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Archive for the ‘Macbeth’ Category

Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

Drawing by John Austen for an edition of Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.2), 1890 painting by Ludovic Marchetti of Romeo and Juliet (ART Vol. f220). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week, we took a reader poll to ask which Shakespeare plays were being taught this semester. Top of the list (as of this writing): Romeo and Juliet, with more than 25 percent of the vote.

Macbeth took second place with 22 percent, and Hamlet third with 10 percent. Our write-in option was also quite popular, with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing making multiple appearances.

Good news! We have a wealth of resources for teaching each of these plays. Here are a few highlights:

  • Romeo and Juliet – In December, Folger Education recorded an hour-long master class for teaching Romeo and Juliet. You can watch the archived version online, broken down into video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.
  • Macbeth – Folger educators talk about surefire ways for successfully introducing students to the Scottish play in this podcast, Macbeth: The Teacher’s Edition.
  • Hamlet – Watch the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet. These videos highlight the play’s themes, characters, and plot—perfect for students encountering Hamlet for the first time.

Find more resources by downloading a curriculum guide for each of these popular plays. The guides include a brief synopsis, two lesson plans, famous quotes from the play, prompts for teachers, links to podcasts and videos, and a list of suggested additional resources.

Want even more? Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all included in our Shakespeare Set Free books, a series written by Folger Education’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute faculty and participants. (Today’s your last chance to apply for this year’s TSI, by the way!) Each book is packed with practical, specific ideas to use in the classroom.

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Guest post by Jessica Lander

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. R. T. Bone. Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. R. T. Bone. Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

The large dented cauldrons of spicy green curry, red curry and duck soup were cloaked in hovering fog and steamy air of the monsoon season.  It was evening at the Gate Market in the heart of the old city of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand. As I slurped a bowl of noodles so spicy it induced tears, all I could think about was Macbeth.

Three days fresh from college graduation, I had boarded a plane bound for a one-year teaching fellowship at the prestigious Chiang Mai University.  Growing up, my favorite musical was Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s The King and I, the story of Anna, hired by the King of Thailand to tutor the royal children. I was forever singing the lyrics to Getting to Know You, beginning with Anna’s declaration that “When you become a teacher, by your students you’ll be taught.” Now, heading to classes as a young teacher, I could not help but think of Anna.

By day I guided a hundred and fifty university students in my elementary-level English classes through the intricacies of usage between “say” and “tell”.  But, I wanted something more: I wanted to teach theater.  So, I approached my colleagues in the English Department with an ambitious plan. The students in the university’s English Club staged an annual play in English – Cinderella last year.  Hesitantly, I proposed to direct Macbeth – my favorite Shakespeare ever since I played the First Witch and Macduff’s doomed son in a 7th grade production.  The department was dubious – the language would be too difficult.  I persisted.  Auditions were set.

But our real challenge was not the play’s language, but its content. In one of the last countries with a revered king, I was preparing to stage a regicide.

While monarchies worldwide have become nearly obsolete, the Kingdom of Thailand’s ruling line remains robust.  King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX, has sat on the throne longer than any other current ruler.  He is the great-great-great grandson of the famed monarch who had hired Anna.

Arriving in Chiang Mai, I discovered that The King and I was banned. The king is endowed with near-divine status, and is protected from slander by strict lese majeste laws: Anna’s irreverence to the king crossed the line.  Adapting Macbeth would not be as simple as robing Shakespeare’s characters in traditional Lanna-style sarongs.

I found that Thai students were reluctant to engage in open political discourse. In college classes in the U.S., I had been inspired by the boundary-defying nature of theater. I wanted to draw my students into political discussion, to have them think critically about the parallels and differences between East and West.  Yet it was crucial we remain respectful of the monarchy and of Thai cultural traditions.

We began adapting Shakespeare.  Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor, and the other thanes would be Thai politicians. The ghostly apparitions would be conjured through Thai shadow puppetry.  The witches became street children, who sell jasmine garlands at night across Chiang Mai.

We erred on the side of caution.  We nixed the colors red and yellow, being too closely associated to the two rival political parties, and opted for a neutral orange. We modified the traditional Thai sword on our poster, because it resembled the weapons favored by the monarchy.  When I suggested that the play end with Macduff placing a foot on the severed head of the Scottish tyrant, the actor, an otherwise modern and outspoken junior, refused.  In Thailand the head is the most sacred part of the body.  The feet are the lowliest. I dropped the idea quickly.

In the jungle gardens of the university, we discussed modern politics – twenty college students debating thanes and politicians.  One girl brought up corruption, relating how she had been offered bribes for her vote in a local election.  Another girl drew an analogy between the recently ousted Thai prime minister and Macbeth. After one rehearsal, a student caught me on the way out: “I hardly ever have these discussions with anyone but a few close friends.”

