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Archive for the ‘Introducing Shakespeare’ Category

By Jennie K. Brown

 

Jennie K Brown's class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

Jennie K Brown’s class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

After my summer experience at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I decided that I was going to get my students up and moving around my classroom in some sort of Shakespeare activity within the first three days of school. And guess what? I did just that!

On day two of the new school year, I ditched the rules and procedures protocol, and instead, each of my classes participated in a Shakespeare compliment activity (an activity that I first experienced first-hand this summer). I do something similar to this in March when we begin Romeo and Juliet; however, instead of Shakespeare compliments, they spew Shakespeare insults at one another. I never thought this was something my 9th students could handle on day 2, but I was totally wrong! (more…)

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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 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.

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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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By Folger Education

 

According to students at Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, a lot.

When Ashley Bessicks’ students finished their Hamlet unit, her 10th grade students at Phelps ACE High School, a DC public school, were on fire for Shakespeare. They wanted to know more about this play and the man who wrote it, so we worked with Ashley, who studied here last summer, to arrange for a special field trip. On June 8th, the students visited the Folger, where they took a tour of the historic building and its current exhibition, performed on our stage, and—this is pretty extraordinary—got up close with some rare books from the collection: Paul Robeson’s promptbook for Othello, versions of Hamlet from 1603, 1604/5, and 1623, John Barrymore’s promptbook for Hamlet, Ortellius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, and more.

Here’s what the Phelps students—who are pretty extraordinary themselves—had to say about studying Shakespeare at school and at the Folger this year. We feel so honored to have worked with Ashley and her impressive students!

Damola:

The Hamlet play in class and the trip to the Folger Library was a great experience for me that I believe strongly helped me in numerous ways, from the Hamlet essay I had to write for class to the finals. The play we performed in class gave me a better and clearer understanding of the whole story because I played the role of Hamlet in my scene, and the collaboration with my group team helped me to feel and actually understand the real story.  I was able to portray the character of Hamlet in my scene to the best of my knowledge and that helped me understand most of his emotional problems he had and how he made the poor decisions to expose his family’s secrets and to confront his mom.

The trip to the Folger Library gave me another view of Shakespeare and why he chose to write his plays and other literary poems the way he did. I learned about Mr. and Mrs. Folger and how their love for Shakespeare encouraged the building of a library and importing different works that he wrote. Finally the whole experience which included the acting, reading, and trip was so fantastic that it made me develop a love for Shakespeare too.

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Anika:

Hamlet was an interesting play. It included drama, comedy and heart clenching events. It was remarkable. Not only this, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson from Hamlet. I learned that adversities can either make you stronger or make you weak. When facing adversities true colors are revealed based on how you react to what’s going on. In Hamlet’s case, he became crazy.

In addition, learning how to act for a play was an unforgettable experience.  We engaged in multiple activities and games. We did this to get prepared, and to put on our acting shoes. This was great, especially for someone like me. I’ve never been to a play or acted in one, and to be involved in a famous play and learn techniques to help me act and understand stage actions were amazing. I am glad I had the chance to act out the play Hamlet.

Chelsea:

My experience with working with the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, in Mrs. Bessicks’ class was fun and informational.  When we divided up the scenes and started working in groups to pick our setting and our costumes we got into the mind Shakespeare and the characters he created. It makes you think where the scene would take place. And how it would affect the character/s. It opens your mind and gives you a measureless understanding of how each character is feeling and why they are feeling that way.

I would recommend that when it comes to teaching plays in high school that working with them like the way we did with Hamlet would benefit all students. Learning this way gave us a chance to be the character and analyze how that character became the person that they are in a specific scene, which in the end then causes us to be more interested in what we are learning. I believe that working with Hamlet this way helped me have a deeper understanding of the play even though I had read it before.

 

Ashley Bessicks is an English teacher in DC Public Schools and an alum of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute 2014.

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By Folger Education

 

Here are what Gina Voskov’s students are saying now that they’ve wrapped up their Shakespeare unit on Twelfth Night. To trace their journey, check out their comments before and during the unit.

 

Lois: 

Unfortunately, this is the end of our Shakespeare unit and I feel unhappy leaving this unit but also some relief as I had some hard time with understanding his writing. Though some would think that learning this would be boring and would be uninteresting. However I think otherwise because I believe that it’s not about the content but the way you teach it that makes it memorable. Personally, I prefer performing Shakespeare with others than reading it because just reading it made it hard for me to understand the words. It also enabled me to get some insight from my fellow group mates about how they thought about it.

While performing it forced me to think in that and other character’s shoes and how they would act in the current situation. What I really liked about it was dressing up as the character you’re playing and then acting him/her out, pretending this scene is actually happening in real life. The characters for this play were very different in their own way, enabling you to put your own interpretation in playing them. Continuing about Shakespeare’s writing, it was a bit difficult for me to comprehend because he would write in Old English. As a result, you would have to read in between the lines to truly grasp what he’s saying. The meaning is also found if you look hard enough, not only that but also looking up words to be able to follow and perform well. But overall, I hope that you enjoy learning it as much as I did.

 

Alexandra: 

Now that our Shakespeare unit comes to an end, I feel disappointed that it’s over, as well as proud and accomplished. When I look back on this unit, I will remember the work that we did to understand Shakespeare’s text as well as finding our character’s’ motives, exploring body language, and finally, I will remember the experience that I had preforming Shakespeare in front of an audience!

