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Archive for the ‘Tales from the Classroom’ 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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This post originally appeared on Making a Scene on December 13, 2012

 

~by Gina Voskov

My first experience with Shakespeare was in 4th grade. I was asked to play the part of Celia in As You Like It for a Shakespeare festival. I can safely say that at the time I had no idea what I was doing or who Shakespeare was or why I had been asked to be in a festival, but 20-something years later, I remember the experience vividly. I wore a red velvet dress with a white lace collar, white tights, and black patent leather shoes. They were the most Shakespearean things I had in my closet in rural Vermont and even though they were technically my Christmas clothes, I put them on in the springtime to perform:  “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry.”

 

I wish I could say that my 4th grade experience with Shakespeare set me on a course to love and study the Bard, but it did not. He quickly fell off my radar and didn’t appear back on it until my 9th grade year when we read Romeo and Juliet, and then again the next year when we read Julius Caesar. I think if it hadn’t been for Julius Caesar, I would have given him a chance, but the experience of reading that stupid play set me on a course to hate and avoid the Bard–we did worksheets and talked about caesuras and sat in our seats and read aloud. I vowed I would never again pick up a Shakespeare play, and was successful in keeping that vow. Until, that is, I needed to finish my English degree and the whole thing hinged on a single Shakespeare course. Do I really need to tell you about my anger when I realized I couldn’t graduate without taking a class about the one writer I hated more than anyone? Maybe it was my professor, or maybe it was the choice of texts she had us read or the way she led us through the conflicts and tensions and beauty of the plays, but that course changed everything. It was while sitting in our classroom on a spring day after reading Titus Andronicus that I realized I needed to be a teacher. Not because it was what all English majors would likely end up doing but because I needed to share Shakespeare. And the best way I could figure how to do that was by becoming a teacher.

 

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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 Sara Lehn

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth (Image: StudioCanal)

“Who would you choose?  Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender?”

“Cumberbatch!”

“But have you seen the new Michael Fassbender trailer?  It looks amazing!”

 

It is the first meeting of the school year for my Shakespeare Society’s Executive Board.  Although it has been months since we all met, our table is brimming with enthusiasm, excitement, and fresh ideas for how to bring Shakespeare to our school’s population.  And, of course, a debate on which would make a better field trip: Benedict Cumberbatch’s live theater broadcast of Hamlet or Michael Fassbender’s upcoming film of Macbeth.  There is clearly some dissent in the ranks.

 

Several years ago, a group of students started an application for a new Shakespeare club in our high school.  I was not a part of the initial process, but I was lucky enough to be able to step in and help them to pursue their goal.  Last September their efforts came to fruition, and I became the advisor of the new Shakespeare Society.

 

We started out simply: the 30-second Macbeth, Slugs and Clods, light-hearted activities to provide a little laughter and fun.  We planned a movie night and spent a wonderful Friday evening curled up on the floor of our study center with blankets and pillows and slices of pizza.  As the year progressed and our school’s annual Shakespeare Festival approached, we chose and rehearsed scenes and planned audience-participation activities.  The festival culminated our first year together, and left me looking forward to continuing the expansion of our club.

 

Students don’t have to love Shakespeare to join our Shakespeare Society. In fact, several of my club members openly profess that they are not particularly big fans.  (more…)

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