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By Folger Education

 

We’re lucky to have four fabulous summer interns with us at Folger Education—not just because they’re working hard to support our gazillion projects, but because they’re making sharp observations about their time here and the future of teaching and learning. We thought you should hear what they have to say, so we asked them some big questions and are sharing their responses.

Folger Education Interns: Jareema Hylton, Henry Newton, Jack Ludwig and Emma Remsberg. (Image: Folger Library)

Folger Education Interns: Jareema Hylton, Henry Newton, Jack Ludwig and Emma Remsberg. (Image: Folger Library)

 

Q.     When did the Shakespeare bug bite you?

Jareema:      “My love of Shakespeare started in my freshman year of high school. I was required to read Julius Caesar, and I was fully prepared to shrug off the great Shakespeare. But the language, the characters, and the rich history were more than formidable opponents for my cynicism. I fell in love, consumed by reciting soliloquies on the bus, in my house, and inevitably in the classroom. When I read The Taming of the Shrew that same year, I was absolutely smitten. And, on those terms, I learned a thing or two about love. Following a study of Shakespeare’s poetry, Bro. Martin, my then English teacher, slapped the table and uttered in his signature deadpan, “Ladies, don’t ever be with a man unless he can write you a sonnet.” Extreme…maybe. Still, it was that kind of passion that made me especially fond of the comedy and the tragedy this playwright is capable of cultivating, inside and outside of his pages.”

Henry:      “The Shakespeare bug bit me in about eighth grade when I had my first real Shakespeare experience with the text. Before that, I’d read some Shakespeare and been taught it in English class, but the experience of focusing on nothing but Shakespeare for a month was truly enlightening. I had the chance to learn from an exceptional teacher in Mr. Craig MacDougall who really brought Romeo and Juliet to life in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Through impromptu performances (which I, admittedly, was hesitant to participate in at first) and creative activities that exposed to me the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, I was hooked.”

 

Q.     What is the coolest thing you’ve seen or done so far at the Folger? 

Jack:      “Sifting through the Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays searching for scenes for teacher workshops. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but is there anything better than reading Shakespeare all day?”

Emma:      “Interning at the Folger means that I get to combine my interest in museums and education with my love of Shakespeare. Since I started last week, I’ve geeked out nearly every day: when I saw a First Folio, when I glimpsed a preview of next year’s exhibits (they’re super exciting), etc, etc. Even when I’m just at my desk, the work is fun – I had a great time yesterday hunting down quotes.”

Henry:      “The coolest thing that I’ve done at the Folger during my internship here has been my work on the Teaching Modules available for teachers to use in their classrooms. This was most interesting thing that I’ve done here because it provided a tangible link to the educational experience of so many students that could find the same passion and form the same connections that I did, for through similar materials, I myself found my Shakespearean passion.”

 

Q.     What’s one thing you want your peers to know about the Folger?

Emma:      “One thing that I think is important with regards to my generation is to not let Shakespeare be written off as old, dull, and dusty (as I have seen several of my peers do) – I think that everyone has a capacity for appreciating Shakespeare.”

Jareema:      “While this may sound silly, I want my peers (and everyone) to know that the Folger is free! It is such an amazing institution comprised of many parts (museum, reading room, theatre, etc.), which happens to be conveniently located in our nation’s capital. So many other major cities are home to wonderful museums and observatories that charge hefty entrance fees. But here, Shakespeare is available to the public at no cost. There is no reason not to visit and share in this wonderful experience!”

Henry:      “The one thing that I would like my peers to know about the Folger is that it’s not just that place that you stopped by on your eight-grade trip to Washington D.C. It’s a diverse and fascinating collection of important Shakespearean materials that is truly important, even today. “

 

Q.     What’s one big way you expect your generation to contribute to the teaching and learning of Shakespeare?

Jareema:      “I expect my generation to contribute a more culturally and socially diverse way of teaching and learning Shakespeare. As public opinion and society changes on various issues of equality and personal freedom, literary interpretations can only grow in parallel richness.”

Jack:      “I am determined to be a member of my generation who will completely revolutionize the ways future generations will learn about Shakespeare.”
Check back later for more insights from these engaged young people!

 

Jareema Hylton serves as the Teaching Shakespeare Intern. Currently, she assists in organizing the Summer Academy 2015, gathering school data, and conducting research in the Folger’s digital archives. She is a senior honors English major at Swarthmore College.

Henry Newton is a Folger Education Intern who is a junior at the Hotchkiss School. Henry has been reading Shakespeare since sixth grade and is a talented athlete.

