Archive for the ‘Technology in the Classroom’ Category

Find this quote in context at folgerdigitaltexts.org

Guest post by Josh Cabat

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

While the average ELA Chair or Director has little to fear in terms of civil unrest in the Northlands, we have all, as did Henry IV, struggled with internal resistance to change.

How often have you found a great idea at a conference or in a journal, and then presented it at a department meeting only to have it greeted with smiles and nods and subsequently ignored? Reflecting on and changing our own process is challenging enough; to get others to do so is often a steep mountain indeed.

This is even more true when it comes to Shakespeare. Resistance to new ideas in teaching Shakespeare usually comes in two flavors. One comes out as “You expect those students to do Shakespeare?” which usually signifies the teacher’s own insecurity with the material. The other is the complete opposite: “You’re telling me how to teach Shakespeare?” Take heart, though; there are many ways over, around, and through these walls.

Ownership, Performance, and the Common Core

Not surprisingly, the solution begins and ends with ownership. One simple way to begin is to start a department meeting by giving your staff printed copies of a scene from a play they probably don’t know, like Coriolanus III, iii, or Troilus and Cressida II, i. Give your teachers some time to look it over, and then ask them a simple question: how would you teach this? Inevitably, someone will mention teaching through performance, and that’s when you hit them with something like Michael Tolaydo’s “3-D Shakespeare” from the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free.

Without editorializing beforehand, elicit reactions to the activity from the group, which in my experiences have been almost invariably positive. Then, to preempt questions regarding the Common Core, ask your teachers how the activity they have just completed relates to a standard like RL.9-10.1, which reads as follows: “cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly, as well as inferences drawn from the text.” They will come to the idea that thoughtful line readings require understanding and interpretation, which is exactly the kind of close reading and exploration of authorial intent demanded by the CCSS.

This opens the door to other activities that ease students into Shakespearean language in a scaffolded, safe way. It also helps to assuage the fears of teachers who have no stage training, which is probably most of your department; as is the case for the students, no experience on the teacher’s part is required.

This is the true “no-fear” Shakespeare; not the patronizing translation of the text into modern English on the opposite page, but creating a safe environment where students and teachers can get their hands on his words and ultimately turn close reading into performance. It is our charge to allow them to be comfortable with “failing” at first; we must encourage them, in Beckett’s famous admonishment, to “fail better.”

Using Technology

Finally, another pathway for teachers and students is technology. I am fortunate to work in a school that is one-to-one iPads, but most of these activities can be done by anyone with a smart phone. Have your teachers encourage students to use social media. Use Vine to create two-line dialogues that explain a vocabulary word; take the old Folger telegram exercise in cutting text, and have them cut a speech down to 140 characters on Twitter instead.

There are endless examples of these activities, most of which can also be implemented in an “analog” way if the tech is not available at all. From there, teachers will often bring in ideas of their own, often based on apps or websites they’ve learned about from their students. Gradually, Shakespeare becomes less daunting for all, and all stakeholders have some ownership of the process.

Ceding Control and Completing the Circle

In the summer of 1993, I had the privilege of attending the month-long Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger. Before then, I was laboring under the misapprehension that I was doing a great job. The students appeared to be enjoying themselves, but it was really the Josh Cabat Show; entertaining, but was it sound and effective pedagogy? TSI taught me the power one gains in relinquishing some control to my students. For Chairs and Directors, the same power will be derived in ceding some control to your teachers.

The moment that really brought this home for me was when Sara Lehn, one of the members of my department, was selected for TSI 2012. It kind of completed the circle for me, and I was as proud of her achievements as I was of the things I had accomplished two decades before. She now takes the lead in department PD relating to Shakespeare, and has taken over and grown our school Shakespeare Festival.

So don’t take on the PD burden yourself; get your people to conferences and PD, sort through the ideas as a group to find the ones that work, and have yourself a little festival, to provide something for teachers and students to shoot for. To steal a trick from Falstaff, let your crown be a cushion; it will be more comfortable for everyone.

