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We revisit Julia Perlowski’s active lesson surrounding Romeo and Juliet‘s Prologue from 2014.


 

By Julia Perlowski 

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

If the use of Shakespeare’s early modern English is under attack in some “regular” and “honors” English classrooms, just think about what the reaction might be to the use of such rigorous text in an Intensive Reading class!

At Pompano Beach High School, I am not only the ONLY drama teacher, I am also the ONLY reading teacher. I teach all levels of reading from grades 9-12. While I am producing Romeo and Juliet in the auditorium during fourth period with my drama students, I am reading the same texts way out in portable 3 during first and second periods with my striving readers.

I believe that a text does not have to be changed among students of a variety of abilities… just the TASKS! One may “perform” Shakespeare by acting it out or by engaging in ANY activity that requires one to read closely and critically to execute the task. With struggling readers, there is great power in reading and re-reading and re-reading, for that is how even the best of readers grasps meaning, nuances, and depth.

Here is the “performance” task around the R&J Prologue for my Intensive Reading Class:

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By Casey Christenson

 

“Yeaahhhhhh, a close reading.  So, liiiikkkkkeeeee, what do you mean?”

 

Inevitably and understandably this is a strategy I must visit and revisit with my students each year. This time it’s while I’m handing out photocopies of Barbara Ascher’s “On Compassion,” and it has only been about twenty-four hours since the last time I was asked to explain my expectation.  “It will probably look different for each of you.  It’s evidence of your engagement with the text.  It’s kind of like having a conversation with a piece of writing.” I’m always okay with the uncomfortable looks on my kids’ faces.  What does a close read look like, and more importantly FEEL like, for a seventeen-year-old anyway?

 

When I consider how intimidating it must be for a young reader to personally engage with a piece of writing, I remember what it felt like to stand on the Folger stage for the first time.  Sure, I’d probably read Hamlet’s lines at least two dozen times on my own and with my students, but standing on the stage where actual performers became Hamlet was incredibly overwhelming.  How was I, in all my non-actor ways, going to BE Hamlet and deliver my lines to the beautiful Ophelia?  Enter prompt book assignment stage left.

Paul Robeson's Othello prompt book.

Paul Robeson’s prompt book for Othello. (Image: Folger Shakespeare Library)

 

As my partner Chasidy and I read through our assigned script together, our observations and questions came naturally: How would Hamlet say this?  What would he be doing? What would Ophelia’s body language say?  The experience was about nothing more than piecing together what we knew to be true about our beloved characters and bringing them to life as we came to know them.  Our own past encounters played a role, but our prompt books were the evidence of OUR conversation with Hamlet.

 

My week at the Folger reminded me of how vulnerable we can be with a text if we so choose.  Our experience with a piece of literature is so incredibly personal.  I’m grateful I got to be a student again and was reminded of the process that opens us up to the worlds our favorite writers create for us.

 

Do my students fully understand this amazing process? Not so much, but if they realize it’s less about the grade, and more about implementing a strategy that will enable them to having a potentially meaningful conversation with the works created by some of the greatest writers ever to put pen to paper, I’ll take a smudged, over-highlighted, but closely read, photocopy of “On Compassion” any day.

 

 

Casey Christenson teaches AP Literature and American Literature at Northview High School in Johns Creek, GA.  She was a participant in Folger’s Summer Academy 2015 during which time she felt a lot of feels.  Casey is human to two dogs, two cats, and two frogs, likes the color blue, and thoroughly enjoys writing ridiculous biographies about herself.

By Folger Education

This post you’re about to read was viewed, shared, and liked more than almost any other on our blog last school year. Since its original publication, both Debbie Gascon, the high school teacher who wrote it, and Folger staff, have heard from teachers all over the country who loved—and tried out, to great results—Debbie’s ideas. If you’re looking for a way to make your classroom joyful, active, collaborative, and, yes, just the right kind of challenging—right from day 1—look no further. Try out a few of Debbie’s tested strategies for getting students on their feet and into complex texts in minutes. And let us know how it all goes: shoot Corinne Viglietta an email at cviglietta@folger.edu. Wishing you and your students a happy, productive return to school!


 

Eighteen years ago, days before my first year teaching began, my principal gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about the first day of school. She simply said, “Make the students want to come back.” She told me to forget the syllabus and classroom procedures—the students won’t retain those rules and did I really want my first impression to be about how to ask for the bathroom pass?

