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Posts Tagged ‘Common Core’

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By Sara Lehn

Last year an unforgettable group of my twelfth grade students became fascinated with the connections they saw between Batman and Hamlet.  At first I was skeptical, but the more they defended their beliefs, the more I came around to their way of thinking.

Consider: an angry, morose member of the wealthy elite who has lost his parents and has very few people to whom he can turn, disgusted with the disgraceful state of his beloved city and obsessed with a need to seek justice for his lost loved ones.

It does sound kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

My students used this parallel as the basis for their final video project on Hamlet, performing the famous “closet scene” between Gertrude and Hamlet in full Batman regalia, drawing parallels to the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in the film The Dark Knight.  They called it The Adventures of Batlet Hamman and played it to an enthusiastic response at our school’s Shakespeare Festival in April.

Since then, I have been intrigued by connections between Shakespeare’s classic works and current pop culture.  Teachers frequently use modern updates of the plays in class, but many of us don’t consider the films and television shows out there that share similar themes and characters but may not have been intentionally conceived with Shakespeare in mind.

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Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

Hamlet. First Folio. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Sara Lehn

“Stand, who is that?”
“Tis I.”

“Who’s there?”
“Nay, answer me.  Stand and unfold yourself.”

What’s the difference between the two exchanges above?  Either not much or quite a lot, depending on your perspective.  Both indicate two people looking to identify each other.  Therefore, both imply a certain level of curiosity or suspicion, as well as the likelihood that they cannot see each other very well.

Both are the opening lines of Hamlet.

The first set of lines comes from the 1603 Quarto of the play.  The second set of lines comes from the 1604 Quarto, and is the one that appears in the First Folio. The second quarto is commonly considered the more authoritative version of the play.

In talking to some of my fellow teachers, I found that, while most were aware that there are quarto and folio versions of the plays, few had considered using the differences between them as a teaching tool.  Personally, it wasn’t until my time at the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, when I was able to hear a talk by Dr. Barbara Mowat, co-editor of the Folger Editions, that I really saw the worth of these different versions in the secondary classroom.

English teachers across the United States are feeling the pressure of the Common Core and are searching out techniques and tools to address standards such as RL.11-12.4, which asks students to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.”

Many students find this kind of sophisticated close reading difficult, but by providing them with two different possibilities for just a small section of the play, students are able to see how even the tiniest change in diction can affect layers of nuance in the overall impact of the lines. (more…)

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Guest post by Josh Cabat

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend both a week-long workshop on reading strategies at Teachers College and the week-long AP English Language and Composition prep course sponsored by the College Board.

In so many ways, these two activities are diametrically opposed, certainly in terms of the ultimate target audience and, in some fairly interesting ways, in terms of philosophy.

What I’m taking away from these two experiences, however, is how remarkably similar they are. While the levels of complexity were completely different, it turned out that I spent both weeks engaged in exactly the same two activities: teaching close reading techniques, and learning how to teach students to structure coherent arguments and support them with relevant and valid evidence.

Clearly, these activities are founded upon the changes wrought by the Common Core. And as we all know, Shakespeare is one of the few authors mentioned by name within the strictures of the Core. And as I was enjoying these two very different weeks of professional development, I thought a great deal about where Shakespeare might fit into all of this.

Close reading is not really an issue, of course; all of the performance-based activities promoted by the Folger are founded on exactly the kind of close reading demanded by the new standards. But what about the other strand, the idea of evidence-based argument?

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By Sue Biondo-Hench

My students have told me that studying and performing Shakespeare has made them better readers of all literature and better writers, stronger individuals and stronger leaders.

But how do we assess this growth?

There is no standardized assessment that truly measures this type of learning. And that’s an issue that challenges the credibility and viability of performance-based instruction.

When I was first asked to provide a workshop on Shakespeare and assessment last fall, I was a bit disappointed. I mean, assessment isn’t what gets me to school in the morning. But truthfully, I think about assessment all the time as I work with students and performance; it is at all stages of what I do with students. I just didn’t realize it until I began to think about what I wanted to share at that workshop.

One of the realities of assessment is that it has the power to scaffold, stabilize, justify, and transforms the performance piece for the students, for the classroom, for the audience, for administrators, and for me.

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2013 Secondary School Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library.

2013 Secondary School Festival. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Let’s make a date for another day to have a longer, more nuanced conversation about the many parts of the Common Core.

For now, I just want to say that if we could put politics aside and testing aside (and unfortunately, in our beloved field of education, we can put aside neither for long), the expectations for student mastery laid out in the Common Core are the same kinds of expectations that good teachers have had for their students for centuries. Centuries.

And what gets me going on about the Common Core at the moment is that our theatre is crammed this week and next with middle and high school students performing Shakespeare at the Secondary School Shakespeare Festival. (more…)

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Folger Education booth at this year’s NCTE Convention

Folger Education staff recently attended and presented workshops on teaching Shakespeare at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Chicago.  The convention celebrated the 100th birthday of NCTE, and it offered teachers in attendance many sessions that focused on the new Common Core State Standards set for implementation in schools from approximately 46 states and the District of Columbia in 2014.  Shakespeare is included in the Common Core Standards as suggested readings for high school students, and many of the skills students will be required to demonstrate a proficiency in are introduced in the elementary grades.  What have you and your school district been doing to get ready for the integration of the Common Core Standards in your classroom?  If you would like to get started, join us for our Shakespeare and the Common Core Standards webinar on Monday, December 5th, from 7-8:30 pm EST.

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The Hot News among English Language Arts teachers this summer (it’s been a slow news cycle) was the initial publication of the Common Core State Standards. Originally announced on June 1, 2009,the initiative’s stated purpose was to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

And for those of us who teach Shakespeare, the really good news was the inclusion of a Shakespeare play–specifically Macbeth–as a requirement in the Grade 9-10 Standards.

Here’s what the commission said about the standards:

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:

  • Are aligned with college and work expectations;
  • Are clear, understandable and consistent;
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • Are evidence-based

As of July 9, 23 states had decided to replace their standards with the Common Core and by the end of the year, 41 states are expected to have adopted them.

Only Texas and Alaska did not participate in the initiative and are not expected to adopt them.

But Shakespeare was one of the few authors mentioned by name, and the Folger has lots of fabulous lesson plans on Macbeth and a wonderful DVD of the production we produced on our stage.

So what do you think about these standards? Will your state be adopting them? Will it finally convince some reluctant administrators that Shakespeare should be taught in high school? You tell us.

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