Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth

Geoffrey Wright's MacbethEnglish teachers looking for a good version of Macbeth to show their students in conjunction with a study of Shakespeare’s play should avoid Geoffrey Wright’s 2006 production. Like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet before it, this modern Macbeth seeks to lure in the younger set; however, unlike Luhrmann’s production, in the case of Macbeth, the update doesn’t work.

The play’s setting is moved from Scotland to modern-day Melbourne, Australia. The cast, starring Sam Worthington as Macbeth and Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth, is Australian. The play opens as the three witches, who look more like deviant schoolgirls, are defacing a cemetery. Duncan is the leader of a gang, rather than King of Scotland, and when the witches predict that Macbeth can take over the gang, Macbeth murders Duncan and begins his inexorable march toward doom.

The director’s choice to turn the kingdom of Scotland into underworld Melbourne makes the story go awry. Romeo and Juliet makes sense as a gang story as it is essential a story of two warring families. I didn’t buy it with Macbeth, especially when Macbeth’s title of Thane of Cawdor is still applied. I didn’t like any of the characters, and I really didn’t care what happened to any of them.

Pluses:

  • This film might appeal to today’s youth. I read a review describing it as Macbeth for the Quentin Tarantino generation, but I think that’s an insult to Quentin Tarantino.
  • The characters sport cool leather jackets and artfully mussed hair.
  • The opening scene with the witches is truly scary, in my opinion, and the Ghost Banquo scene is superb.
  • The murder of the Macduffs is shocking; the director pulled no punches, though thankfully didn’t show us the poor child’s murder.

Minuses:

  • Nudity and sexual content — Macbeth has sex with all three witches in a bizarre rendition of the second witch scene (“Beware the Thane of Fife”).
  • Butchery of the “Out, out, brief candle” soliloquy.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t recommend showing this one to high school students. Though the film is not rated, the sexual content alone would have earned it at least an R-rating (never mind the violence). None of the actors is a standout, and the modern setting has only minimal appeal in light of the film’s flaws.

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The Faculty Room

Meg Fitzpatrick, editor of of the UbD e-journal Big Ideas, invited me to contribute to both the e-journal and a new blog they are announcing today: The Faculty Room. Please come on over and join in our conversations (my first post on the blog should appear some time tomorrow). You will find other “familiar faces” over there. Also, now seems as good a time as any to remind you that the UbD Educators wiki is a good resource for you to post, share, “borrow,” and obtain or leave feedback on UbD lesson plans.

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Saving for a Laptop

I have begun saving for a new laptop, as I cannot find any teacher laptop initiatives at the current time.  Until I have saved enough money to purchase a laptop, you will see a link at the bottom of my posts.  If the spirit moves you, you can follow the link to help me save for a new laptop.  By no means should you feel obligated to help, even if you have downloaded one of my free handouts or used free lesson plans.  If I wanted to make this site a paid-content site or if I wanted to raise money through advertising, I would have done so by now.  I haven’t ruled out offering exclusive content for a small fee, but that is some time down the road.  A new link also appears in the sidebar to a page detailing the reasons why I am interested in buying a new laptop.

Thanks for reading.  I am always amazed by the feedback I receive from my readers, and I truly appreciate being part of the edublogger community.

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Teaching British Literature

I think most secondary school teachers and college professors go into teaching because they have passion for a particular subject, but even within the confines of a certain subject, teachers play favorites — especially at the college level. When I was in college, I took courses such as Late Romantic Literature — we studied Byron, both Shelleys, and Keats for ten weeks — and Celtic Literature — a class that continues to inspire me so much that I still kick myself for not saving my notes. I decided to teach English because I loved British literature. It has been my experience, however, that English teachers must reach a certain stage in their careers before they are able to teach British literature, which is considered by some to be a plum assignment. In this, my tenth year of teaching, I was finally given the opportunity to teach the literature I was most passionate about, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

My British literature class finished Macbeth on Wednesday, and I really enjoyed teaching it for the first time. I had a great time with everything we did together this semester. My students seemed engaged, and I hope they learned something interesting. I am really hoping to teach two sections of British literature next year. Some of the things we did this year:

