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Posts Tagged ‘The Merchant of Venice’

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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By Folger Education

In July 2014, 25 teachers from all over the country gathered at the Folger for an intensive month-long study of Shakespeare sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities: the Teaching Shakespeare Institute. Working through the lenses of scholarship, performance, and pedagogy, participants completed three major projects: 1) a research paper using items in the Folger collection, 2) a collaborative performance presentation, and 3) two short video tutorials on technology-rich strategies for teaching Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. This last one is directed especially at you, our teaching colleagues.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing participants’ videos with you. These clips demonstrate how to use a particular tech tool to teach a specific literacy skill or aspect of a text. First up: Romeo and Juliet. (If you teach Twelfth Night, stay tuned—those videos will be next!)

Today we’re diving into Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet, and we’re lucky to have English teacher Stefanie Jochman as our guide. She’s going to walk you through what to watch for in her videos—and how she’s adapted the strategy this year in class.

BEFORE YOU WATCH

This video lesson explains how teachers can use Mozilla Popcorn Maker, a web-based video-editing program, to explore Act I, Scene 5 of Romeo and Juliet, specifically the “Holy Palmer” sonnet. My Popcorn Maker video seeks to solve a problem teachers sometimes encounter when conducting multimedia studies: lag-time between loading video clips or showing images. Using Popcorn Maker, I knit film clips, ballet excerpts, and digital images from the Folger Library’s Luna database into one fluid video that also displays focus questions for each medium. Compilations like the one I create in this demonstration help students to analyze the representation of a key scene in a variety of artistic media (Common Core Reading Literature Standard 7) or analyze how artists like Sondheim or Zeffirelli draw on source material from Shakespeare (Common Core Reading Literature Standard 9).

THE VIDEO: Popcorn Maker Tutorial

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MqkIzLQ3Yg&feature=youtu.be

THE BONUS VIDEO: The Finished Product, a Popcorn Version of the “Holy Palmer” Sonnet

https://msjochman.makes.org/popcorn/261o

AFTER YOU WATCH

The Romeo and Juliet multimedia study remains one of my favorite lessons in my Romeo and Juliet unit because students’ responses to the discussion questions are so impressive. Some of my students have never watched ballet before this lesson, but their knowledge of Romeo and Juliet the play, one seemingly-difficult medium, helps them to make sense of another. During this lesson, students recognize and hone the analytical skills they already employ whenever they go to the movies, watch TV, or glance at a piece of art on the street, in their houses, or in a gallery. When asking freshmen to compare representations of Act 1, Scene 5, I try to focus on the scene’s essential elements: the language of the “Holy Palmer” sonnet, Romeo’s feeling of “love-at-first-sight,” Juliet’s youth, and the tension between the Montagues and Capulets (personified by Tybalt). I think students surprise themselves with how quickly they notice details in costuming and performance that communicate those elements.

My Romeo and Juliet multimedia study inspired a similar exploration with my IB junior class of Shylock’s “To bait fish withal” speech from The Merchant of Venice. I challenged those older, advanced students to determine the scene’s “essential elements,” and I let their observations (rather than my own pop-up questions) guide discussions of the clips. Actors’ interpretations of Shylock’s speech vary so wildly that the end result of our study was a greater appreciation for the nuance of Shakespeare’s language. I also shared Popcorn Maker and other video tools with some of my senior IB students, and they used the program to demonstrate how the Byronic hero survives in superhero movies.

In the future, I hope to develop a compilation and analysis assignment that requires students to independently assemble and analyze multiple representations of a scene, poem, chapter, or character.

Feel free to send me your questions or ideas on Twitter (@MsJochman).

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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