Personally, having come in to this unit familiar with preforming (and the contents of) Shakespeare’s work, I was not surprised to find that I could again relate to the character I portrayed and that I found the movement and character work we did with Twelfth Night a breath of fresh air.

My big understanding of Shakespeare in general, and what I take away from this unit, is that it is relatable to anyone, if you know where to look. I enjoy that when you learn what Shakespeare really meant by a word or phrase, or discover a twist in the storyline, the language barrier seems to break down, making it possible for a student or actor to really convey the meaning to any audience member, whether it be by just simply using tone of voice, or by elaborating with movement, interaction or even simple props and costumes.

Although we don’t have an abundance of knowledge to why Shakespeare wrote his plays, or even who he was as a person, I find it fascinating to know that each of his plays presents a major challenge to the actor or student, but helps them immensely along the way, with little hints hidden in the text about how to create the world of the play, almost as if the script itself was a guide.

Overall, Shakespeare has been my favorite unit of the year! I really feel that the work that our class did to understand Twelfth Night benefited me and the time spent rehearsing for our final performance really paid off.

 

Gina Voskov is a 7th grade English teacher at the United Nations International School in New York City. She has taught English and Humanities for eleven years in public and private schools, in Connecticut, Brazil, and New York City. She is a Folger National Teacher Corps member and attended the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 2012.

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By Gina Voskov

Julia Marlowe playbill for Columbia Theatre, Brooklyn, March 27, 1893. (Folger Collection)

Julia Marlowe playbill for Columbia Theatre, Brooklyn, March 27, 1893. (Folger Collection)

 

NYC teacher and Folger National Teacher Corps member Gina Voskov is back with the third installment in her series “Inside the Classroom,” in which her students share their experiences with Shakespeare at different points throughout their Twelfth Night unit. You can read the first installment here.

 

We are about five classes into Twelfth Night, and, as promised, my three 7th graders, Won Jae, Lois, and Alexandra, are back with some reflections about the opening of the unit. Enjoy!


 

Won Jae: Now that I think of it, Shakespeare isn’t that bad. As I said before, Shakespeare always used to bore me, and I didn’t think very importantly of it. But the thing is, after I had a few lessons of Shakespeare, I didn’t think it was as bad as I thought it would be. One of my favorite things we did in the beginning of our unit was the first one, when we tried to say the word, “O” in many different tones. I was surprised to see how different it can sound when we try to say the word in a different tone! For example, when we tried to say the word in an excited way, the tone became very high-pitched, while when we tried to say “O” in a tired way, we dragged the word in a low pitched voice. I believe that this exercise was used to train our voices so when we read Shakespeare, we can use various tones.

However, my favorite activity was when we did this activity called, “Slugs versus Clods”. It was when our class broke into two groups, and we had a script to follow, and they were full of insults that were used during Shakespeare’s time. We were supposed to state the insults as one whole group, but tension built up and people started to raise their voices and stop following the script. The thing I’m really looking forward to is acting out the play, which will be the final for our Shakespeare unit. I hope that we do a lot of acting in the future while we continuously read and learn about Shakespeare.

 

 

Lois: Twelfth Night is the play being learned in class and my experience with it grows every time. In class, we’re learning about stressing words and the tone used when reading from Shakespeare’s play, as well as understanding its context, scene blocking and doing many other activities. The activity I liked and seemed easy was “If music be the food of love, play on!” This line comes from the character called Orsino, who believes that if music is feeding his love for Lady Olivia, then let the music keep playing. Our class had replaced the words “music” and “love” to our own words and what we think this blank would ‘feed’ what. (For example: “If Netflix be the food of relaxation, binge on!”)

I also liked the activity of journaling, answering two questions: The first question was “What does it mean to be lovesick?” and the second was “How do people act when they’re in love?” I liked this one because we got to answer in a way that makes us think about love and how people would think about it and their actions. Also, it made us think about how Orsino felt about Lady Olivia.

An activity I thought seemed difficult was the complements. It was difficult for me because the words written on the sheet were unknown to me and there was so many. Hence, it wasn’t easy to make sense of the words and form a correct sentence that could be understood. However, the work done helped me in ways to read and learn more on Twelfth Night by knowing that depending on tone and stress of words, it enables the audience to interpret many things. Further, learning chorally and individually helped me learn because thinking by ourselves makes us think deeper, and hearing other’s thoughts puts together a bigger picture for us.

 

 

 

Alexandra: Ms. Voskov introduced the unit by doing an activity to become familiar with the vowel ‘O’- an exclamation and way of conveying emotion that Shakespeare commonly uses. Having done a similar exercise before in my acting class, I was pretty curious to how the students in my class would respond. I definitely felt like there was a positive response when we went around the classroom reading a line from Shakespeare containing ‘O’. I was happy to see that most everyone really understood how Shakespeare had intended for the actor to read the line.  Another exercise that we have done so far, beginning the play Twelfth Night, is exploring the first line of Orsino’s soliloquy: “If music be the food of love, play on!” We then substituted ‘music’ for something else that we were passionate about and substituted ‘love’ for what our particular passion feeds. I really enjoyed this exercise. I had never done anything like it before, so it was really refreshing. Having seen this passage countless times before, I also definitely feel like I am now able to look at and understand it differently, already achieving a goal of mine when it comes to studying Shakespeare in class!

 

Gina Voskov is a 7th grade English teacher at the United Nations International School in New York City. She has taught English and Humanities for eleven years in public and private schools, in Connecticut, Brazil, and New York City. She is a Folger National Teacher Corps member and attended the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 2012.

 

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