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Archive for the ‘ELL’ Category

Happy holiday break! I hope you’re enjoying your week off from school (if you have one)! This week I’ll be sharing two activity ideas from Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger on helping students experience Shakespeare to overcome their expectations of the language and text. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and let us know how your first semester went, or what your plans are for the coming one!

~by Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger

We are sometimes asked for help from teachers whose students are having trouble with not only the language, but the plot of a play. For example, I was recently asked by a young friend’s teacher if I could come and talk to her class about Othello, which they are currently studying.

The questions I ask myself when preparing for something like this is: How can I help students understand language they don’t expect to understand and follow a plot they expect is too hard to follow? How do I help them overcome their expectations?

The Folger’s approach is to give the students activities that help them experience Shakespeare, to help his world come to life off of the page.

Sometimes, especially if the students are fairly new to Shakespeare, I’ll begin with having the kids act out theatre in Shakespeare’s time with a simple role-playing exercise shared with us by another Docent earlier this year. A few students will be “groundlings” with permission to behave badly: shout out during the performance, eat, drink, and generally make a scene. A couple of students will sit on the “stage area” as the wealthiest playgoers did. Their goal is not to see the play, but to be seen, so they are encouraged to call attention to themselves. A few more students are merchants, who must sell all their wares if they want to make a living and feed their families. A couple will take the role of “cut purse” and move stealthily about the crowd, stealing whatever they can without getting caught. Now I ask some players to be ready to take the stage in a 3,000 seat outdoor theatre, recognizing they have no microphones and if the groundlings are not impressed they are likely to pelt the players with rotten fruit. At this point I bring in a student to play Shakespeare. What does he need to do to get and keep the attention of this crazy crowd?

Having the students experience this for a few minutes, with chaos and laughter and movement, teaches them infinitely more than my standing in front of them and telling them about Shakespeare’s theatre and time. They recognize that Shakespeare must have done something pretty remarkable to have had so much success getting that crowd to hear the play. The play must, somehow, be more interesting than it seems sitting there on the page.

This is, of course, the whole point. The play isn’t sitting on a page, it’s alive and active. On Thursday, I’ll be sharing an example of a scene from Othello which students can use to play with the language Shakespeare provided.

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

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students perform MACBETH at the 2010 Secondary School Festival

They’re everywhere: No Fear Shakespeare, Simply Shakespeare, Translated Shakespeare. There are teachers who truly believe that their students can’t understand Shakespeare’s 400 year-old words, and turn to updated adaptations which give students the gist of the story, but none of the original poetry.

I used to be ok with it. I thought that as long as a side-by-side translation still printed the original text, students were still going to read and see and maybe even learn Shakespeare’s words. Then I flipped through one and discovered all of the poetry, all of the power, all of the original intent of the words gone. One of the awesome things about Shakespeare’s deliberate word choices is that certain words can mean so many things.

“To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”
“Being King is worthless to me,unless I can feel safe and secure as King”
“To be king is nothing, unless I am safely king”

Part of the fun, at least for me, is in interpreting the many ways Shakespeare could have meant the word nothing. Not to mention enjoying the poetry of the repetition of to be… thus and feel that flow within the words. When you translate Shakespeare’s word choices into a definitive interpretation, you are saying that that is the only meaning for that line, and cutting off any discussion about what it could mean to individuals.

This comes up today because of a recent article in which a teacher in NY uses his own updated adaptations of Shakespeare’s text to teach his special education students. He asks them which version they prefer, his own or Shakespeare’s, and they all say his own.

It is my opinion, and I want to stress that it is my own – and Folger Education staff will chime in with their own, that if you offer students an “easier” option, you are telling them that they are not going to understand Shakespeare. You are putting that barrier there and telling them that Shakespeare is a distant and unreadable icon of an outdated language, and that it is no longer useful to study his original texts.

I am the biggest advocate of adaptation in this office – novels, movies, plays and musicals, modern-dress, silent – anything that takes inspiration from Shakespeare I want to know about and explore. But to teach an adaptation as if it were Shakespeare is not how adaptation should be used. It should be used to explore the ideas presented in the originals and discuss them in fresh ways – not to replace the originals in the classroom.

We have seen ESL/ELL students, elementary students, special education students, students of all ages and disciplines perform, understand, and enjoy  Shakespeare’s original words on our very own stage for decades. Where does this idea come from that the language cannot be understood or taught? Please share your opinions in the comments.

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~by Holly Rodgers

Educators often face the difficult task of engaging students who are increasingly distracted by the fast-paced technology driven society in which we live.  Although Elizabethan times moved at a slower pace, Shakespeare faced the same daunting challenge as teachers today, keeping the attention of such a diverse population. While Shakespeare’s audience differed more in terms of social classes than ethnic diversity, he still had to write plays that would reach audiences on all levels.

As an elementary ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) educator, when I began to consider using Shakespeare in the classroom, I was looking for a meaningful way for my students to experience language.  What began as an experiment to give my students a taste of the Bard became the cornerstone of my students’ language instruction.  While some teachers feel that Shakespeare should be saved for high school English class or reserved for only gifted students, I felt that my ESOL students should not be denied the many benefits that early positive experiences with Shakespeare can bring.

Holly's Students perform a scene from Richard III in the 2010 Emily Jordan Children's Festival at the Folger.

As a result of incorporating Shakespeare’s works into my curriculum, my students became more confident, increased their English proficiency skills and felt distinguished among their peers.  Often second-language learners feel behind their native English speaking peers and struggle to close the achievement gap.  By experiencing Shakespeare at such an early age, English Language Learners (ELLs) are able to prepare in advance for more in-depth study of the plays and sonnets, thus facilitating the closing of that gap.

Elementary Shakespeare education can serve as both intervention and enrichment language instruction since it provides both support and challenge for all students.  Because Shakespeare wrote for everyone, his works are ideal for students of all ages, language backgrounds, and economic levels.  How can you bring Shakespeare into your classroom?

Holly Rodgers is an elementary school ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.  She will be a presenter at this year’s Folger Elementary Educators Conference and has created ELL (English Language Learner) and elementary focused lesson plans for the Folger Education Website.  In 2010, her students performed at the Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival and were also featured on the Verizon cable program Push Pause.  She has spent her varied educational career as both a language and music teacher.  She earned her M Ed in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University and her BME in Instrumental Music from Louisiana State University.

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