  • Created our own Brave New Worlds using wikis
  • Wrote résumés for Beowulf
  • Attended a performance of Macbeth at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern
  • Read historical fiction (most of my class read Grendel, although a few read The Other Boleyn Girl — next year, sign up sheets!) set in the time period we studied
  • Learned a bit of Old English from Ms. Skott, who is team-teaching the course with me
  • Memorized Macbeth’s “Out, out, brief candle” soliloquy

Stuff we didn’t get to that I really wanted to do:

  • Dr. Faustus
  • Historical fiction wikis
  • Create our own Canterbury Tales
  • Macbeth research projects

I hope I’m afforded the opportunity to do these projects next year.

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The Next Education President

I admit I am still a bit on the fence about who I plan to vote for in the presidential election. We still have plenty of time to decide. I will, however, be voting for the candidate who demonstrates he or she truly cares about education and is dedicated to improving education in America.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mzxKuXf-wWg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

(hat tip to The Daily Grind)

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As the parent of three children (two of whom are served by special education) in America’s public schools, I am concerned about the education my kids are receiving compared to the one I received.

I’ll share more in future posts.

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What I’m Reading

If you haven’t happened upon Nick Senger’s blog Teen Literacy Tips, you need to check it out. Nick provides valuable content in every post. I am subscribed to his RSS feed through Bloglines, and I invariably bookmark his new posts so I can return to them when I have time (what’s that?).

I recently finished Making Classroom Assessment Work by Anne Davies (read the first edition rather than the updated second, which I linked). I read it as part of Blackboard Online class I took through a local public school system. Frankly, not much new here to anyone who has read Understanding by Design. If I can be allowed to vent for a minute, the reason I took the course in the first place is that I need six more SDU’s (PLU’s or whatever you call them where you live). I submitted my transcripts and all the necessary information to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, but they would not accept anything I had done since about 2004. I suppose I can understand why they might not want to accept professional learning I have participated in at my own school, even if I thought it was a valuable experience; however, I do not understand why they wouldn’t accept Mel Levine’s Schools Attuned. I worked extremely hard to earn the 4.5 PLU’s I earned for that course. I didn’t work a tenth as hard to earn the 2 PLU’s I just earned for reading Anne Davies’ book. If I had known Georgia was not going to accept the credits, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to finish the course online last year. Lesson learned. I will simply take a two-credit course online each year to meet my recertification requirements. At least I should then be assured that my courses will count for something. I have a non-renewable certificate that is good until the end of June, by which time I will have earned those six credits.

My husband sent me an article about a Wisconsin teacher arrested for praising the Columbine shooters on a blog. First of all, I’m not sure what the teacher said constitutes a threat, but to be fair, we’ve punished students for the same type of behavior. Second, once more we have a reminder that sarcasm does not travel well on the Internet, and it would probably be best to avoid it in any situation when it can be interpreted with any ambiguity. Third, and most important, teachers who post anonymously are not really anonymous; you can and might be found, and when that happens, you might be in trouble for what you say. In my opinion, the smarter and safer route seems to be to post openly and don’t say anything that you wouldn’t print on a billboard on the local interstate highway. Aren’t we also trying to teach our students that lesson? Finally, does this incident violate freedom of speech? I contend it does. If the remark was intended to be sarcastic, it missed the mark. If it wasn’t, it was incredibly ignorant, mean-spirited, and disrespectful. But I thought we had a right to be ignorant, mean-spirited, and disrespectful out loud in America. The teacher has learned a valuable lesson: Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui. He won’t be charged with a crime, but the district where he has taught since 1994 has not yet decided what to do about his job.

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Tests: Authentic Assessment?

Should we revisit testing as a means of assessment?

No doubt, students will need to be prepared for college (or, if you teach middle school high school; if you teach elementary school, middle school), and most colleges still using testing as a primary means of assessing students.  After all, when you have a lecture class with 300 students, it is not feasible to use alternative methods of assessment.  Perhaps the biggest argument in favor of keeping tests is to prepare students for the college environment.

