Archive for November, 2011

Folger Education booth at this year’s NCTE Convention

Folger Education staff recently attended and presented workshops on teaching Shakespeare at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Chicago.  The convention celebrated the 100th birthday of NCTE, and it offered teachers in attendance many sessions that focused on the new Common Core State Standards set for implementation in schools from approximately 46 states and the District of Columbia in 2014.  Shakespeare is included in the Common Core Standards as suggested readings for high school students, and many of the skills students will be required to demonstrate a proficiency in are introduced in the elementary grades.  What have you and your school district been doing to get ready for the integration of the Common Core Standards in your classroom?  If you would like to get started, join us for our Shakespeare and the Common Core Standards webinar on Monday, December 5th, from 7-8:30 pm EST.

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~by Jess Jung

Shakespeare for a New Generation is a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest.

When I first walked into Ballou High School I was intimidated.  I didn’t exactly…fit in.  Nevertheless, I handed my I.D. to the security guard, placed my purse onto the black conveyer belt, passed through the metal detector, and headed towards Ms. Polk’s Acting Two class.

It was instantly clear that the challenge with my Ballou students would be to identify ways they could connect to Shakespeare.  To these students, Shakespeare was some dead dude that pretty much wrote in a foreign language.  So who cares?  Fortunately, Ms. Polk had told me that her students connect to music.  In fact, she often plays hip-hop to motivate her students during work time.  This seemed to be the best place for us to start.

I began my first lesson with The Beatbox Game (one student starts a beat and each member of the group layers in another sound using their body and/or voice).  Ms. Polk’s students, smiling, swiftly created a beatbox melody and we were on our way to our next task – writing a lyric from their favorite song on a piece of paper.  I then asked the students to swap papers and read the lyrics.  “Why are these lyrics our favorite?  What moves us?  What do they all have in common?”  A discussion ensued that ultimately led to two answers: rhythm and images.  “And that’s Shakespeare’s text!  Shakespeare’s most famous lines are just like the lyrics you wrote on your paper.” 

As I left Ms. Polk’s class I felt successful.  Although they were far from Shakespeare experts, Ms. Polk’s students found a connection to Shakespeare through their love of music.  It just goes to show that every student can connect to Shakespeare – you just have to plug them into right outlet.

Jess Jung is a Teaching Artist for Folger Teaching Artists in the Schools, a program generously funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest under Shakespeare for a New Generation. Jess earned her MFA in directing from DePaul University, and applies her theatrical and educational talents as a teaching artist for various other programs in the DC area.


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Very often, it is not necessary to teach the history behind Shakespeare’s plays to enjoy them in the classroom. It is merely enough to speak the words, explore the text, and get to know the characters.

If possible, however, the influence of monarchs on Shakespeare’s plays can be just as interesting.

How is Macbeth a dramatization of the Gunpowder Plot? Why was a certain scene in Richard II banned from performance? Why did the play Henry VIII end with praise for baby Elizabeth and not a beheading? Why do we now remember Richard III as a hunchbacked murderer?

And why, for goodness sake,  did he write Merry Wives of Windsor?

Because the royals requested it.

Last night I saw a performance from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival of Bill Cain’s highly acclaimed Equivocation, which – through fiction – explores the dangerous but necessary link between politics and art, and how they each influence each other. I left with my head buzzing around things I’d never considered about the two. Their study materials were a very interesting read (if a bit high-scholarly).

If the means are available, consider the history behind the plays’ performances. What was the political state at the time? Who was on the throne? Who had caused a scandal at court? What was happening in London (or made world news) at that time? Elizabeth I and James I both had a noticeable influence on what Shakespeare wrote about, and how his plays were received.

I would love to hear if anyone’s done a student project on anything like this before – and what was gleaned from it. Or perhaps it could be fun for the few students left in your classrooms the day before Thanksgiving to read up on the history around the play you’re studying this semester and create a timeline or parallel guide to the fact and the fiction. Has anyone done any lessons on these links before, or plan to?