Josh Cabat is currently serving as Chair of English for the Roslyn (NY) Public Schools. For the preceding decade, he taught English and Film Studies at Roslyn High School in Roslyn New York. Previously, he taught in the New York City public high schools for more than a decade. He was the co-founder of the New York City Student Shakespeare Festival. He has published many articles on Shakespeare and Film in publications such as the English Journal. He earned an MA from the University of Chicago and a BA from Columbia University.   

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Flipped classrooms are getting a lot of buzz right now. Can the model be used to successfully teach Shakespeare?

In a flipped classroom, instruction is offered during homework time (often in the form of short videos online), and teachers focus more on implementation activities while students are in the classroom.

Advocates say that students engage more with the material, have more opportunities to ask their teachers questions, and take more ownership over their learning with this model. If a student doesn’t understand an instructional video the first time, he or she is able to watch it again. But some critics say that this model creates problems for students who don’t have access to technology outside of school.

The New York Times Opinionator blog recently looked at the effects of the flipped classroom on Clintondale High School near Detroit, the first American high school to do a complete flip.

And in a segment about flipped classrooms that aired last week, PBS NewsHour interviewed Justin Reich, an educational researcher at Harvard University.

“What is exciting to me about the flipped classroom is that it gets teachers asking two really important fundamental questions,” Reich said. “What are the best ways for me to use my time, especially the very precious time I have in classrooms with my students, and then, what are the kinds of direct instruction that I could provide that could be digitized so people could watch it again?”

So, how about teaching Shakespeare’s plays in a flipped classroom? High school teacher Greta Brasgalla shares her ideas and methods in this video from the Folger’s “Teacher to Teacher” series:

In what ways are you experimenting with “flipped classroom” techniques? Do you think it’s a positive trend? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below.


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The amount of new technology springing up around us can be dizzying, especially when our students are picking it up so quickly. Much of their daily life is conducted online – so how can our classrooms extend into that area of their life?

Teacher to Teacher - Technology

In these Teacher to Teacher Videos, we’re highlighting some ways teachers are using technology and the internet to engage their students even more deeply in their Shakespeare studies:

Videos in class are tried-and-true, but sometimes might feel like a cop-out. In this video, Josh Cabat gives us several ways in which to use video effectively as a teaching tool with many active applications to try right away!


Why should you even consider using new technologies? “It’s collaborative, and it’s available 24 hours a day,” says teacher Robert Barker. Students can connect in their own time to their classwork and each other – strengthening their connection to the material.


Finally – you don’t even have to use the technology during class-time. Assigning online homework in a “flipped” classroom, according to Greta Brasgalla, gives you more time and more material to discuss in class.

You can hear more from Robert and Greta from their recorded “What’s Done is Done Online” webinar from last spring.

What technologies are you trying in your classroom? How are your students responding to it? Let us know in the comments!

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~by Christopher Shamburg, New Jersey City University

Shakespeare can be a powerful tool for the cognitive, emotional, social, and linguistic development of all kids.

I saw this phenomenon when working with the students of A. Harry Moore School in Jersey City, a comprehensive school for students ages 3-21 with severe medical, physical, and cognitive disabilities.   This year a group of 14 students did a variety of production-based activities with Shakespeare, culminating in a performance of The Winter’s Tale in June.

Students take a bow after performing The Winter's Tale.

Students take a bow after performing The Winter’s Tale.

A production-based approach is where kids come to understand Shakespeare through performance and technology—using Shakespeare’s Language.  It’s based in the Folger Teaching Method, and it’s great for all kids for several reasons.

1)      It is a deeply immersive experience.  In this case, students were dancing, sheering sheep, getting pursued by bears, consulting oracles, and coming tolife from marble statues.  They were engaged like they would be in a fun game or an exciting sport.