As suggested, I followed through with my hopefully-memorable plans on that first day. When I ate dinner that night (in my pjs because I was so exhausted!) I had visions of my eighth graders at their dinner tables telling their families about their invigorating English class. I’m still not sure if that happened, but they all came back the next day with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. They were optimistic. And so was I.

With that advice in mind, on the first day of school for the past two years I’ve incorporated Folger performance methods in my lesson plans.  What a difference this has made. No longer were my sleepy seniors glaring at me (and the clock) and no longer were my freshmen struggling to sit still in a desk after a summer of hyperactivity.  Instead, students were on their feet, participating and laughing (and learning!).

Here are some quick methods to get the students up on their feet and loving the first day (and every day after!) in your classroom:

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By Jill Burdick-Zupancic

 

Ophelia

Ophelia. (Image: Folger Library)

As summer (too quickly) comes to a close, I’m filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety. What will my students be like? Will what worked last year work again this year? What can I do to make this year a successful and engaging one? Big questions. No easy answers. But, here are some basics I’ll when starting a new school year with the Bard.

 

    • Start Early – I’ve started each of the past three school years with “2-line scenes.” It’s an easy activity to create: find some of those famous zingers – insults or notable lines – from any of Shakespeare’s works, give one line to each student (preferably from different works), have the kids get in pairs, and ask them to create a scene! This does a number of fantastic things early in the year. First, it gets the kids out of their seats during a monotonous week of syllabi review. Second, it gets them building the classroom community by learning the norms of performance (however they choose to set those). Third, it forces them to think creatively to create a new context using Shakespeare’s words. I’ll use this on day one, but I think any time the first week works well. You’ll have exposed your students to Shakespeare early, and chances are they’ll come across some of those lines again as you approach longer texts throughout the year.

 

    • Variety – Most of us spend a great deal of our year studying literature, and we love it! But, I find my students’ attention waning when we’re studying a longer text. Consider your objectivesand try to insert small pieces of Shakespeare throughout the year. Want the students to explore tone? Check out Claudius’ speech from Act I, Scene 2 of Hamlet. Analyzing imagery? Also from Hamlet is Gertrude’s retelling of Ophelia’s death – a great choice! Teaching the kids about persuasion? How about that powerful interaction between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the end of Act I? Whatever you choose to use, just because you’re not sitting down to tackle an entire play doesn’t mean you can’t spice up some Chaucer, Twain, Hurston, or Hemingway with a little Shakespeare!

 

    • Confidence – Yes, be confident in yourself, but also be confident that your kids will get Shakespeare, they will connect to Shakespeare, and they will like Shakespeare. He’s still around in our classrooms and throughout the world outside our classrooms because he’s relevant, and kids will understand that with you as their guide.

Cheers to the start of another exciting school year!

 

Jill Burdick-Zupancic is beginning her eighth year as an educator and currently teaches Honors English and AP Art History at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA. She is a Member of the Folger National Teaching Corps and a Teaching Shakespeare Institute (TSI) alumna from 2012. Jill can be reached at jeburdickzup@fcps.edu.

By Folger Education

We know you’re gearing up for another school year, and we wanted to send some inspiration and enjoyment your way. Here are some lines about teaching and learning from Shakespeare, compiled by our very own Mike LoMonico.


 

Yes, it’s that time again for teachers all across the country. So here are some things Shakespeare says about school and learning and teachers.

 

Learning:
O Lord, I could have stay’d here all the night
To hear good counsel: O, what learning is! Romeo and Juliet: 3.3

O this learning, what a thing it is! The Taming of the Shrew: 1.2

Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies. The Taming of the Shrew: 1.1

 

Study:
Where did you study all this goodly speech? The Taming of the Shrew: 2.1

You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which
I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?  Hamlet: 2.2

Give it me, for I am slow of study. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: 1.2

Alas, I took great pains to study it, and ’tis poetical. Twelfth Night: 1.5

 

School:
Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books,
But love from love, toward school with heavy looks. Romeo and Juliet: 2.2

Thou camest on earth to make the earth my hell.
A grievous burthen was thy birth to me;
Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy;
Thy school-days frightful, desperate, wild, and furious. King Richard III: 4.4

He had rather see the swords, and hear a drum, than look upon his school-master. Coriolanus: 1.3

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.  As You Like It: 2.7

 

Teach:
To teach a teacher ill beseemeth me. Love’s Labour’s Lost: 2.1

Those that do teach young babes
Do it with gentle means and easy tasks. Othello: 4.2

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! Romeo and Juliet: 1.5

O, let me teach you how to knit again Titus Andronicus: 5.3

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching. Merchant of Venice: 1.2

Do you have any others? If so, please post them in the comments section below.