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Recently the internet was abuzz with excitement over a secretly produced film of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Joss Whedon. Mostly, probably, because it’s one of the most well-loved nerds ever directing a cast of a few more of the most well-loved nerds.

I excitedly shared this information with my High School Fellowship mentees the day the news broke. I bounced in my seat, my eyes wide with excitement as I told them that Whedon had directed, and would release (eventually), a new setting for Much Ado on film.

Their blank looks knocked the wind right out of me. They had read Much Ado, they had had animated discussions about the play, and even more heated discussions about a local production they’d seen. They had written essays, become attached to characters, drawn out their own themes and morals from it. Nothing.

Maybe I had focused too much on the aspect that Whedon was directing. After all, they were far to young for Buffy or Angel when it was out, and hardly anyone’s seen Firefly unless you were told about it first. “A new adaptation of Much Ado on film, though, guys! That’s got to be cool,” I pressed, hoping that they’d get interested. Still nada.

Now, HSFP students have – as we like to say – drunk the Shakespeare kool-aid. If they can’t get excited about a new film version of a play, will students who’ve never seen it?

So I suppose that’s my question for you, educators. What gets your students excited about Shakespeare outside of the classroom? New film versions by well-loved directors? Shakespeare lines set to hip hop? Novels (or graphic novels) inspired by Shakespeare? Local live performances? There’s a plethora of ways Shakespeare is presented in the modern world, but who is it reaching?

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Shakespeare Pro for iPhone&iPad

Shakespeare entered the world of  iPods, iPhones, iPads, and all Android devices early on. App designers found that using the complete works was cheap and easy as the texts were already available in the public domain.

Just take a look at the iTunes store and you’ll see a variety of Apps, from Shakespeare Pro to Shakespeare in Bits.  Unfortunately, you’ll also find a “free”  No Fear Shakespeare app, which according to the angry comments I read, only gives one access to purchase individual plays in “modern” translations.

Android users also have access to lots of Shakespeare apps such as the free Shakespeare (Beta) and one on the Sonnets which includes audio versions as well as text.

We at the Folger are looking into creating a Folger app, and we need your advice. Here are a few questions we’d like to ask you. Please post your responses in the Comments sections.

  1. Should the app be designed for students, teachers, or the general public?
  2. What would you want to see in a Folger app?
  3. How do you use the Shakespeare apps that are already available?
  4. What’s the best and worst of those apps?
  5. What features of non-Shakespeare apps do you find most useful?
  6. Take a look at http://www.folger.edu and tell us what parts of our site you’d want in an app.
So please post answers to these questions in the comments section.
When I begin a workshop on Teaching Shakespeare with Technology, I often challenge the crowd to take out their phones or tablets and  tell me the opening line of Coriolanus.  The record is 7 seconds.
If you want to contact me directly, you can at MLoMonico@Folger.edu.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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~by Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger

I was lucky enough to greet a group of students participating in the Shakespeare Steps Out program this morning. Two schools joined us at Folger Shakespeare Library for a tour of the building, a discussion of Shakespeare’s times, and a hands-on stage combat workshop. Bringing these children into the library and getting them directly involved with Shakespeare is one of the things Folger does best.

students from Miner Elementary participate in a Stage Combat Workshop during the Shakespeare Steps Out program.

Like many adults, I was introduced to Shakespeare in the classroom. Most of my teachers had us read page after page, trying to make sense of a work of art that was created to be experienced, seen on the stage, and acted out—not read. The words of Shakespeare are literally life-changing, but those words need to jump around, tumble out of the mouths of children and adults, be flung at each other—in other words (no pun intended) to be experienced.

The groups today experienced Shakespeare in a way that few adults are willing to experience Shakespeare. Boys and girls allowed us to dress them in costumes that are representative of what wealthy folks would have worn in Shakespeare’s time. They willingly participated in a discussion of how they know the portrait hanging in the Founders’ Room must be Queen Elizabeth based on the clues they could see (a face they have seen in other portraits, her jeweled gown, the richness of the fabric on her dress). They spotted characters from plays they had studied (yes, these fourth graders were familiar with several plays) in the stained glass windows. In other words, they experienced the time.

students take a tour of the Folger

As we toured the building, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather to stroll along the front of Folger to experience the marvelous bas reliefs sculpted by John Gregory. They eagerly spotted the knives in Julius Caesar and mentioned how much they had enjoyed the stabbing scene when they had attended the play. They were thrilled to see the depiction of Bottom with the ass’s head, as they had discussed the story of that play just that morning. We worked through the reliefs, pointing out images and what they meant in the world of the play. The kids took turns reading the play’s title and acting out the scene on their own. Again, they were experiencing the work.

