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Archive for the ‘Tales from the Classroom’ Category

By Greta Brasgalla 

 

This year, I became the English Instructional Coach at my school. My job includes creating and modeling lessons for a huge English department (we have over 3000 students in grades 10-12).

 

One of the best activities that I modeled was using the prompt book. Of all of the Folger activities, this is probably my favorite because it can be modified easily for any reading you do in the classroom.

 

More can be found here: Editing as Close-Reading: Cutting and Performing Complex Texts

 

For our Senior teachers, we used a version of the prompt book/tableaux for students to break down their reading of Paradise Lost. Each group was in charge of creating a tableau for the section of the poem. I  gave the teacher my special “prop box” filled with random wigs, costumes, and other props. Eventually, my prop box was passed throughout the English hallway as students did prompt books on Jane Eyre, King Lear, and Taming of the Shrew.

 

For one of our staff developments,  I  modified the prompt book for each grade level’s drama selection: Antigone, Streetcar Named Desire, and Macbeth/Hamlet. The teacher’s loved this activity because it was a new way to look at close reading. We are inundated with data that suggests close reading is the best activity for students, but many teachers have a hard time teaching this and keeping their students engaged. Prompt books not only teach the necessary skills for close reading (identifying key elements, tone, character) but they also keep the students engaged. My students have never had more fun than when they were performing their cut scenes, chapters, sections of a text.

Students close read The Masque of the Red Death (Image: Greta Brasgalla)

Students close read The Masque of the Red Death (Image: Greta Brasgalla)

Finally,  I  was also in charge of planning our Fall Intersession. This is a week long session to remediate students who have failed state assessments. These are our most at-risk students. They don’t want to be at school during vacation and they pose disciplinary challenges. Even though these students need the most engaging lessons, remediation most often entails lots of worksheets and boring seatwork.  I  resolved that we would change that this year. I  paired our English teachers with our Theater teacher and each level did a prompt book and performance of an Edgar Allan Poe story. We combined each short story with a poem as well. The kids had a great time and guess what? No discipline issues. We also got them to do a close reading of a very difficult piece of literature. Below is a picture of their performance of The Masque of the Red Death.

 

Next time you want students to tackle a scene (Shakespeare or otherwise), consider using a prompt book activity. Get out your own prop box and watch the magic happen!

 

Greta Brasgalla is an English Curriculum and Intervention Coach at El Dorado High School in El Paso, Texas.

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By Angela Ward

 

“Ay, is it not a language I speak?”

All’s Well That Ends Well 2.3

 

As a drama and US history teacher in Southern California, I use a cross-curricular approach to Shakespeare because of my passionate belief that Shakespeare connects us, to our past, to ourselves, and to each other. This acting centered, ELL-based approach to Shakespeare and history requires two to three class periods.  The real quest for me is to inspire students to understand how and why Shakespeare is relevant.  The overlying goal that I have as a teacher is to convince students that Shakespeare is universally important for everyone, and speaks to all of us, regardless of our home language.

In any language, students speak and learn at their best when they feel safe, connected and loved, so we connect with each other using basic acting/theatre warm up exercises.  We warm up the facial muscles, especially the “articulators”, by making crazy faces, instructing students to chew imaginary bubble gum in various sizes, yawn, make noises by blowing air, and finally graduating to a “WOW” sound.  When the students can put different meanings into the “WOW” sounds, I place them with a partner to learn a Shakespearean greeting, and then instruct them to put different actions behind their greetings.  We’ll switch partners, and learn a word or phrase from the Shakespeare text I am introducing that day, using the same process.

Students performing Shakespeare in Angela Ward's class. (Image: Angela Ward)

Students performing Shakespeare in Angela Ward’s class. (Image: Angela Ward)

This serves as a vocal warm-up, and a simple physical warm-up follows.  We conclude the warm-up phase with a “rhythm exercise”, which involves clapping and stomping out a beat, then adding a new, longer text to the beat. If I am teaching a unit on slavery, I use Frederick Douglass’ favorite play: Othello.  Students are “feeling” the rhythm of the text in their bodies while learning lines – without worrying about correct pronunciation or what the text is “supposed” to mean.  They are focused on working together, and staying in rhythm.  After succeeding, we look at the acting adage I have written in large letters on the white board:  “IT’S NOT THE WORDS…IT’S THE ACTION BEHIND THE WORDS!”  Students then choose an action, which they perform while speaking the text they’ve now memorized.  Wild group applause (and laughter) follows each effort!