2)      These are fault tolerant activities.  You do not have to do it perfect or right to make it work well.

3)      There is a wide zone of engagement.  It’s been said that engagement occurs when there’s a balance between skills and challenge.  If a person is over-skilled, then boredom sets in.  If a person is over-challenged, then frustration sets in.  A teacher can easily balance skills and challenges with a production-based approach.

4)      It’s a great tool for building students’ executive function.  Executive function is a relatively new and helpful way of looking at brain activity.  It’s a combination of planning, working memory, multiple perspectives, and impulse control.  The methods of a production-based approach develop executive function.

Here are a few of the activities that worked for us.


One of the activities we used was “Shadows,” a method for students to get familiar with the physical space of the theater, experiment with their range of motion, and understand the contrasting emotions of the main character of The Winter’s Tale, and the catalyst for the action of the play, Leontes.  In “Shadows,” one student acts as “Good” Leontes and another student follows as his “Shadow,” enacting contrasting lines from “Good” Leontes.  Leontes wore a white mask or hat, and Leontes’ shadow followed wearing a black mask or hat.

Leontes Leontes’ Shadow
Stay your thanks a whileWell said, Hermione Too hot, too hotI am angling now

(see full activity Shadows).

Seven-Minute Version

To better understand the plot and the language in the play, the students frequently performed “Winta: The Seven-Minute Winter’s Tale”.  Every student enacted at least one line as a teacher read the narration and cued the students.  The lines were designed for both readers and nonreaders, who would say their lines with a prompter.


NARRATOR:  Leontes is sorry (12).  But it’s too late.  His wife is dead and his baby is gone.  Antigonus has taken Perdita to Bohemia and leaves her in an abandoned place (13).

Student lines:

12)  I have deserved all tongues to talk their bitterest.

13) There weep and leave it crying; and, for the babe is counted lost forever, Perdita.

(See full activity)

Emotion Chart

AHM Emotion Chart

Chart with different degrees of emotions

A frequent reference during many of these activities, rehearsals, and performance was the emotion chart.  It offered visual cues for nonreaders and some subtle emotional distinctions for the more dramatic players.  It was based on the work of Christine Porter in Mary Ellen Dakin’s Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults.

(See full Emotion Chart )

AHM Shakespeare 2013 -3

Three students smiling after performing The Winter’s Tale

Creating sound effects for the play–using voices, Foley techniques, and audio editing tools–was fun, engaged us in the text, and was a real crowd pleaser during our performance.  We used the Audacity audio editing program to create numerous sound effects (e.g. party, bear, sheep, crying baby, stone breaking apart).

Adaptive Use Musical Instruments

AHM Shakespeare 2013-4

Student using AUMI

One piece of software that was particularly useful was Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI).  It allowed students with limited mobility to create music for the show.  A user can create music or activated sounds with a variety of gross motor movements.

Embedded Word Files

To use the sound effects and music during the show we embedded they audio in a Word document.  These sounds added production value and also worked as a memory device for the actors.  Embedding mp3 files in a Word document is a standard, though underused, feature in Word that proved valuable during activities, rehearsals, and performance.  We opened the file with the script and played the sounds along with the production.

AHM Embedded Word File

A screenshot of a Word file with audio embedded

Good Script and Prompting

Our director Terry MacSweeney from Actor’s Shakespeare Company did an excellent job of abridging Shakespeare’s language to a 30-minute show.   He devised a system of cue cards, scripts and prompters that aided our actors just enough.

In Conclusion…

This was the Actor’s Shakespeare Company’s fifth production at A. Harry Moore.  This year the work was a part of the NJCU Educational Technology Department’s Partnership and Projects Program.

The production was organized by Marissa Aiello, a speech language pathologist at the school, with assistance by Matt Masiello, a speech language pathology intern.

Christopher Shamburg is a Professor of Educational Technology at New Jersey City University.  He is a workshop leader and consultant for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Education Division.