By Shauna Rynn Waters

 

I came back from the Folger Summer Academy full of fire and ideas.  It was like a tent revival for English teachers, I guess, or an encounter with what Prometheus stole from the Olympian hearth. I felt real enthusiasm for getting back in the classroom and for trying some new approaches to teaching works I’ve loved for a long time.

 

Then the first day of PD hit me.

 

It wasn’t bad, I suppose. In fact, we had a really good keynote speaker this year, someone who was sensible, moving, and meaningful. He was genuinely inspirational. It also seemed like everyone from the mayor on down the line was trying very hard to keep the meeting stripped down to those essential bits we simply must have every year. As I looked at checklists, additional duties, new policies, and detailed descriptions I have to pay attention to this year, though, I felt a definite snag in the flight of my joy for the new year.

 

BUT . . . when I got home, finally got settled in my comfortable chair, took in an episode of the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice mini-series on Amazon Prime streaming, and my sweet cat Dillon was curled around my neck on the back of my chair, my thoughts cleared and I developed a new resolution. This year IS going to be a good one. All the little bits of busywork that surround education in the modern age aren’t going to destroy the desire I replenished this summer to help my students dive into literature and writing–and discover.

 

I keep thinking about what Dr. Sandy Mack said about the humanities during our session with him at the Folger: “Science teaches us how the world works; the humanities teach us how to be human.” That task, that effort, is too important to let these little speed bumps discourage me from its pursuit.  Thursday, the students are going to arrive, and all the things I’m so excited about sharing with them are going to be in my hands like so many jewels. I’m not going to let the transactional stuff keep me from being happy about sharing those riches and watching the students learn just how beautiful they really are. I love my profession; I love the place in which I practice it; I love the students who go on these annual journeys with me. Everything else is unimportant.

* A longer version of this article was first published on Tales from the Ivory Tower on August 3, 2015.

 

Shauna Rynn Waters teaches high school English at Meridian High School in Meridian, MS and is a recent graduate of Folger’s Summer Academy 2015. You can read more about her life as a teacher at Tales from the Ivory Tower.

By Mari O’Meara

 

Like most teachers, when a Shakespearean unit is announced, I am greeted by many loud groans and a few students voicing the usual (whiny) complaints- “It’s so boring!” “I don’t understand it”; “Do we have to?”  Tuning out students’ complaints is a well-developed skill of all teachers.  The one complaint I always find satisfaction in responding to is “Do we have to?”

 

To my students’ surprise and premature glee, I tell my students, “no, you don’t have to study Shakespeare”; however, like all curriculum, the reasons to NOT study Shakespeare in an English curriculum must be carefully researched, supported, and presented.  Thus, I challenge my students to take on the task of proving me (and the school board) why we shouldn’t study Shakespeare in a secondary English classroom.

 

Thinking they are getting out of learning, the students embrace the challenge, and thus, immerse themselves in formal and intense Shakespearean scholarship. Before they begin, I make it clear the only argument that garners no merit is to argue that Shakespeare is boring. Students offer subjects ranging from racism, sexual content, misogyny, religious issues, plagiarism, to the difficulty of Shakespearean language, the importance of a global curriculum, and even the authorship debate as reasons to not study Shakespeare—all topics that pique their interests and motivate them to want to learn more.

 

I have yet to find students come to the conclusion they shouldn’t study Shakespeare.  In fact, their overwhelming response is that studying Shakespeare is a valuable and necessary experience. Even though they eventually embrace the study of Shakespeare, they are students, and they will continue to complain; it’s just that their complaining shifts to “why can’t we study more Shakespeare?”

 

Mari O’Meara is a member of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s National Teacher Corps.  She teaches 12th grade English and Film Studies at Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis).  She can be contacted at mmomeara@msn.com.

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