The night of the first performance arrived. The lights dimmed on Thai rock music, and three street children ran giggling onto the stage, asking: “When shall we three meet again?”

The following Monday, I met with my freshman English class who I had assigned to see the show.  I asked them to identify the Thai elements in the production – expecting such responses as: the attire, the puppetry, the traditional Thai greetings.

One girl raised her hand: “Macbeth’s final speech.”  She was referring to Macbeth’s final soliloquy: “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day… Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player…It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Confused, I pressed her to explain. “He’s describing the teachings of the Buddha.” Macbeth had finally realized the insignificance of his vaulting ambition – a first step toward enlightenment in Buddhism. I was dumbfounded.  I had read Macbeth, studied Macbeth and acted in Macbeth – never once had I drawn the parallel.

Miss Anna had gotten it right. I had set out to teach my students Shakespeare.  But, in the end, by my students I was taught.

 

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

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Hello once again from your friend Louis Butelli, most recently Feste in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. We closed our show on June 9 after a great run: thanks to everybody who came out to see us.

I’m back at the Folger to participate in an exciting new project – immersive audio recordings of the full Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Published by Simon & Schuster, and edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the Folger Editions of Shakespeare are widely considered to be among the very best anywhere. In working as an actor on Shakespeare plays all over the country, I’ve found that one can always rely on there being a Folger edition in the rehearsal room. Featuring excellent notes, essays, and illustrations, they are an invaluable resource for anyone working with Shakespeare, professionals and students alike.

Now, we’re going to go to work on creating dynamic, exciting audio recordings of the full, unabridged text of the Folger Editions of selected plays. Directed by Robert Richmond, some of Folger’s favorite actors will come together to rehearse and record: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Once the actors’ voices have been recorded, Robert and the Folger team will edit for flow, add sound effects and music, and deliver a bold, sweeping version that brings the text to vibrant life.

FSL Editions 7.9.13

We’re also thrilled to announce that a smartphone app, with access to the recordings themselves and some other cool bells and whistles, will be launching very soon. It’s an exciting way to interact with Shakespeare’s plays in a variety of new ways, right on your phone, and will be a great new resource for actors, directors, teachers, and students alike. Check back here and in your e-Newsletter for updates on our progress.

We’ve actually completed work on Othello, and the full recording is already available for purchase by clicking here. Back in November of 2011, the cast of Folger Theatre’s stage production of Othello went to Airshow Mastering to record the play. Click here to read my post about that experience.

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer's Grammy Awards

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer’s Grammy Awards

Meanwhile, those who have read my posts in the past know that, when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a kind of soft spot for the clowns and fools. One of the roles I’ll be recording is Peter in Romeo & Juliet. I’ll close out this first entry about the recordings with some thoughts on him.

Appearing in only three scenes, in one of which he doesn’t speak, Peter is a personal servant to the Nurse, and is frequently cut from stage productions. Indeed, given the fact that he doesn’t have impact upon the plot, and given how little Shakespeare gives him to say in his script, one understands why Peter often faces the chopping block. However….

Peter is known to have been played originally by an actor named Will Kemp. The house clown for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s production company), and most likely the original Dogberry, Falstaff, and others, Kemp was a popular comedian in his own right, and was probably an audience draw. Moreover, he was also known to have performed his famous “jigs” (highly improvisational song and dance routines) in the middle of Shakespeare’s plays as comic interlude during breaks in the action. For reasons unknown, Kemp left the company in 1599.

What I find fascinating about Kemp is the way he influenced Shakespeare’s text – not only with his presence, in terms of Romeo & Juliet, but with his absence, Henry V and Hamlet, for instance.

To explain: Shakespeare writes an odd stage direction in the 1599 Quarto version of Romeo & Juliet towards the end of Act IV, scene 5. This is a fairly climactic moment, following the Capulets’ discovery of their seemingly dead daughter Juliet on the morning of her wedding. The Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and County Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, are all in attendance. The scene is a huge lamentation, with the whole family shrieking and wailing, and off they go, with Lord Capulet giving an order to change the wedding celebration into a funeral.

Right on the heels of this, Shakespeare writes, “Enter Will Kemp.” While later editions correct the stage direction to “Enter Peter,” it is telling that in this very early edition, at this very moment, the author brings on his great clown – by name. What survives in the text is a fairly amusing scene between Peter and a group of musicians. By precedent, one might guess that, in performance, Kemp went off script and presented one of his “jigs,” as a “palate cleanser” before the rollercoaster ride of Act 5 began.

