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Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Category

By Sara Lehn

 

In ten short years as an educator, I have taught every grade from sixth through twelfth, and every level of ability from AP to self-contained special ed.  I say this not to impress you with how many different preps I have tackled in ten years, but to highlight this fact: I teach Shakespeare to every single one.  Some groups read excerpts while others do whole plays, but I have an unwavering belief that anybody can learn Shakespeare with the right tools and framework.

 

(Image: Sarah Lehan)

(Image: Sara Lehn)

To illustrate this idea, let’s talk about crayons.

 

Everybody loves crayons.

 

Present an eighteen-year-old with a box of crayons and you will see his eyes light up.

 

“Is this a ‘Fun-Friday’ activity?” students ask, regardless of the actual day of the week.

 

“Yes,” I say.  I have no idea where ‘Fun-Friday’ comes from, but students say it as if it’s a title for something.  I assume that this was a routine presented by a fuzzily but fondly remembered elementary school teacher.

 

Suddenly my over-stressed seniors are distracted from their impending college applications and a buzz develops.  Crayons.  She brought crayons.

 

Or markers.  Or colored pencils.  Or… whatever.

 

As children, before we learn to write, we are given crayons as a tool to express our thoughts.   Something about coloring throws us back to the simplicity and contentment of early childhood. Students get nervous that I will grade their artistic abilities, so I demonstrate for them my own lack of skill.  Stick figures are encouraged.  Laughter ensues; everyone relaxes.

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By Stefanie Jochman

 

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records,
[…]
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. (Hamlet 1.5.103-110)

 

(Image: Stefanie Jochman)

(Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Last Thursday, October 15, my students and I were among the 225,000 people around the world who settled into cinema seats for a screening of National Theatre Live’s Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Getting my students to the production took some effort; our suburban theater wasn’t slated to show the play, but when I contacted theater managers and promised to bring a large enough group, they agreed to schedule a screening. I became a woman on a mission.

 

With the help of my colleagues and teachers from two other area high schools, I recruited a group large enough to ensure a trip to Elsinore. Here’s what some of my students had to say about it:

 

“I thought Cumberbatch brought so much energy to the performance. […]I loved how the soliloquies were done and was amazed by how committed the actors were to the slow motion. […] Along with the set and costume design, the effects were amazing. I have been to numerous Broadway shows and I have never seen anything like the King Claudius scene with the massive dirt storm. It was insane and incredible to watch.”

 

“This was my first Hamlet and I loved it!  Benedict Cumberbatch was phenomenal and the show was a masterpiece.  It was worth every cent of my ticket.  It was also cool to see it actually live (well… 6 hours delayed) because it felt like I was actually there.”

 

This production of Hamlet is, as one Guardian reviewer notes, made for the cinema. The atmospheric musical cues delighted the student musicians in attendance. The stagecraft captivated students less familiar with Shakespeare’s language. And the performances left us all with much to discuss at intermission and in the classroom. One student, a wrestler and an actor, was still talking with his teacher about “Hamlet’s biceps” later in the week! He appreciated the physical endurance demanded by a role like the Prince of Denmark.

 

For many who attended our optional field trip—students from all levels, all grades, and several different countries—this Hamlet was their first exposure to the character and the play. As they munched on popcorn or ordered a second ICEE from the concession stand during intermission, they peppered each other with questions: What was going on with Hamlet and Ophelia? Wasn’t Cumberbatch’s “mad Hamlet” funny? Had they been surprised by the on-stage explosion? Weren’t the soliloquies cool? Were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern supposed to look like hipsters?

 

Perhaps the idea of mixing Twizzlers and “To be or not to be” makes some Bard fans cringe, but to them I say fie! Students discussing Shakespeare without prompting might just be the first step to English teacher nirvana.

