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Posts Tagged ‘TSI alum guest post’

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 Stefanie Jochman

 

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records,
[…]
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. (Hamlet 1.5.103-110)

 

(Image: Stefanie Jochman)

(Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Last Thursday, October 15, my students and I were among the 225,000 people around the world who settled into cinema seats for a screening of National Theatre Live’s Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Getting my students to the production took some effort; our suburban theater wasn’t slated to show the play, but when I contacted theater managers and promised to bring a large enough group, they agreed to schedule a screening. I became a woman on a mission.

 

With the help of my colleagues and teachers from two other area high schools, I recruited a group large enough to ensure a trip to Elsinore. Here’s what some of my students had to say about it:

 

“I thought Cumberbatch brought so much energy to the performance. […]I loved how the soliloquies were done and was amazed by how committed the actors were to the slow motion. […] Along with the set and costume design, the effects were amazing. I have been to numerous Broadway shows and I have never seen anything like the King Claudius scene with the massive dirt storm. It was insane and incredible to watch.”

 

“This was my first Hamlet and I loved it!  Benedict Cumberbatch was phenomenal and the show was a masterpiece.  It was worth every cent of my ticket.  It was also cool to see it actually live (well… 6 hours delayed) because it felt like I was actually there.”

 

This production of Hamlet is, as one Guardian reviewer notes, made for the cinema. The atmospheric musical cues delighted the student musicians in attendance. The stagecraft captivated students less familiar with Shakespeare’s language. And the performances left us all with much to discuss at intermission and in the classroom. One student, a wrestler and an actor, was still talking with his teacher about “Hamlet’s biceps” later in the week! He appreciated the physical endurance demanded by a role like the Prince of Denmark.

 

For many who attended our optional field trip—students from all levels, all grades, and several different countries—this Hamlet was their first exposure to the character and the play. As they munched on popcorn or ordered a second ICEE from the concession stand during intermission, they peppered each other with questions: What was going on with Hamlet and Ophelia? Wasn’t Cumberbatch’s “mad Hamlet” funny? Had they been surprised by the on-stage explosion? Weren’t the soliloquies cool? Were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern supposed to look like hipsters?

 

Perhaps the idea of mixing Twizzlers and “To be or not to be” makes some Bard fans cringe, but to them I say fie! Students discussing Shakespeare without prompting might just be the first step to English teacher nirvana.

 

Our “trip” to London and Hamlet was a joyous success, but it had its sobering moments, too. At the curtain call, the cast appealed to theatergoers around the globe to support Save the Children, an organization currently assisting refugees from Syria and other war-torn nations. Suddenly, the most memorable images of the production—a silt-covered Elsinore; childlike Ophelia’s careful footsteps over rubble toward her willow aslant a brook; the toy soldier uniform Hamlet dons in his “antic disposition”—held more weight. The “baser matter” of my busy day fell away as I was reminded that Hamlet’s Denmark is a war-weary nation. Shakespeare’s four-hundred-year-old play (and many others in his canon) offers a startlingly reminder of the human cost of war.

 

Critics have mixed feelings about the spectacle of this new Hamlet as well as its famous lead, but there is something to be said for a production that can enthrall, inspire, and rally “distracted globes” across the globe. The success of this Hamlet speaks not only to the popularity of its leading actor but also the power of Shakespeare. For one night, National Theatre Live’s Hamlet invited the world (including three rival high schools from Green Bay) to contemplate the play’s sweeping human questions together. Meanwhile, the “Globe to Globe” tour of Hamlet connects countries one performance at a time. And very soon, another Hamlet will bind our often less-than-United States when Folger’s First Folio Tour begins in 2016. How ironic that the story of a house (and a hero) divided should have such power to unite.

 

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. Encore performances of NT Live’s Hamlet are showing at many theaters starting Oct. 22.

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By Scott O’Neil

 

Hotspur Wordcloud

Over the summer, the Rochester Community Players decided to try something we had never done before—put together a Shakespeare-specific summer youth program. Peter Scribner, president of the RCP’s Shakespeare Players, envisioned from the start a program that would have Rochester kids out doing Shakespeare, rather than passively reading the text. To implement this plan, he brought in a mixture of scholars and performers, with the result being a camp that reflects many of the Folger Library’s central philosophies.