At the end of the morning, the kids very politely thanked me for the time we had spent together. But I think I am the one who should be grateful—grateful for a generation of children who are able to be enchanted by the works of Shakespeare, led by the diligent effort of teachers going far beyond the basics to bring the world of Shakespeare to these young minds. So I thank you—“with all my heart, good youth.”

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, and a published writer for Calliope magazine.

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November has been “National Novel Writing Month,” since 1999, and it’s still gaining ground. The concept is that every day in November is spent working on a rough draft of a full-length novel – producing about 1699 words per day. It’s intense, but the site above offers pep talks, word count badges, and other incentives to keep writers working! The idea isn’t to come out with a totally polished product, but to exercise the writing muscles and get ideas on paper.

At the encouragement of a few friends who are participating for the first time, I am going to give it a shot. I love stories told by background or imagined characters in a Shakespeare play, and was inspired by my last-minute Halloween costume: the “what if” character of Hellebore (aka Horribelle), the product of Bottom and Titania’s crazy midsummer night (or, “I had donkey ears and fairy wings and am a Shakespearean nerd”). This comes, too, after years of reading and adoring fiction based on Shakespeare, so hopefully a few good things have rubbed off.

Anyone over the age of 13 is welcome to join NaNoWriMo’s site, but your younger students could still participate offline! Do your students have creative writing assignments for your class?  Would they be interested in re-imagining a Shakespeare play as a short story or novel (or new play)? Below are some of my favorite adaptations for young adults, which might inspire them to get to writing!

Falling for Hamlet, by Michelle Ray (High School only!)
The Third Witch, by Rebecca Reisert
The Turquoise Ring, by Grace Tiffany
Caliban’s Hour, by Tad Williams
Romeo’s Ex, by Lisa Fielder 

Good Night, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet), by Ann-Marie MacDonald (play)

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After the highly anticipated opening of ANONYMOUS last weekend (well, there were a few people I’m sure who almost had to wait on line to see it), the excitement has diminished significantly.  Two people I know were underwhelmed by the experience of seeing it.  My sense is that this is the reaction the vast majority of those who venture to the movies will have regarding the film.  A good number of movie critics, not to mention an impressive list of scholars, have panned the movie and its premise. I am reluctant to join the group in piling on more negative commentary considering that the film is likely to fade into oblivion soon.  However,  the concern I have is that some teachers will use the film and the promotional materials sent to them by SONY Pictures in the guise of  lesson plans in their classrooms. Doing so would be a big mistake, in my book, and might influence students not to question the authorship of Shakespeare, but to ask why his work even matters at all.

The first activity (“Mistaken Identity”) invites students to “join the debate,” and then seems to lead the reader to conclude that the search for the “true” author of Shakespeare’s plays has merit:  “Shakespeare supporters remind us that doubts about his authorship did not arise until more than 200 years after his death.” And then the question, ” What social and intellectual developments during that time might ahve prompted the search for the true author?” To be sure, a slanted question perhaps designed to get students thinking that there is an issue to be debated.

The second activity (“The Soul of the Age”) claims that the film presents a “compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.” Remember, de Vere was dead for many years before a number of Shakespeare’s plays appeared on the scene (and there is no “compelling” explanation about how de Vere could have managed to write from the grave).

And the third activity (“A Kingdom for a Stage”)  notes that the film has “all the elements of a Shakespeare play.”  Perhaps it does, but does that mean anything?  For those of you who have viewed the suggested activities associated with the film, you have undoubtedly found that they are based on lots of misinformation that will lead students far afield. This is one film that teachers should avoid.

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