Next, the group assembles with highlighters, pencils, and graphic organizers.  I provide a list of cognates, signal words, homophones, and synonyms students will find as we read together, along with a character map. There is no need to provide a vocabulary list for words in the scene: students use context clues, and, if necessary, glosses on the left-hand side of their Folger editions. If I am teaching a unit on slavery, as mentioned above, I pass out copies of a scene – or lines — from Othello, along with a class copy of the Folger Othello. Students are encouraged to highlight and mark up their texts. I introduce Frederick Douglass, with pictures and illustrations. I explain that Shakespeare was his favorite author and invite students to make connections between selected passages from both Douglass and Shakespeare.

Then we really dig into Othello. The scene we now read includes the lines they’ve memorized earlier. Working with a partner, students read aloud to each other.  They speculate why Frederick Douglass loved the play. They analyze the scene and agree upon an “action behind the words”.  We then look at pictures of Frederick Douglass, and his home – where a picture of Othello hung over his fireplace.  We look at images of slavery in America, and read excerpts from Douglass’ autobiography.  We consider the similarities and differences between Othello’s experience as an African in Venetian society and Douglass’ experience as an African American in antebellum America. We create a graphic of words and images from the Othello text that relate to our study of Douglass. Students draw character maps of Frederick Douglass’ life during the particular period we’ve studied from his autobiography, using the Othello character map as a blueprint.

Finally, students share their discoveries in a way that feels comfortable. They choose a performance, or they share their decorated map or graphic. The purpose of this lesson is to introduce big questions around slavery and identity, increase vocabulary, and improve critical thinking and reading skills.  My greater goal is to inspire an appetite for Shakespeare and make connections with his work!

 

Angela Ward holds an MFA in theatre, and did post graduate work with the Royal National Theatre in London, and Playwrights Horizons, New York. She attended a Folger teacher training at the University of Nebraska, and runs a high school theatre department, in addition to teaching United States history, and various ESL classes at a Southern California high school.

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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 Greta Brasgalla

 

As a “veteran” teacher in my 22nd year of teaching, I sometimes look back at how I used to teach when I first started. It makes me cringe. And the teaching materials I used? Of course, I don’t have any of them because they are outdated and irrelevant.

 

And then there’s Shakespeare Set Free. It was published almost 20 years ago and I use it every time I teach Shakespeare (and everything else). Here’s what I did recently when we studied Othello.

 

We were working Act 3, scene 3 of Othello. This scene is really crucial because it is the climax of the play, but it is LONG.  I decided to use Lesson 17 in Shakespeare Set Free–Teaching Twelfth Night and Othello, which broke the scene up into 10 parts and had the students perform their parts in a “relay” style.

 

I divided up the students and gave them their parts of the scene. However, as an added component of the relay, I decided to incorporate a visual aid. I gave each group a post-it tabletop chart and told them to provide a frame by frame drawing of what happens in their scene. Before performing, we would unveil the cartoon drawing of the action. At the end of the performances, the students would have a visual of the action of the scene.  Here are some examples of their drawings:

Othello cartoon storyboards. (Image: Greta Brasgalla)

Othello cartoon storyboards. (Image: Greta Brasgalla)

The students had a great time with this and they really got a full understanding of the action in the scene. This method is great not only for teaching Shakespeare. Reading a novel with a really long chapter? Do a relay!  Non-fiction article that is really detailed and drawn out? Do a relay!  Short Story Analysis? Do a relay!

 

Finally, I wanted to share some insight about performance in the classroom. As English teachers we are told that students must do lots of low-stakes writing in the classroom to prepare them for high-stakes writing scenarios.  I believe the same is true about performance.  I regularly allow my students opportunities for low-stakes performance. As a result, they are calm and professional when they have presentations in my class as well as other classes. They also take great pride in what they are able to come up with in a short term performance situation. They love taking pictures (a student took the pictures above) and love taking video of their performances. They find joy and laughter in seeing each other perform and that is what teaching is all about.

 

Greta Brasgalla is a member of the Folger National Teacher Corps and an alumna of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute. She is currently a curriculum specialist and classroom coach at El Dorado High School in El Paso, Texas. Greta also edited the teaching modules on the new www.folger.edu.

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By: Stefanie Jochman

 

At the end of the year, no matter how I try to avoid it, I always end up feeling like that frazzled owl in the popular “Teacher at the end of the year” Facebook meme, but this time, I’m not going to worry so much about smoothing my feathers. One lesson I learned while teaching Shakespeare this year: vulnerability is valuable.

 

“Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee, / I have no joy in this contract tonight” were the first two sentences of the ten-line monologue assigned to me at the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, and I can type them from memory now because my whole body knows those lines. At TSI, Caleen Jennings and Michael Tolaydo challenged our cohort to know Shakespeare not only as teachers but also as actors. Of TSI’s excellent tripartite program of scholarship, curriculum, and performance, performance sessions were where we (or at least I) felt most vulnerable. Sure, we were used to being our “teacher-selves” in front of large groups, but as teachers, we had to be the calm, collected adults in the room.