By 1600, Kemp had left the company. In Henry V, the much beloved character Falstaff never appears on stage and, in fact, Mistress Quickly has a touching speech reporting Falstaff’s death just offstage. In Hamlet, one might consider Hamlet’s speech offering “advice to the players:”

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.

One spies a little ghost of Will Kemp in this “advice,” and one wonders if there isn’t a little clue as to why Kemp ultimately left the company.

In any event, for our recordings, I promise to stick directly to the script. I hope that you’ll follow along with our journey here in this space, that you’ll pick up a copy of our Othello, and that you’ll enjoy our new recordings as they become available.

OK. Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Catch up with Louis on the Folger Theatre blog!

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~by Jessica Lander
(re-printed with permission)
Where better to teach Macbeth than in a monsoon?
When shall we three meet again?  In thunder, lightening, or in rain?
That’s exactly what we did one muggy July afternoon when the ominous skies finally split, releasing a torrential downpour.
For an hour already we had been rehearsing indoors with the three teenagers cast as the prophetic witches of Macbeth. But, the result still wasn’t right. Despite their hard work, the students’ cackling voices were stilted, their gestures artificial.
But with the rains stabbing the windows I had the harebrained idea of taking our rehearsal outdoors.  Luckily, my students were just as excited and we all thundered down the stairs and out the front door – raising more than a few eyebrows from the other young thespians practicing in the halls.
The weird sisters hand in hand, posters of the sea and land!  
The three girls danced in the storm.  They yelled their lines to the waterlogged clouds.  They spun in circles, throwing their linked arms out, embracing the heavens.
As the sky cleared we traipsed, dripping, back inside.  Back upstairs, back to rehearsal.
But something had clicked: they no longer acted out the witches, they embodied them.
*****************
For the last two years I’ve taught at the bookends of teenagedom – college students in Chiang Mai last year and middle-schoolers in Charlestown this year.  But this summer I had an opportunity to see what happens in between the two.
Throughout the school year I had interned with the locally-based Actors’ Shakespeare Project, which, besides producing a great season of Shakespeare, sustains a vibrant education arm – teaching the Bard in schools, in after-schools and in lock-up facilities.
When my school year ended, I joined their amazing teaching team, under director and professional actor, Jason Bowen.
When most teens might prefer to be sunbathing on the beach or cooling off at a neighborhood pool, nineteen students – ages 13 through 19 – chose to spend three weeks of their vacation studying Shakespeare.
Our ensemble came from all across the Boston area.  They came from the suburbs and they came from the heart of the city.  They came from public schools and exams schools and private schools.  Some had previously come from youth detention centers or were once in city gangs.  They came with years of acting camps and school plays and they came with no formal theatrical training.  And every morning they converged on the small converted fire-station that became our joint home for a large part of July.
Very quickly I realized I was not in middle school any more.
Within two short days, our collection of strangers had transformed into a supportive and engaged ensemble.  In contrast to my sixth-graders, with whom I had to devote large portions of time to juggling behaviors and attitudes, here in the stage-lit black box, everyone came ready to learn and more importantly, to experiment.
We took the group outside and had them yell Shakespearean insults at each other with so much force that dog walkers and passing cars slowed down and stared.
We worked one on one with students: Lady Macbeth rolled and screamed as she explored the sleep walking scene; Ross ran up and down stairs, up and down, up and down before delivering, out of breath, the victorious news to King Duncan; the Porter walked around with a balloon under his shirt attempting to mimic a drunken stagger.
And students worked on their own – in corners of the upstairs rooms, on the stairs, in the front hall.  They scribbled notes in the margins of their scripts, they checked and rechecked different translations, and they repeated their lines under their breath – over and over and over.
Differences in age and experience and background dropped away.
Two girls playing Lady Macbeth got genuinely excited to look up etymologies in the two-volume Shakespeare lexicon.   The boys playing Macbeth took their work home and stayed up several nights past midnight (once til 2 am) studying their lines.
Friendships were formed over blockings of stage fights, experimentation with silly accents, and concocting of fake blood (equal parts chocolate and strawberry sauce).  It was a space where being a Shakespeare scholar was “Cool”.
At the end of three weeks we swept the stage, rechecked the light cues and opened the doors of our theater to admit our audience.
********************
If only all classrooms were black-box theaters: there is no better place to learn.   No desks, no pencil shavings, no wall clocks.
Paradoxically, acting allows students the freedom to act like themselves.
In school, students are consumed with adopting personas that establish them within the hierarchy of their peers.
But, in the black box, demure students learn to scream and cocky ones to cry.  Everyone gets to yell Shakespearean insults at each other and then, ten minutes later, to clasp hands.
By lunchtime each day, our ensemble would have attempted so many characters that slouching back into school personas seemed silly.
And that’s when the real learning took place.
Our black box Shakespeare theater granted our students the permission and the freedom to yell and laugh and dance and sing in the rain.
Jessica Lander has taught  English to Thai university students, art to Burmese refugee children and Shakespeare to inner-city Boston middle-schoolers. In her blog, Chalk Dust,  she chronicles her experiences as an educator in excellent prose. We look forward to collaborating with Jessica for future blog posts!