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It’s a very busy week in Folger Education! We’re excited to have so much to offer for Shakespeare’s Birthday, this year, and are excited to be a part of PBS LearningMedia’s celebrations as well!

This month,PBS LearningMedia is celebrating “Much Ado About Shakespeare” with online events and resources for educators. Tonight (April 16) from 8-9pm EDT we’re joining forces for a Twitter Party discussing our favorite resources and tools for bringing Shakespeare to life in the classroom! Join us live and share your stories with us!

PBS LearningMedia is also re-releasing episodes and resources for Shakespeare Uncovered, and will be hosting a free webinar with the executive producers of the series on April 22 from 4-5pm EDT. They’ll review video from each episode and the educational resources created to accompany the series with Folger educators.

As you know, we’re coming up on our Electronic Field Trip next Tuesday and our local Shakespeare’s Birthday celebration at our historic building on Sunday. How will you celebrate?

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How do you connect Shakespeare with culture and history?

Those of us teaching Shakespeare to young people in the classroom are tasked with not only making learning interesting but also relevant. In observance of Black History Month, we want to pay tribute to the work of legendary jazz musician, Duke Ellington.

Ellington was a legendary musician whose career spanned fifty years. He composed many songs for the stage, screen and contemporary songbook. His is one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music He called his sound “American Music”.

Duke Ellington Such Sweet Thunder

In 1957, Ellington composed Such Sweet Thunder, a twelve part album that explores Shakespeare’s canon through jazz composition.

Try playing Such Sweet Thunder for your students: http://www.shakespeareinamericanlife.org/stage/music/thunder/dukeellington.cfm

What other tools can be used to engage students about Shakespeare?

Sheet music for Hamlet-Madness

Sheet music for Hamlet-Madness

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Ben Jonson once wrote of Shakespeare, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”  Now, almost 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, we live in a world where it gets more difficult every day to convince students of the Bard’s relevance. Cell phones, iPads, and video games seem to have taken center stage in the common teenager’s life.  Is it really as difficult as some suggest to engage today’s student in the study of Shakespeare and his play?  I would argue that Shakespeare is doing just fine in 2013.  In a recent Folger Education Facebook entry, there was a link posted about seven upcoming film or television projects that all involved Shakespeare.  PBS recently began their six episode series entitled “Shakespeare Uncovered” and the first episode examined my all time favorite play, Macbeth.  As someone who feels they have a strong grasp of the play, I was fascinated at all the little insights I gained from watching this episode.  It was especially thrilling for me to see Dunsinane Hill and possibly the remnants of Birnam Wood in the surrounding countryside. As I watched, I was already plotting which clips from the show I wanted to share with my students next year when we study Macbeth.

In addition, I am amazed at how many newspaper and magazine headlines, syndicated columnists, and television shows make references to the Bard’s works.  One recent example that comes to mind was an opinion piece about the US tax code and how it relates to Shakespeare.  On television, CBS’s The Mentalist had two episodes from 2012 where Shakespeare had a major role in the outcome of the show. In the episode, “Something’s Rotten in Redmund” the lead character Patrick Jane investigates a teacher’s death by hanging around rehearsals of Hamlet.  By the end of the episode, Jane is on stage playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father and let’s just say that this ghost has other things to reveal than a usurping uncle. In another episode, “Cheap Burgundy,” Jane catches a killer by misquoting lines from Macbeth that the killer supposedly knew nothing about, but who felt the need to correct Jane’s mistake.  In this week’s Sports Illustrated, there is a college basketball article by Luke Winn entitled “Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of Hoops.”  I love seeing references to Julius Caesar in my favorite sports magazine.

While this was a long-winded introduction to what I want to share, I think it is important that students be shown the numerous examples of how the Bard’s works are alive and well in the 21st Century.   With that said, I also think that, we as educators, need to embrace the technology of today and also get the students out of their desks and experience the plays on their feet.  In this blog, I would like to share two of the activities that I have done in my classroom over the past three years to make the Bard come alive and allow the students to use a plethora of the technology that they love.

