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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.

 By Peggy O’Brien

At St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s 2015 commencement, Michael Tolaydo—both in honor of his long and distinguished career there and in honor of the graduating class—was asked to send

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O'Brien)

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O’Brien)

the graduates off into their futures with some Shakespeare.  We share it with you here because he is an important part of the Folger Education family.  His knowledge, creativity, guidance, and humor have enabled countless teachers across the country to up their teaching Shakespeare game—and will continue to do so. 

On a beautiful May morning, overlooking the St. Mary’s River, this is what he said:

 

CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATES!  Soon after you leave St. Mary’s College, you will– in the months and years to come–have many interviews and meetings with folks who are looking for employees.  I want to remind you that too often we try to impress the interviewer by presenting what we think they are looking for.  And in doing so, we interpret what we think are signals in their facial expressions and tone of voice.  When we react to those signals, we end up presenting  a mixed image and presence of who WE are.

Your strength is in you. Not the mask you think that you need to project.  The genuineness of who you really are is more powerful than any mask you might project as you are trying to please.

Great actors do not ‘make believe.”

Great actors make YOU believe.

The best advice I know that reminds me of this is from Shakespeare:  Hamlet’s advice to the players (3.2.1):

 

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced
it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth
it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and
beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O,
it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious,
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very
rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the
most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable
dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow
whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods
Herod. Pray you, avoid it.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own
discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the
word, the word to the action, with this special
observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of
nature. For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose
of playing, whose end, both at the first and
now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to
nature, to show virtue her own  feature, scorn her
own image, and the very age and body of the time
his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come
tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh,
cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure
of the  which one must in your allowance o’erweigh
a whole theater of others. O, there be players that I
have seen play and heard others praise  (and that
highly), not to speak it profanely, that, neither
having th’ accent of strangers nor the gait of
woman, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and
bellowed that I have thought some of nature’s
journeymen had made men, and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for
them, for there be of them that will themselves
laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators
to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered.
That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it.

Go make you ready.

 

(slightly edited)

 

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

We had so much fun at last week’s 2015 Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival we wanted to share more images of the kids and the great day they had at the Folger.

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By Diana Darwin and Nancy Howard

 

Imagine children, not much taller than yardsticks, clearly and passionately performing lines from Romeo and Juliet. Simply dressed in blue T-shirts for the Montagues, red T-shirts for the Capulets, and yellow tees for the Prince and his family (a few wore mustaches and many carried swords), they projected proudly as they enacted an abbreviated version of this play.  They were energized—and energizing—nine-year-old children from a public charter school here in DC. At the end of the day, we asked their teacher how the students came to own the language. He replied, “Practice, lots of it.”

 

This is the kind of magic behind the Emily Jordan Folger Shakespeare Children’s Festival: elementary students speaking Shakespeare’s language as if it were written for them (and we believe it was!).

 

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Children understand and enjoy Shakespeare when given the chance to perform it! The comedic spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was alive and well presented by a cast of students who were having so much fun the audience couldn’t resist. Young Pyramus understood the humor in taking such a long time to die…and the audience responded with happy laughter and applause. The community of learners in the Folger Theatre inspired and supported each other, demonstrating throughout the week the value of the arts and humanities.

 

It seems to me that perhaps the most important lessons learned from the arduous preparation made by all these students is their ability to do things they thought were hard. Their work learning lines and presenting characters demands that children stretch beyond the familiar and risk trying new things. We believe that the growth that we witness in these young people is only a glimpse of an unlimited future ahead.

 

Nancy Howard and Diana Darwin both taught Eighth Grade Language Arts and produced/directed theatrical productions at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.  After retiring in 2006, they  became docents at Folger Shakespeare Library.

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.

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.

by Gene Campbell

 

Before You Watch

 

The idea behind this video is a simple one: get your students to immediately get the play on its feet. Here you’ll learn how to help your students take a scene from any of Shakespeare’s plays (though in this case it’s a portion of Act 5, Scene 1 from Twelfth Night) and turn it into a montage of one-second movies using iMovie. Through this process, students will be asked to break down the dramatic structure of the scene, to do a close reading of the scene, and then to distill that scene to its barest essence.

 

The Video

 

 

 

After You Watch

 

While I did not teach Twelfth Night this year, I used a simplified version of this lesson for our first day’s discussion of Henry IV, Part I. Due to a time crunch that I’m sure everyone reading this blog has felt at one point or another, I didn’t think that I could afford the extra day or two that filming and editing a one-second movie montage could have entailed, so I opted for tableaux vivants instead. The principle was the same — get the students to do a close reading of the text and then translate the poetry, rhetoric, and imagery into one representative moment — though the time required was reduced to a single day and the finished product was a still image rather than a very brief film clip. I split my students into two groups and asked them to come up with an image for each line of King Henry’s opening speech. One student read the part, the rest of the group acted, and I photographed each tableau and then projected the photos as the reading was repeated at the end of the class so that everyone could see the finished product. Henry’s manipulation of his audience came alive as an image of unity was followed by one of discord in a neatly repeating cycle that highlighted his political savvy and duplicitous message as well as set up the questions that I would be asking them to consider when Hal begins to behave in eerily similar ways later in the play.

 

There were audible gasps from the students when I projected their work for them at the end of the day, and that energy and engagement helped carry us through our discussions in the following weeks. There was something about seeing the imagery made concrete that connected with them and allowed them to understand that speech — one that I have taught to at least two sections every year for the past fifteen years — in a way that was never possible before. I believe both the tableaux vivants and the one-second movies provide access to this level of understanding while lessening the anxiety many of the students feel when I ask them to act out a scene in class, and this shared process of creating meaning is everything I want my classes to be.

 

If you have any questions or ideas about this lesson in either of its forms, please email me at gcampbell@stalbansschool.org or reach out on Twitter (@21stCenturyLit).

 

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

 

 

Gene Campbell is the Dean of Students and an English teacher in the Upper School of St. Albans School, an all-boys Episcopal school in Washington, DC. He received his BA in English from Georgetown University and his MA in English from The Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He currently teaches British Literature to 10th graders as well as 11th and 12th grade electives ranging from Comparative Literature to 21st Century Literature to Narrative Film.

 

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