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Posts Tagged ‘Sara Lehn’

By Sara Lehn

 

In ten short years as an educator, I have taught every grade from sixth through twelfth, and every level of ability from AP to self-contained special ed.  I say this not to impress you with how many different preps I have tackled in ten years, but to highlight this fact: I teach Shakespeare to every single one.  Some groups read excerpts while others do whole plays, but I have an unwavering belief that anybody can learn Shakespeare with the right tools and framework.

 

(Image: Sarah Lehan)

(Image: Sara Lehn)

To illustrate this idea, let’s talk about crayons.

 

Everybody loves crayons.

 

Present an eighteen-year-old with a box of crayons and you will see his eyes light up.

 

“Is this a ‘Fun-Friday’ activity?” students ask, regardless of the actual day of the week.

 

“Yes,” I say.  I have no idea where ‘Fun-Friday’ comes from, but students say it as if it’s a title for something.  I assume that this was a routine presented by a fuzzily but fondly remembered elementary school teacher.

 

Suddenly my over-stressed seniors are distracted from their impending college applications and a buzz develops.  Crayons.  She brought crayons.

 

Or markers.  Or colored pencils.  Or… whatever.

 

As children, before we learn to write, we are given crayons as a tool to express our thoughts.   Something about coloring throws us back to the simplicity and contentment of early childhood. Students get nervous that I will grade their artistic abilities, so I demonstrate for them my own lack of skill.  Stick figures are encouraged.  Laughter ensues; everyone relaxes.

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By Sara Lehn

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth (Image: StudioCanal)

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

“Cumberbatch!”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Sara Lehn

Teachers have long taken advantage of students’ love of music as a tool for the classroom, writing catchy tunes to act as mnemonic devices, playing educational songs and music videos, and so on.  Watch students in the hallway or cafeteria and you will inevitably find them with headphones blaring, blocking out the world.

As a singer, music speaks to me because of how it reflects the raw emotion of the human soul, and had you asked me at the age of seventeen what song best defined who I was, I could have answered quickly and without hesitation with a choice that clearly illustrated my mindset at the time.

I find that many of my students have an equally personal connection to their music. As a result, I have started to consider the ways that music can be used in the classroom as a tool to reflect the most human part of literature: the characters.

I ask students a simple question: what song represents this character the way your “anthem” represents you?  There is no wrong answer to this question, but a thoughtful response requires careful character study and exploration of textual evidence.  Students need to consider questions such as:

  • What does this character want?
  • What matters most to this character?
  • What emotions does this character most prominently feel?
  • What are the most significant personality traits that the character exhibits?

These questions can instigate a thoughtful and deep exploration of characterization within the text.  Students may also decide that more than one song choice is necessary, as characters frequently change and develop from one moment to the next. (more…)

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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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