 

Our “trip” to London and Hamlet was a joyous success, but it had its sobering moments, too. At the curtain call, the cast appealed to theatergoers around the globe to support Save the Children, an organization currently assisting refugees from Syria and other war-torn nations. Suddenly, the most memorable images of the production—a silt-covered Elsinore; childlike Ophelia’s careful footsteps over rubble toward her willow aslant a brook; the toy soldier uniform Hamlet dons in his “antic disposition”—held more weight. The “baser matter” of my busy day fell away as I was reminded that Hamlet’s Denmark is a war-weary nation. Shakespeare’s four-hundred-year-old play (and many others in his canon) offers a startlingly reminder of the human cost of war.

 

Critics have mixed feelings about the spectacle of this new Hamlet as well as its famous lead, but there is something to be said for a production that can enthrall, inspire, and rally “distracted globes” across the globe. The success of this Hamlet speaks not only to the popularity of its leading actor but also the power of Shakespeare. For one night, National Theatre Live’s Hamlet invited the world (including three rival high schools from Green Bay) to contemplate the play’s sweeping human questions together. Meanwhile, the “Globe to Globe” tour of Hamlet connects countries one performance at a time. And very soon, another Hamlet will bind our often less-than-United States when Folger’s First Folio Tour begins in 2016. How ironic that the story of a house (and a hero) divided should have such power to unite.

 

Stefanie Jochman teaches 9th grade and International Baccalaureate English classes at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, WI. She received her BA in English and Secondary Education from St. Norbert College and her MA in English from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Stefanie is a proud alumna of the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute. Encore performances of NT Live’s Hamlet are showing at many theaters starting Oct. 22.

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By Deirdre DeLoatch

 

Image:

Image: Deirdre DeLoatch

This summer I had the privilege of participating in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute: Summer Academy. During this week-long intensive program, I was given multiple strategies for teaching Shakespeare’s Hamlet and other Shakespearean works.

 

I learned that I should allow the students to perform scenes according to how they interpret the language. I should give them freedom to both direct and edit the scenes so that they will have more ownership in their individual performances. As a result of both the Academy’s suggestions and encouragement, I will no longer have a select group of students take individual parts and have the students read those parts while the other students in the class sit passively without paying attention to the text.

 

Before the first day of class, I was determined to have my class use performance when reading literature, whether it’s Shakespeare, or any other author. Knowing that my incoming seniors would have had no prior experience with Shakespeare, I thought Romeo and Juliet would work well. I also decided that I wanted all of my children to study it. The class that I knew would possibly challenge me the most would be my Integrated Co-teaching (ICT) class. Some of these students have processing disorders, developmental delay, dyslexia, and other disabilities. As a result, I decided to implement language-based, performance-rich lessons while scaffolding the text for them to dispel any anxiety or discomfort while both studying and reading the text.

 

On the first day of class, my co-teacher and I began teaching Romeo and Juliet to our twelfth grade ICT class. After dispensing with only a few formalities, we had the students form two lines in the middle of the classroom. We first asked the students about their prior knowledge of the play. About half of them had some general knowledge of the play. Next, we told the students that we were going to read the Prologue, but that each student was going to read a line of the Prologue. We read the Prologue three times to enhance their understanding of the text (for vocabulary development, we discussed some of the unfamiliar worlds and looked at word roots for some of the terms including prologue). We then asked three students to read individually the entire prologue. Lastly, we asked a series of questions to determine their comprehension. We asked the students to support their answers with evidence from the text and to rewrite the Prologue, for homework, using colloquial language. At that point, their eyes lit up and many of them became excited because we were allowing them to rewrite the Prologue in their own words. As they did this, they were close reading the original language. (more…)

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By Aleksander Zywicki

Alex Zywicki in front of the Folger. (Image: Alex Zywicki)

Aleks Zywicki in front of the Folger. (Image: Aleks Zywicki)

 

This past July, I had the great fortune of attending the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Summer Academy in Washington, D.C.

 

There, I attended lectures given by master teachers and scholars; I played the part of the Ghost in a performance of Act One of Hamlet; I held—in these two hands—Walt Whitman’s copy of the Sonnets, a letter written and signed by Henry David Thoreau, and an authentic First Folio; though, mostly, I learned in a way that I had not, in years.

