

“Say, why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?

I shook my head and walked away, despite Peter’s desperate cry, “Anon!”

2013 Secondary School Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library.

2013 Secondary School Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Peggy O’Brien

Let’s make a date for another day to have a longer, more nuanced conversation about the many parts of the Common Core.

For now, I just want to say that if we could put politics aside and testing aside (and unfortunately, in our beloved field of education, we can put aside neither for long), the expectations for student mastery laid out in the Common Core are the same kinds of expectations that good teachers have had for their students for centuries. Centuries.

And what gets me going on about the Common Core at the moment is that our theatre is crammed this week and next with middle and high school students performing Shakespeare at the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival.

In their schools, they have been learning Shakespeare by getting up and doing it… and then they come to the Folger Theatre.

Eight schools are here each day; they each perform their 25-minute scene and are audience to the other schools. They comment on one another’s work.

The Mistress of the Revels orchestrates language games in between scenes, and during this year’s Festival, each day is ending with all 250 students, teachers, and parent-chaperones collaborating to produce a 20-minute version of Richard III. 

The solid gold under all of this high energy is that these students really know these plays, this language, these characters because they have been learning all of this from the inside out.

Get Shakespeare’s language into the mouths of students of any age, let them get a chance to feel it**, and what starts to happen? Students begin to make their own way through complex texts. How? Through intense close reading, serious analysis, disciplined collaborative work.

If you had seen the Cassius I saw a bit earlier today (thank you, Dakota Rosell from Walkersville High School, Walkersville, MD), you would have said what I did: That guy is Cassius.  Or that excellent, clearly motivated Theseus (thank you, Tatiana Chavez, Duke Ellington School, Washington, DC).

The deeper students go, the better they get at it. They’re learning Shakespeare by getting up and “doing” Shakespeare–in English class, in the hallways, in the gym, in a drama class, in an after-school drama club.

Will some of them go on to be actors?  Some. Mostly they will end up in other careers, and in lives where they hopefully will be unafraid to dive into a bit of compelling literature from time to time.

You can call that a good life, or you can call that knowing your way around a complex text.

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2011 © duytranphotography.com

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival.
Folger Shakespeare Library, 2011 © duytranphotography.com

**To give students a chance to feel the language, try this:

  • Get out on an athletic field or in the gym or distribute ear plugs to your colleagues on either side.
  • Divide your class in half, and have them face each other in two groups.
  • One half should shout this line VERY LOUD at the other half:  You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
  • The other half should respond VERY LOUDLY as well:  We are such stuff as dreams are made on!
  • Repeat.  Switch lines.
  • Bonus:  If you want to teach iambic pentameter, You blocks . . .  is a perfect line to start with!
Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2011 © duytranphotography.com

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival.
Folger Shakespeare Library, 2011 © duytranphotography.com

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.

Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

Drawing by John Austen for an edition of Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.2), 1890 painting by Ludovic Marchetti of Romeo and Juliet (ART Vol. f220). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week, we took a reader poll to ask which Shakespeare plays were being taught this semester. Top of the list (as of this writing): Romeo and Juliet, with more than 25 percent of the vote.

Macbeth took second place with 22 percent, and Hamlet third with 10 percent. Our write-in option was also quite popular, with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing making multiple appearances.

Good news! We have a wealth of resources for teaching each of these plays. Here are a few highlights:

  • Romeo and Juliet – In December, Folger Education recorded an hour-long master class for teaching Romeo and Juliet. You can watch the archived version online, broken down into video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.
  • Macbeth – Folger educators talk about surefire ways for successfully introducing students to the Scottish play in this podcast, Macbeth: The Teacher’s Edition.
  • Hamlet – Watch the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet. These videos highlight the play’s themes, characters, and plot—perfect for students encountering Hamlet for the first time.

Find more resources by downloading a curriculum guide for each of these popular plays. The guides include a brief synopsis, two lesson plans, famous quotes from the play, prompts for teachers, links to podcasts and videos, and a list of suggested additional resources.

Want even more? Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all included in our Shakespeare Set Free books, a series written by Folger Education’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute faculty and participants. (Today’s your last chance to apply for this year’s TSI, by the way!) Each book is packed with practical, specific ideas to use in the classroom.

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