 

Students close read on their feet in Stefanie’s English class.  (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Students close read on their feet in Stefanie’s English class. (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

In our performance workshops, we took new roles: wide-eyed teenage lovers, rowdy friends, fearsome fathers, nagging nurses. We couldn’t describe a character’s feelings the way we normally might when teaching a play; we had to act them—and know the lines by heart!

 

Anyone who walked into those first performance workshops could have recognized my discomfort and fear in the stiffness of my shoulders or the softness of my voice as my composed “teacher-self” fought against the wild sounds and fluid movements that a good acting warm-up requires. But with each workshop I grew louder and more fluid; I left a little more of “Ms. Jochman” behind and picked up another piece of “Juliet,” until, at last, performance day arrived. When a line was flubbed or a word forgotten, we buoyed each other. I felt vulnerable, but so did everyone else, and that shared vulnerability created a safe space to explore Shakespeare in heart and body.

 

I made a goal to create a similar atmosphere in my classroom this year. Rather than starting the year with the safe familiarity of syllabi review, I followed Deborah Gascon’s advice to play with Shakespeare on the first day of school. Students started with stiff shoulders and wary eyes, but by the end of that first hour together, we were all laughing.

 

Before I attended TSI, my students performed for assessment after finishing a play; this year, however, they performed to learn. Seniors performed variations of “Get thee to a nunnery” to understand its nuance; juniors used pantomime and tableaux to summarize early scene from The Merchant of Venice; freshmen reddened at the jokes in 1.1 of Romeo and Juliet while they put the scene on its feet. Each performance activity was an opportunity to tackle new words and embarrassing moments together, and as a result, our daily classroom performances built not only understanding of the text but also camaraderie.

 

Shakespeare is a name that makes a lot of students (and teachers!) feel vulnerable. His words might look jumbled to the eye or feel unfamiliar in our mouths, his plots and jokes make us blush, and his work is so esteemed we might not feel worthy of it, but those confusions, embarrassments, or inadequacies are the stuff of Shakespeare. What are soliloquies if not moments of vulnerability? Don’t we laugh most at the fools we see in ourselves? Being a teacher is a kind of performance, a role that can exhaust the player in its demands of invulnerability– round-the-clock professionalism (because you never know who is in the next aisle at the grocery store!) or a façade of constant accuracy. Our students can get lost in the roles they play, too; they wear their own masks to hide their fears. How freeing it is to put those roles aside in favor of Hamlet, Portia, Romeo, or Juliet.

 

One student’s reflections in anonymous end-of-the-year survey put it all in perspective:

“I really enjoyed when we did a play for The Merchant of Venice. That made me have some butterflies in my stomach, but it was so much fun!”

When I was a first-year teacher, I equated vulnerability with failure. I didn’t want my students to see when I had butterflies in my stomach, but my experiences with Shakespeare this year have taught me that vulnerability has value in the classroom. As I rehearsed my monologue last summer, I thought I was leaving “Ms. Jochman” behind on the Folger Theatre stage, but I was actually learning how to be a better teacher. When the expectation is to open ourselves to the challenge and make mistakes along the way rather than to simply get the answer right, there is so much more room for learning, for creativity, for camaraderie, for fun.

 

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.

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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 Alli Gubanich

 

BEFORE YOU WATCH

This video shows how to use QR codes to deepen student engagement with the words and ideas in Twelfth Night—and to teach essential literacy skills outlined in the Common Core. QR codes are a nice blend between the paper world and the digital world.  I was inspired to create this kind of communication by Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators, which is full of QR codes for the reader to scan.  In this video, I explain how to use QR codes to enhance a research paper with complementary multimedia.  The end result is a paper that certainly could be read on its own, but offers the reader additional material for visualizing the textual information.  QR readers can be downloaded to any smartphone or tablet for free.

 

THE VIDEO

 

AFTER YOU WATCH

Students usually love to curate interesting and relevant multimedia for their papers.  I have had students send me to watch cartoons and lectures, look at fine art and internet memes, listen to NPR and MTV.  I’m always intrigued by the connections my students choose to make.  Asking students to include multimedia requires them to analyze the topic in question in yet another light, and the process of choosing appropriate supplemental material requires higher level thinking skills.  Additionally, the “art of curating” really substantive or relevant material is a skill worth developing.  Including it on your rubric legitimizes the process and gives you another area in which to help your students grow.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.

 

Alli Gubanich is an upper school English teacher at AIM Academy, a research-to-practice lab school in Conshohocken, PA that serves students with learning differences.  Her professional interests include technology infusion in the classroom and differentiated learning in the 21st century classroom.  Additionally, she is an accredited teacher trainer in the Socratic Seminar instructional method.  Alli is 2014 TSI alumna.

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