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Illustration by James Steinberg for Boston Globe Magazine.

The situation may seem familiar: A sixth grade classroom, the text of Macbeth, and 30 blank slates ready to be writ upon. Jessica Lander used a free six-week life-applications session to teach students Shakespeare. The students had to have picked her class in order to take part, and while the class was required, they wouldn’t have a grade to show for just this unit. So at the end of six weeks when her students came out quoting Shakespeare, getting high fives from other kids, and referencing Macbeth in other classes, Jessica had a full-blown success story on her hands.

So how did she do it?

Jessica was in DC this week for other business, so I took the opportunity to chat with her in person about this success in the classroom, and her experiences elsewhere. Having also taught Macbeth in a Thai university, and having a great time with Actors Shakespeare Project in Boston, Jessica has seen first-hand that students get Shakespeare, and they will continue to surprise her with their understanding.

In her piece published in Boston Globe Magazine on August 26, Jessica outlined what approaches her class took. Edited for length, the article wasn’t able to include two of her very successful activities to introduce her students to the play and the language. Beginning with individual words from the play repeated in a fast-paced game, the students pieced together what Macbeth was about; and to combat the idea that Shakespeare wrote in “Old English,” she provided her class with text from the original Beowulf  poem and The Canterbury Tales. Once they saw the difference, Shakespeare looked easy!

Shakespeare resonates emotionally with students – you ask a student playing Macbeth to look at the ghost of his best friend whom he had killed, and ask them how they’re feeling – it hits them. These are people speaking beautiful words about very human situations and experiences, and it’s open to every student.

More of Jessica’s experiences can be found on her blog: Chalk Dust, and we’re looking forward to connecting with her more in the future as new students from all over the world learn Shakespeare from her!

Do you have a success-story from your own classroom of students connecting to Shakespeare? Tell us in the comments!

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~by Lucretia Anderson

Students and parents learn safe stage combat during Shakespeare in Action at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Students and Parents participate in Shakespeare in Action in a scene from MACBETH at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

In the olden days, families might sit around the parlor reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays together for the day’s entertainment. In 2012 we’re shaking it up! This past Saturday, Danielle Drakes and I had the privilege of working with an enthusiastic mix of 6-12 year olds and their parents in a workshop we called Shakespeare in Action! We had a fabulous time introducing Shakespeare’s language, some swordplay and creating scenes from Macbeth. The children and adults took to it likes flies to honey: immersing themselves in the playfulness of our activities and rollicking in the language of the Bard. Kids loved pelting their parents with Shakespearean insults as well as imaginary snowballs in our warm up activities. The parents didn’t hold back either! Interestingly most of them, including the adults didn’t know much about Macbeth. Once we explained there were swordfights and witches, it was on and it was thrilling to see these families engage with Shakespeare so fully.

The morning went by so quickly that we should have called it Shakespeare on the Fly! But sometimes doing drive by Shakespeare leaves them eager for more which was our intention!

What was really great for us was to find out the reasons families chose to attend a Shakespeare workshop in a dark theatre on a bright sunny Saturday morning with the Cherry Blossom Festival blooming all around us. Besides the young boys who came mainly for the sword fighting, most of the parents just really wanted to expose their children to Shakespeare in a different way than they’d been taught. Also, having the chance to do something together that was out of the ordinary also seemed to have a certain appeal. For the kids, I think the experience is priceless. It’s one thing to learn about Shakespeare and the plays at school, it is quite another to really experience the work with your first teachers, mom and dad.

What was your family’s exposure to Shakespeare? How are your kids experiencing Shakespeare now?

 

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While there are many student Shakespeare Festivals all over the world, some teachers might feel trepidation at cutting, directing, casting, rehearsing and organizing a performance for their class.

One of our SSO teaching artists, and long-time Docent of the Folger, Amy Thompson, has been doing that very process for the last few years at Nottingham Elementary in Virginia. This year, she has decided to document her process of producing Macbeth with 5th graders, who will be performing in May.