I looked over my unit plans, lessons, and assessments this semester, and I realized something interesting.  I have given very few tests.  Most of the tests I have given have been summer reading assessments.  I have relied primarily on the following means of assessment: quizzes, essays, and “authentic assessments.”

My quizzes are typically five-question, short answer quizzes over reading assignments so I can be sure students are doing the reading I have asked them to do.  Students typically do either well or poorly on them based on how well they have read.

Essays are a staple of the English curriculum, but perhaps even more so at my school, with its competitive college preparatory environment and focus on developing writing skills.  My goal has been to assign at least four essays for each class this semester.  I have mostly realized this goal, largely through better planning using UbD to construct units.  I also allowed most of my classes to choose an essay they wrote this semester to revise for a higher grade, as I believe revision and reflection help students see writing as a process.

My “authentic assessments” have come straight from UbD and include crafting a résumé for Beowulf, writing our own Odyssey in order to demonstrate understanding of Homer’s, writing a letter to Arkansas Representative Steve Harrelson regarding his state’s apostrophe dilemma, and creating a comma usage manual for Rogers Communications (that $2 million comma error had to hurt!).

As I indicated in a previous post, I simply ran out of time this semester in order to truly do what I wanted to do with each unit.  I do have fewer minutes per week with my students than I would like — I average 45 minutes per day with each class, which is substantially less than other schools where I’ve worked.  However, what I have learned about the authentic assessments is that they were not only much closer to the kinds of tasks students will be asked to do when they begin their careers than tests.  How many tests have I taken as part of my job?  I can’t think of any.  I did have to take a test to get my certificate.  I had to take another to exempt from a computer skills course required in my state.  No principal has ever asked me to take a test for any reason.  If you take a look at the kinds of tasks I asked students to do to prove to me they internalized the essential questions we were exploring as part of our units this semester, I think you might discover that the tasks were more engaging than the standard test.  The tasks also asked students to think, internalize, apply, analyze, and synthesize information and present it in a unique fashion.  In short, I think they were taxed to think critically on a much higher level in Bloom’s Taxonomy than a standard test would require.

Are tests going anywhere?  I doubt it.  And I do believe that students should know how to take a test and how to study in order to do well in college, but I also think it behooves us as educators to offer them opportunities to demonstrate their learning with authentic assessments that enable students to truly show us what they know and practice working on the kinds of tasks they will be asked to do as part of their careers one day.  At any rate, it’s something to think about.  Though I have had fewer tests in my class this semester, I don’t think my students have learned less or been less challenged.  If anything, they have been more challenged (particularly with regards to writing).  However, I do still plan to give them a final examination.  Still, I think it would be an interesting challenge for all of us to examine what we are accomplishing through tests and ask ourselves if we are really preparing students for life beyond school.

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Time

I never have enough time to teach everything I want to teach — at least not the way I want to teach it.  I have found myself frustrated this year after writing some very good UbD units, only to find I have to cut out parts in order to finish the work in the amount of time I have available.  I have also had to contend with Jewish holidays, our peculiar school schedule, and shorter class periods.  When I taught public school, each class period was at least 50 minutes long.  My classes work out to be 45 minutes long each day (one day is a double period of 90 minutes, but we have class only four days of week, so the average is 45 minutes).  Five minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the course of a week, that’s an average of nearly a half hour.  I just don’t feel as though I really do justice to some of the topics I teach as a result.

How do you cope with the time crunch?

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The Best Laid Plans

Some weeks ago, I shared exciting news that my students were collaborating with a girls’ school in Israel on a joint wiki writing project. Just as we got our wikis off the ground, a teachers’ strike in Israel put our plans on hold. The strike has now lasted more than a month. If it is not resolved before the winter break in about three weeks, the project will be on hold indefinitely as my students will be writing a research paper from January to March.

I know that the teachers I am working with are saddened about this turn of events, and I think we all agree that the timing of our collaboration was unfortunate in light of the strike. However, I think our situation poses an interesting lesson for all of us who are interested in embarking upon global collaboration in our classrooms.

What do we do when the best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley?

And what does it say about the project that the kids are still chatting through the discussion area of the wiki and friending each other on Facebook even though the project is on hiatus?

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