 

Our inaugural year was focused on the creation of a high-school internship program, to run concurrently with our long-standing free Shakespeare in the Highland Park Bowl series, which featured a double header this summer—1 and 2 Henry IV. As part of our new program, our interns were able to engage with theatrical and academic approaches to Shakespeare as well as technical stage practices.  Our interns were with us from set-construction to closing night, including a two-week intensive where we met during the day to occupy the stage.

 

Our focus from the beginning was making sure that the experience was meaningful and fun (Peter specifically did not want the interns to ever feel like they were sitting in a classroom). We designed every activity to encourage that feeling of “doing” rather than “receiving” Shakespeare. Whether we were engaging with the plays academically (table reading, scene comparisons, exploring a First Folio facsimile or analyzing monologues) or theatrically (diction activities, projection, stage combat, or costume design), our focus was always on enjoying the language. When we worked on staging a monologue, for example, the interns used word cloud versions of their self-selected monologues to help think about them in different ways.  When they worked on diction, they attempted to recite their lines while holding corks in their mouths.

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This post originally appeared on Making a Scene on December 13, 2012

 

~by Gina Voskov

My first experience with Shakespeare was in 4th grade. I was asked to play the part of Celia in As You Like It for a Shakespeare festival. I can safely say that at the time I had no idea what I was doing or who Shakespeare was or why I had been asked to be in a festival, but 20-something years later, I remember the experience vividly. I wore a red velvet dress with a white lace collar, white tights, and black patent leather shoes. They were the most Shakespearean things I had in my closet in rural Vermont and even though they were technically my Christmas clothes, I put them on in the springtime to perform:  “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry.”

 

I wish I could say that my 4th grade experience with Shakespeare set me on a course to love and study the Bard, but it did not. He quickly fell off my radar and didn’t appear back on it until my 9th grade year when we read Romeo and Juliet, and then again the next year when we read Julius Caesar. I think if it hadn’t been for Julius Caesar, I would have given him a chance, but the experience of reading that stupid play set me on a course to hate and avoid the Bard–we did worksheets and talked about caesuras and sat in our seats and read aloud. I vowed I would never again pick up a Shakespeare play, and was successful in keeping that vow. Until, that is, I needed to finish my English degree and the whole thing hinged on a single Shakespeare course. Do I really need to tell you about my anger when I realized I couldn’t graduate without taking a class about the one writer I hated more than anyone? Maybe it was my professor, or maybe it was the choice of texts she had us read or the way she led us through the conflicts and tensions and beauty of the plays, but that course changed everything. It was while sitting in our classroom on a spring day after reading Titus Andronicus that I realized I needed to be a teacher. Not because it was what all English majors would likely end up doing but because I needed to share Shakespeare. And the best way I could figure how to do that was by becoming a teacher.

 

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By David Fulco

 

Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

At the end of TSI 2014, I made a pledge that I would not read the syllabus to my class on the first day of school.

 

After a summer collaborating with some of the most innovative teachers in the country, it did seem a shame that I would return to my classroom and fall back into the trap, albeit a safe trap, of

going over rules and regulations, expectations and procedures on that first day.

 

Couldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose? Shouldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose?

 

(What does it say about me that I hear Peggy O’Brien’s voice in my head when I ask myself those questions before the start of each school year?)

 

For the past two years I have asked my 10th grade students at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx, New York City to perform Tableaux Vivants on the first day of school. As a reference for our still life poses, I use the original text of the Dumb Show from Hamlet (3.2.144-156). That the students aren’t familiar with Hamlet or won’t read Hamlet as sophomores, is not a problem. The Dumb Show stands alone, allowing you to discuss as much, or as little, about Hamlet as you would like.

 

What I do:

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By Stefanie Jochman

 

Debbie Gascon’s brilliant advice to start the school year with Shakespeare has made my hot, humid classroom one of the coolest places to be on the first day of school. This year, my freshmen and I

Shakespeare in a Mug (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Shakespeare in a Mug (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

played a game of “Shakespeare in a Mug,” my modification of “Shakespeare in a Can,” an activity I learned from Michael Tolaydo and Caleen Jennings at the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute. The results? A fun 45 minutes that taught me a lot about who my students are and what they need in the year ahead.