Third Witch First Murderer

If you’ve never produced a student Shakespeare before, or have wondered how others are doing it, Amy’s blog is very specific to her process. The pain of cutting the text to less than half an hour, the creativity in doubling the cast, the process of auditioning 5th graders, and the excitement of beginning rehearsals.

It’s certainly worth keeping up with, and we’d love to hear about your experiences, too! Let us know how your rehearsals are going in the comments, or if you’ve ever kept a production blog for your classroom performances!

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Speak the speech, I pray you, … trippingly on the tongue,”  Hamlet’s advice to the players.

 

 

When teachers assign their students to perform a scene from a play by William Shakespeare, what should their students do to get ready?  How can teachers best support their students in preparing their scenes?  Steer them away from “translated” texts of the play, for starters.  Students can handle Shakespeare’s language.  Help them to understand the language. How can using a performance-based teaching approach help?  Performance-based teaching promotes getting students up and on their feet, speaking Shakespeare’s language out loud; it is a close reading of the text using intellectual, vocal, and physical exercises to make sense of it.

On March 6th, from 1-2 pm EST, teachers and their students from around the country will be able to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library without leaving their classrooms.  Experiencing Shakespeare is a free one-hour trip that will take students into the vault of the Library to see rare books and to talk with Dr. Michael Witmore, Director, about the treasures contained within it.  They’ll hear from scholar, Dr. Gail Kern Paster, about the ways scholars examine texts to look at language, watch students and actors engage Shakespeare’s text as they prepare to perform scenes, and they’ll have the opportunity submit their own performances of Shakespeare’s work to be included in the program.  In short, students and teachers will be involved in the intellectual, physical, and vocal exercises and activities they need to do in order to engage Shakespeare’s text and make meaning of it for themselves.

Join teachers and students from around the country on their journey to find out what they need to know to put Shakespeare’s language up on its feet in this hour-long electronic field trip.  Register by clicking here.

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Lucretia’s blog about how Shakespeare changed her life  has prompted me to write my own entry about how Shakespeare changed mine.  Like most students, I was introduced to Shakespeare in high school.  We studied Macbeth and had to memorize a passage from it to deliver in front of the class.  I still remember the passage (“Tomorrow, and tomorrow …”), but it’s the reaction from my fellow students that stays with me. They really sat up and took notice, and I think that attention led me to try out for the school play (West Side Story).  That experience has resulted in a life-long love affair with Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s plays stayed with me through undergraduate school, and in graduate school I had the opportunity to read Titus Andronicus for the first time.  No one in the seminar wanted to read the play, but I volunteered to read and research it and present my findings to the group.  What a play!  Blood, guts, and violence.  It became my favorite. The beauty of the language to describe some of the most horrific events in Shakespeare took the wind right out of me.  It’s a play I often taught to my students, and I think it led them to really get into Shakespeare.  In fact, from time to time I see former students and they almost always mention the play.

Shakespeare’s plays have been an important part of my professional life, to be sure. I thank Fred Davis, my high school teacher, for introducing me to Shakespeare.  Who gets your thanks?

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Folger Education entered  new territory on Tuesday February 15 with the beginning of Macbeth Set Free, an online course for teachers. With the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and New York Institute of Technology, we are able to reach teachers across the country with some solid approaches for teaching Shakespeare.

When we planned the course, we were careful to keep it as interactive and lively as possible.  We are using Moodle as the course management system for discussions and posting handouts and lessons. The eight live sessions will use Elluminate and feature prepared video of students demonstrating some activities and video from the highly praised Folger Macbeth DVD. Those teachers who are participating will use their webcams and microphones to ask questions and participate in some of the activities.

When we announced the course in January, we had a flood of requests, but we had to halt the registration to 30 participants. Those who enrolled represent 23 states, and each teacher received a copy of the Folger Toolkit.

A different instructor will lead each class in the coming weeks. Here are the teachers who are presenting:

Week 1–Bob Young and Mike LoMonico, Folger Shakespeare Library

Week 2–Chris Renino, Scarsdale (NY) HS

Week 3–Kevin Costa, McDonough School, Owings Mills, MD

Week 4–Sue Biondo-Hench, Carlisle (PA) HS

Week 5–Jaime Wong, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional HS, Sudbury, MA

Week 6–Chris Shamburg, New Jersey City University

Week 7–Amy Ulen, Tumwater (WA) HS

Week 8–Bob Young and Carol Kelly, Folger Shakespeare Library

While the class is closed, here is a recording of the first session.

This is the first of what we trust will be many more Web-based professional development sessions. If you have any suggestions for future Webinars or courses, please add your comments below.

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