One of my most popular classroom activities is the making of a movie trailer after we study a play.  With the majority of newer iPads and cell phones  possessing video cameras that are HD quality, many of the students can film these projects using their own devices.  Of course, actual video cameras may be used as well.  The simplicity of movie editing programs like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, and other similar programs allow students to use edit the film and use effects that we could only dream of having at our fingertips ten years ago.  So far, my classes have done Hamlet and Othello.  None of them will earn Oscars, but they all have a special place in my heart and the students appear to really enjoy this particular week of my class.


Chris’s students act out scenes from HAMLET for their trailer project.

I will give you a general overview of what the students are responsible for, but if anyone has more specific questions feel free to contact me.  First, the students make groups of 7-10 depending on class size.  Together, we view some film trailers in class and have a short discussion on what was effective or ineffective about each.  Next, the students decide on which scenes or lines must make an appearance in the film.  I try and stress to them that short clips are most effective, but if you watch the links that I provide you will see that they don’t always follow those instructions.  Sometimes their disobedience was effective and other times not so much.  After building the script, Students also need to discuss scene locations(we are limited to our school grounds), costumes, and props.  We usually borrow clothes from the drama department closet, but you will see in the Othello trailers that some were just dressed in normal school clothes. Finally,  we begin the filming process.  Even though the trailer will probably be no more than one to four minutes long, it will probably take at least three or four days to film and we have the block schedule at my high school.  One can never underestimate how many times the “actors” will stumble over their lines, unexpected encounters with  students from other classes or cars that appear in your video backgrounds forcing a cut, or when the laughter bug hits and nobody can keep a straight face.  You can view the bloopers reel at the end of our trailer videos to see what I mean.

After all of the filming is completed, the editing process takes over. I usually do most of the editing with the help of a few students.  I think this is a mistake that I need to remedy.  There is a pretty slick trailer feature on iMovie that my dog could probably figure out with a little time.  My plan this year is to arm the students with iPads and allow them to use the iMovie app to create their masterpieces.  I have included links to our previous trailers here.  Hamlet #1 , Hamlet #2 , Both Othello Trailers.

Staying on the theme of video production, I’d like to quickly share a project that two of my students created on their own that I now plan on having my future classes do as a formal assignment.  They called it the “Shakespeare Infomercial”. Neil and Spencer picked a product to sell that played a role in a specific play.  In one Othello infomercial, they sell an Egyptian handkerchief complete with strawberry embroidery. If the customers acted soon enough, they would also throw in a complimentary scimitar and scabbard.  They finished the video with several satisfied customer’s remarks.  What I enjoyed most about the infomercials was how they threw in several references to the plays and the Bard that were very clever.  Watch the Othello informercial here and then check out their Macbeth infomerical where they sell witch cauldrons among other items.  The portion of the assignment that takes the longest is the writing out of the script. They filmed and edited the video on an iPad in under an hour.

I am out of space, but I hope to share some more activities from my classroom in the future.  Thanks for taking the time to read this and making your classroom one that makes the Bard come alive!

Chris Lavold has been  an English teacher and baseball coach at Mauston High School in Mauston, WI for the past 16 years.  As a 2010 Folger Library Teaching Shakespeare Institute participant, he learned many valuable techniques and insights about Shakespeare and the teaching of his plays.  He has spoken at the NCTE conference for the past two years on behalf of the Folger on topics specializing in technology and the use of film in the classroom. Lavold can be reached at clavold@maustonschools.org  or follow him on Twitter @Shakehitch.