Here’s how it works:

 

Materials:

  • 3 mugs or small containers
  • 2 sets of short lines from Shakespeare plays printed on small strips or squares of paper (I used insults from Romeo and Juliet, a play we will study in a few months. As Jennie K. Brown suggested in her post, compliments create an even more welcoming atmosphere.)
  • 1 set of places/ situations printed on small strips or squares of paper (I chose places and situations that would be familiar to students (i.e. Green Bay’s own Lambeau Field, our local shopping mall, the principal’s office, the Oscars)

Directions:

  1. Pair students and have them choose who will be partner “A” and partner “B”
  2. Partner “A” takes a line from one mug. Partner “B” takes a line from the other mug.
  3. Partner “B” also selects a location/situation from the third container
  4. Allow time for students to plan a small improvised scene that takes place in their location/situation and involves both of their lines. I also allowed students to add a line or two of their own to help set the scene if necessary.
  5. When time is up, students perform their brief scenes for the class, and everyone earns a round of applause!

What I discovered:

  1. My students need models. When they first received their lines and situations, my freshmen struggled to figure out what their lines meant, how they fit together, or why someone might utter them in their chosen situation, but after I modeled a quick scene with a brave volunteer (we were rival Packers and Bears fans who got into a scuffle at Lambeau), they understood what to do.
  2. My students are kind and brave. One line that made it into my mix was “Go thy ways, wench” (2.5.46) from a conversation between the Nurse and Juliet. It’s not an insult in that conversation, but it sounds like one. A boy who had been partnered with a girl picked the line from the mug and quickly asked to exchange it; his refusal to call a classmate “wench” made my heart melt a little bit. Later in the week, I asked students to write letters of introduction. A few students admitted to being very nervous about public speaking, but they took on the “Shakespeare in a Mug” challenge with gusto!
  3. Shakespeare on Day 1= Critical thinking on Day 1: Students had to puzzle out the tone of their performance by thinking about what words meant and what lines sounded like when read aloud. When groups weren’t sure about how to fit their lines into their situations, a few questions about the conflicts, meetings, or actions that normally happen in their location—a process not unlike using context clues to determine a word’s meaning—were all they needed to put the scene together.

“Shakespeare in a Mug” is open to interpretation. When I first played “Shakespeare in a Can,” partners kept their lines a secret from each other, but I modified the game to create more opportunities for conversation and collaboration on the first day of the new year. I’ve read about other versions of this activity that use small groups rather than partners. “Shakespeare in a Mug” also doubled as my classroom icebreaker; I required partners to learn fun facts about each other introduce themselves to the class prior to their performances.

Were the scenes perfect? No. Did we laugh a lot? Yes. Did my students learn that my classroom will be a safe place to collaborate, make mistakes, and be creative? I hope so. And did I get a snapshot of the funny, kind, shy, smart, creative, bold, goofy, determined, friendly, inspiring learners my students are? Absolutely.

 

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 Quintin Burks

 

Well, it’s that time of the year again; the leaves are starting to change, the nights are getting cooler, and the school year has begun. As I start to see new and familiar young faces fill the hall of my school, some filled with excitement and some apprehension, I’m reminded of just how important the beginning of the school year is. Every year, it becomes more and more apparent to me just how important the first few weeks of instruction are in setting the tone for my entire class. It is for this reason that Shakespeare has become my go-to for starting the year off right.

 

Though it may seem crazy to start students off with literature that they most likely identify as especially difficult or only for the intellectual elite, the immediate dispelling of these popular myths by interacting with Shakespeare’s works is a profoundly beneficial practice. Students actively engage with Shakespeare’s words and, in so doing, are empowered by a form of success that seems, and is, particularly momentous. Moreover, teaching Shakespeare according to the Folger Approach produces a high level of investment in your class because it is ridiculously fun, in addition to being incredibly effective.

 

One approach to beginning the year with Shakespeare is to teach a variety of excerpts instead of an entire play. I find that this approach is particularly beneficial, because it allows students to develop the literacy skills that we are trying to teach, without some unintentional road blocks that come with reading an entire play. Instead of trying to remember plot and character details (which are sometimes highly confusing, even in short plays like Midsummer) students will be focused on working with short excerpts from a variety of plays that serve, for all intents and purposes, as a whole play.

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