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Join us as we add to our list of summer reading recommendations by English teachers and for English teachers!


brian-boyd-lyricsCorinne Viglietta, an English teacher with BASIS DC in Washington, DC, offers these selections:

- My first pick is Brian Boyd’s Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets. We all love the plays, but Boyd reminds us why Shakespeare’s sonnets are worth teaching, too. Drawing on psychology and history, Boyd argues that the sonnets reject narrative form in order to explore “the possibilities of verse without stories.” What I like most about Boyd’s approach is its emphasis on close, line-by-line reading, especially reading for patterns. Students working on explications of complex verse can look to this book not just for exemplars but for a celebration of the power of the lyric.

- My second pick is Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones. DC teachers will recognize the street names and landmarks in this now classic collection of short stories (often compared to Joyce’s Dubliners), but every reader can relate to these profoundly human tales of hope, loss, and community. “The First Day” is an unforgettable walk in a young student’s shoes. I remember feeling extremely honored to be an English teacher after I first read that story.


Mark Miazga, an English teacher in Baltimore, recommends these books:

- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — a page-turning reflection on race, immigration, and identity. It feels like one of the first great novels about the internet age (blogging is a key component), yet it also has a timeless feel to it. Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet is a recent discovery as well–a moving, sprawling Australian family saga built with beautiful, lyrical language.

- A non-fiction book I recommend is the 2011 collection of James Baldwin’s writings released under the title The Cross of Redemption. It contains his essay “Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare”, which is great, but, in general, I think he’s a major under-appreciated voice whose writing, especially his non-fiction, can be riveting and life-changing.


See our blog post from Tuesday for even more recommendations, and tell us about your own favorites in the comments below.

Now that summer is here, we’re rounding up some summer reading recommendations–from English teachers, for English teachers. Let us know in the comments what you’re reading this summer and what you recommend.

Here are four recommendations from Jill Burdick-Zupancic, who is in her sixth year of teaching and currently teaches Honors English and AP Art History at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA. She is a Teaching Shakespeare Institute (TSI) alumna from 2012.

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Mary Bevilacqua

Mary Bevilacqua

To celebrate the 30-year milestone for the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, we’re doing a series of interviews with alumni.

A few days ago, we talked with Geoff Stanbury, who participated in the 2010 TSI program. For our next interview, we turned to Mary Bevilacqua, a 1991 TSI alum who was a teacher for 30 years. Mary taught 9th grade English and AP Literature for twelfth graders at Western High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

How did TSI change the way you teach?

TSI changed the way I teach because it gave me the confidence, the tools and the knowledge that enabled me to transform my classroom into a miniature TSI, complete with costumes, set designs, and not only reading, but also acting out the plays.  The best part: I did it with “regular” classes, along with gifted and AP. And I incorporated it in everything we studied, especially poetry.

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As we anticipate our 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, which starts on June 29, we’re spending some time reflecting over the last 30 years of the program, from when it first began in 1984. To celebrate this 30-year milestone, we’re doing a series of interviews with TSI graduates.

We got in touch with a TSI graduate from 2010 to see where he is now and to hear how his TSI experience has changed the way he teaches.

Geoff Stanbury

Geoff Stanbury

Geoff Stanbury currently teaches at St. Mark’s School of Texas and just finished his sixth year of teaching 7th grade humanities. Next year he’ll be teaching 9th, 11th, and 12th grade English. He says he’s “planning on imbuing classes with as much Shakespeare as possible” and hopes to launch a Shakespeare elective class.

Here are his answers to a few questions we asked:

1. How did TSI change the way you teach?

TSI got me to internalize the fact that it’s fun and productive to ignore convention within the classroom. As long as I can imagine how students could benefit from any particular activity, no matter how weird, than any such activity is a good one.

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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. Continue Reading »

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.

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Folger Teaching Shakespeare InstituteIn 1984, the National Endowment for the Humanities funded the first Teaching Shakespeare Institute, a month-long summer program at the Folger for high school and middle school teachers from across the country. Thirty years later, TSI is still going strong.

This summer we’re commemorating three decades of tradition and celebrating how TSI has transformed the way Shakespeare is taught in American classrooms.

In coming weeks on this blog, we’ll be posting interviews with alumni from past TSI programs, leading up to TSI 2014, which begins June 29. Less than a month to go!

TSI began under Folger Education’s founding director, Peggy O’Brien, who left the Folger in 1994 but returned in 2013. O’Brien edited Shakespeare Set Free, a groundbreaking series packed with practical, specific teaching ideas written by TSI faculty and participants.

In past summers, participants have studied four Shakespeare plays—a play a week—from three essential perspectives: scholarship, performance, and the secondary school classroom. However, this summer the 25 teachers in TSI will undertake a more in-depth look at just two plays: Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. Read more.

Are you a TSI alum? Send your photos to educate@folger.edu for a photo gallery that we’re creating to celebrate this 30-year milestone.

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