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We’ve been thinking a lot about the benefit of having students listen to Shakespeare’s language.  With the recent release of the digital edition of Othello, we are in the process of producing an audio recording of the play that follows the Folger edition.  The goal is to enable students to read and hear the text at the same time.  Our current production of Henry V is going to give us the opportunity to do an audio recording of the Chorus speeches, and we’re thinking this might be helpful for students to have available to listen to, as well.  In the middle of considering all of this, it occured to us that it might be helpful to blog about it and see what kinds of responses we’d get to asking about how teachers use audio recordings of plays in their classrooms.  We’re not talking about passive listening. Rather, actively engaging students through a guided listening exercise or activity, for example.  So, do you use audio recordings of Shakespeare’s plays, or of any plays, in your classrooms? How do you use them?  Do you find the option to be a valuable one, based on your own classroom use?

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During a particularly bad Idaho winter in 1996, my 10 year old niece visited me for the weekend.  She accompanied me to a meeting of my Shakespearean troupe, Stage of Fools.  Only one other brave soul dared to trek through the snow to rehearse that day, so we abandoned our show and read a scene that allowed my niece to play along.  We chose the Lady Macduff murder scene…what 10 year old doesn’t love to die a dramatic death?

Amy's niece and her friends play out a scene from Macbeth.

Amy’s niece joins a scene from Macbeth.

We started our exploration of the text by reading through the scene.  I was amazed at how quickly she picked up the language.  There were only a few words that she needed help defining, and after the second reading, she fully understood the action of the scene.  This is when the fun began…we got the scene up on its feet.  With every reading, she became more and more animated and died with dramatic flourish.  It made me wish that she lived closer so that she could join the Stage of Fools!

I could have performed the scene with her all night, but the weather made me nervous, so we donned our winter wear to make the slow trip home.  Before leaving the theatre, she asked me if she could borrow Macbeth for the week and give it back when I visited her the following weekend.  Of course, I said yes.

The next weekend, I attended her 11th birthday party.  To my surprise, she and her friends took turns enacting the scene for our entertainment during the party.  It turns out that she had read the entire play that week and taken the script to school so that she and her friends could practice during recess.  As you might imagine, I was one proud aunt.

A few years later, I was able to take her to the Folger Shakespeare Library.  It was a very special trip for us.  Today, she is an adult who still has a passion for Shakespeare.  In fact, she has our favorite quote tattooed down the back of her leg, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Over the years, as the owner of the Shakespeare High website, I’ve been asked by parents and educators how soon we can expose our children to Shakespeare.  I always cite this anecdote as evidence that young children are more than capable of reading, understanding, enjoying, and embracing Shakespeare’s language.  While attending the “Shakespeare for All” workshop at the 2012 NCTE conference, Folger educators shared that “cognitive psychology tells us that adolescents have a harder time with language acquisition and dialect differences.  Start with grades 3-6 because they are ready.”  By introducing our younger students to Shakespeare’s language in small chunks, they will soon be ready to tackle a full play, and 9th grade teachers will no longer hear moans and groans when they introduce Romeo and Juliet for the first time.

Although I don’t teach elementary school, I enjoyed learning about the performance-based methods used when teaching Shakespeare to younger children.  If I didn’t live in the “other” Washington, I would attend the Folger Shakespeare Library Conference on Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom June 24-26, 2013.  The conference theme is Sharing Our Stories.  I’m thankful that I was able to share my niece’s story with you and hope you will share your stories with me by leaving a comment below.

Amy Ulen is a TSI 1996 Alumni. After 20 years of teaching English and theatre, she moved into technology education.  She created the Shakespeare High website and eventually plans on updating it again. She continues her passion for incorporating technology into the study of Shakespeare both online and in face-to-face workshops.   