Jack Ludwig is a rising freshman at Haverford College. Jack currently lives in Washington, DC, and has three pets: a bird, dog, and a cat. Jack also is a Helen Hayes Award nominee for Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, a children’s adaptation of the Dickens classic, which he co-authored with his father, Ken Ludwig. 

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

By Michael LoMonico

 

I recently interviewed Russ McDonald, professor of English at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Russ was a resident scholar at the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute from 1985-Bedford - LoMo1986, and served as the head scholar from 1988-1994. He is the author of The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents and the recent Bedford Shakespeare.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation.


 

ML:  At the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 1988, you lectured about the tragic flaw, and wrote an essay about it called “The Flaw in the Flaw” which appears in the first volume of Shakespeare Set Free.  I suspect that many teachers aren’t teaching the tragic flaw when they teach Shakespeare but some still are. Can you explain why they shouldn’t?

RUSS:  I have to attribute a lot of this to an article by Phyllis Rose.  She wrote an article in the New York Times in the 1980s that I responded to immediately on this very problem, which is that the idea of a flaw that brings down the heroic/tragic character is just too easy a way of addressing a really complicated representation of human experience.  That is, if you simply say, ” Hamlet delays.  Hamlet cannot make up his mind.”  I mean, the beginning of the Olivier film says, “This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind.”  Well, no, it’s not.

ML: Please explain.

RUSS: Throughout the middle of the 20th century, that seems to be a common way of addressing the tragic experience for teachers and the problem with it is that it reduces to a kind of formula something that is much more complicated and much more interesting.  I don’t think we’d still be watching these plays or reading them with the fervor that we still do if it were as simple as that formula of the tragic flaw seems to make it.  Hamlet, for example, that it’s just a problem of procrastination.  Hamlet can’t make up his mind.  He delays. And the same with Othello.  You know, Othello’s just jealous.  If he weren’t so jealous, everything would be fine.

Bedford 2 - LoMoThe problem is first, it simplifies matters too much.  And second, it implies a kind of moral or ethical superiority on the part of the reader or the audience.  That is, “I’m okay, Hamlet’s not.  If I had been there to tell him to get with the program, then he wouldn’t have had that problem at all.”  And so what it means is that it allows us to feel superior to the character when, in fact, of course, what is important is that we be involved with the experience of the character.

I tend to think of the tragic figure or I try to get my students to think of the tragic figure as a kind of naïve idealist.  That’s one way of thinking about most of the tragic figures.  King Lear, for example, is naïve in that he’s 80 years old, but he’s an innocent in a way.  He thinks that words and meanings match each other, so when his daughter says, “I love you more than eyesight, more than words can wield the matter,” he thinks she means it.  And his belief that people do mean what they say is an admirable and beautiful principle.  But it’s flawed.  I mean, I hate to use the word “flaw,” but it’s a problem.

ML: How is it a problem?

RUSS:  It’s a good problem.  The world would be better if things were that way.  But that’s Lear’s particular problem.  The same thing with Hamlet.  Hamlet wants to know the truth and he wants to act ethically, rightly, on that truth.  And the world keeps putting baffles in front of him.  That’s exactly the problem.  The world will not allow the tragic character to proceed as he or she wishes to do.  Antigone is really the great example of this.  Antigone works so well in thinking about this, because she’s not flawed.  She wants to give a burial to her brothers.

ML:  Right; so Macbeth is just ambitious.

RUSS:  That man’s ambitious.  Exactly.

 

Michael LoMonico taught English for 33 years. He is currently the National Education Consultant for Folger Education and the author or That Shakespeare Kid.

By Folger Education

 

In February, when the Folger launched its exciting new website, we posted our first set of revamped teaching modules, which include assessment ideas, writing prompts and technology tools (where appropriate), and connections to the Common Core Anchor Standards for English. Just this week, we posted another round of great teaching modules: this time, on Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Shakespeare's Sonnets, Folger Edition (Image: Folger Library)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Folger Edition (Image: Folger Library)

 

If you’re thinking about teaching the sonnets next school year—or maybe even this summer—check out these lessons below, which spring from the work of Dr. Louisa Newlin and Gigi Bradford with the Folger’s “Shakespeare’s Sisters” program, a semester-long seminar on poetry for local high school students. Try these out with your students and let us know how they go!

 

  1. Easing into Shakespeare with a Modern Sonnet
  2. Petrarch, Father of the Sonnet
  3. Close Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets
  4. The English Sonnet: Michael Drayton
  5. Sonnet Performances: Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Scripts

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.

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.

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.

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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