 

I cannot honestly say that I have ever learned during the typical professional development opportunities that I have been offered. I have never been inspired by a webinar, nor have I been pushed towards daring, original thoughts during a mandatory workshop. I have been informed of products. I was told about strategies.

 

However, teachers know what learning looks and feels like and it does not resemble the buying and selling of a gimmick. It requires a seemingly impossible level of concentration, desire, fear and motivation. It demands that a person grow comfortable with continuously dismantling an intricate and delicate level of understanding that had once been declared, “finished,” only to be rebuilt again, and again.

 

Throughout my education I was taught to want to learn and that experience made me want to teach others to do the same. When I left Washington, I felt confident in my ability to do so, in a way that I had never known before.

 

***

 

What had convinced me so thoroughly that the skills I was learning at the Folger could lead to authentic learning for my students, was that they emphasized student engagement with Shakespeare’s words—not a watered down alternative to his words; not theories that attempt to unravel his words; just his words.

 

One of the lessons I appreciated most is titled “3-D Shakespeare.” It gets students right inside a scene, and puts that scene on its feet.

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By David Fulco

 

Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

At the end of TSI 2014, I made a pledge that I would not read the syllabus to my class on the first day of school.

 

After a summer collaborating with some of the most innovative teachers in the country, it did seem a shame that I would return to my classroom and fall back into the trap, albeit a safe trap, of

going over rules and regulations, expectations and procedures on that first day.

 

Couldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose? Shouldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose?

 

(What does it say about me that I hear Peggy O’Brien’s voice in my head when I ask myself those questions before the start of each school year?)

 

For the past two years I have asked my 10th grade students at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx, New York City to perform Tableaux Vivants on the first day of school. As a reference for our still life poses, I use the original text of the Dumb Show from Hamlet (3.2.144-156). That the students aren’t familiar with Hamlet or won’t read Hamlet as sophomores, is not a problem. The Dumb Show stands alone, allowing you to discuss as much, or as little, about Hamlet as you would like.

 

What I do:

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By Emma Remsberg

 

At the end of June, I started my internship at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was an exciting and busy time for the Education office, every spare table space being used to house an intern.

 

Reflecting on my internship, it’s hard to choose a favorite part. I love the milieu of the Education office—fun, smart, and very witty – and I really enjoy the work that I’ve been doing with museum programs. But perhaps most of all, I am incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve had to explore the Folger as an institution. Being able to delve into the “nooks and crannies” of the Folger was super exciting, and I’m really glad to have had that chance.

 

For instance, every two weeks I attended the “Practical Paleography” workshops hosted by EMMO. They’re very fun, helped me to brush up on my Latin over the summer, and introduced me to secretary hand (which utterly baffled me at first, and still does – but in a fun way).

 

I was also assigned a Reading Room project (finding examples of the “To Be” speech in American culture). I cannot fully express how thrilling it was to be in the Reading Room of the Folger, to work with rare materials, to have my own shelf right next to the stained glass window depicting the Seven Ages of Man. The Reading Room is hands-down my favorite physical space in the Folger. I think I could happily live there forever, but for now I’m content just to do research.

 

What else? I got to operate a Gutenberg-style printing press – setting my name in type, inking the form, rolling the paper through the press, etc. I went to afternoon teas and chatted with readers about their research. I sat in on fascinating lectures and workshops with faculty of the Summer Academy, which brought 29 teachers from around the country here to the Folger for a week on Hamlet.

 

The Education team encouraged me to take advantage of any opportunities that appealed to me, so I did. I spent my summer not only learning about museum education but also exploring everything the Folger offers, doing things I never could have dreamed of when I submitted my application. I’ll miss this internship, miss the folks in Education, miss being immersed head to toe in Shakespeare. But at least I know that when I return to school, I’ll be able to do so with reinvigorated enthusiasm about the Bard, a “Folger Library loves me” T-shirt, and a whole lot of stories to tell.

 

Emma Remsberg is the Museum Programs Intern at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She studies Greek, Latin, and Medieval Studies at Swarthmore College. She just started dabbling in paleography.

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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.

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