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~by Rick Vanderwall

My fall semester Introduction to Literature students were a great group. This course is a required, entry level lit course for first year students.  Everybody takes this course and instructors are encouraged to develop unique, engaging themes for the course. I came up with “Journeys through Danger, Temptation, and Violence”. Although this title may seem an exercise in the Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) school of curricular development, it has actually worked fairly well.  The course begins with Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, moves to Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD, takes a left turn to Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL, then Shakespeare’s MACBETH, finishing up with Marlowe’s DOCTOR FAUSTUS. Students engage with these texts in a variety of ways, including writing the traditional literary analysis, branching out into multi-genre projects with the CAROL.  The final two works, Macbeth and Doctor Faustus work well together thematically and comparatively. Performance activities blended with in-class readings has connected students with these texts in a new and often deeper way.   With some groups and some students the performance activities can be intimidating.  While some students have experience with this way of working with dramatic literature, for some it is a first.  Students new or otherwise may find performing in front of the class is daunting.  I have always offered doing scenes in video as an option but few have selected that option, until this past fall.

From the beginning it was clear that these students were ready for whatever experience I was willing to give them.  They quickly demonstrated experience and competence in the writing of the traditional college literary analysis. They loved to discuss and pushed me for more adventurous explorations of the material. As we moved into Macbeth we simultaneously worked our way through the text and formed production teams.  Each team selected a scene from a teacher provided list.  I provided some training in the language of Shakespeare and helped the groups engage with the text for deeper understanding.  When given the performance choice most chose video production over live performance, the reverse of previous groups. The resulting scenes met my expectations for close reading and engagement.  The discussion that resulted as we watched the videos was rich.  The quality of the videos mattered less than the scene concept expressed.

Rick's students perform the text of Faustus in a video for a class project.

Rick’s students perform the text of Doctor Faustus in a video for a class project.

To View this Video, Click Here!

What I noticed as we moved into Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus was that the groups chose to stay together for the next performance project and expressed a desire to improve the films.  There seemed to be a competition among the groups to put forward an improved product. As the quality of the videos did improve, the level of the textual engagement became much deeper. One group in particular selected a complex task.  They wanted to do scenes from Doctor Faustus that included Good Angel/Bad Angel scenes.  I suggested they adapt several of these scenes into one. The act of adaption required a deep study of the text of these scenes in order weave them together.  The resulting video (linked below) opened an expanded discussion of the character of Faustus and speculation about author intent.  The culminating assignment was a paper comparing the two plays which seemed an afterthought compared to the high level of engagement of the scene production process.

I learned that alternatives to live classroom performance had potential for greater engagement. I have been aware for the past few years that more and more students came to class with experience in video production and skills with other technologies that could be utilized in performance activities.  Students reluctant to perform live in class were very willing to perform in video.  The level of engagement depended somewhat on my individual coaching of the groups and my facilitation of each group’s task/scene. I had to emphasize “process over product” and make sure not to become too focused on the success or failure of the technical aspects of projects. Instead, I commented on the concept students presented and how it addressed the text chosen.  With the videos all students, presenters and audience, were able to focus on the textual interpretation. We could easily replay all or part of the videos as comments or questions arose.

Some groups had issues with compatibility and portability of the videos.  I suggested as a backup that the videos be posted on YouTube.  Equipment varied from cellphone cameras to high end camcorders and use of Adobe Premier, iMovie, to Windows Movie Maker. Students were encouraged to use technology they had at hand.  I stated clearly that this project was not about the quality of the video but the depth of the textual engagement.  I set no “quality” standards but focused my attention on selecting challenging scenes and facilitating the groups as they addressed the task.

While this group was exceptional in their engagement, they did not seem unusual in the technology skills they possessed.  In written response following the completion of the project, they expressed surprise at the level of interest they developed in both Macbeth and Doctor Faustus.  They connected particularly with the moral dilemmas faced by both characters. As a result I am rethinking the culminating comparison paper.  Each semester informs the changes I will make for the next, that’s the one constant I have been able to count on over the course of my teaching career.

Rick Vanderwall is a faculty member in in the Department of Languages and Literatures specializing in English education At the University of Northern Iowa. He has been an educator in a middle school, high school for more than thirty-five years. He is still learning new things

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