Proof Folger Methods Work: Week in Reflection, 1/20-1/23

Here in America Monday was a school holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I believe some of my students engaged in a service activity.  One was organized by the school.  I did not, and I feel bad about it.  Even if I had just gone around the few blocks around my house and picked up trash, it would have been something.  I will try to be better next year, although to be fair, I have done volunteer work at other times when it hasn’t been a national event, and I try to help others.  Still feel guilty.

So teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream is quickly becoming the best part of my day.  And maybe I’m not too crazy to think perhaps my students are enjoying it, too.  Here are some comments gleaned from the classroom blog (by the way, the requirement seems to be helping, and I think the students are actually engaging with the blog more):

Mrs. Huff I just wanted to say that I am really enjoying what we are doing in class right now. It was a very unique and different style than i am used to. (Adam E.)

Preparing for the performance that we will get to act out in front of the class on Monday has been a lot of fun. Choosing who gets what part, deciphering whether or not it is apt for a character to cry, laugh, or even move in a certain way at specific points in time, and creating the prop that will be incorporated in the performance have made this project very enjoyable (not to mention that it also helps elucidate scenes and setting contexts that might otherwise be confusing or unclear) . To be honest, before we began MND, I had never thought that studying and analyzing Shakespeare’s works could be this entertaining. Because we have separated into different groups, it will be interesting to see how each group has personalized the scene in their own, unique ways. (Jake S.)

i really liked our pantomime/charades activity in class yesterday. it was fun yet educational and a lot of us participated more. We should do more activities like that in our class! (Mor L.)

I found that by analyzing the text in more detail and actually using the text to act out what was going on really helped me finally understand what we were reading. (Sophie S.)

I thought doing subtext in groups was a lot of fun because it was more hands on then we usually do in Brit Lit. I loved that we weren’t just reading for 45 minutes, but instead actually learning (Sophie S.)

OK, mea culpa if Sophie hasn’t traditionally seen reading as learning, but I think she did mean that the close reading they did to determine subtext was more valuable than reading alone.  It is true, however, that students who are not as, shall we say enthusiastic about my class as I’d like, are starting to show signs of enjoying what they’re learning.  Jake is referring to a presentation these students will do on Monday.  Let me explain what he means.  Mike LoMonico shared this idea with us at the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute last summer.  In the TSI, we were given copies of the scene when the plebeian mob kills Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar along with a checklist of items to include in our presentation of the screen.  The checklist includes the following items:

  • the assigned text from Julius Caesar
  • a contemporary prop
  • a tableau at the beginning of the presentation
  • a tableau at the end of the presentation
  • at least one moment of direct address to the audience
  • at least one unexpected entrance or exit
  • at least one line of unison speaking
  • at least one moment of unison movement
  • at least 10 seconds of silence
  • someone must laugh and someone must cry

Because this class has 15 students (it’s my largest class; don’t throw things—I also have four preps and might have five next year), I recut the scene for three players so I would have even groups.  You may want to figure out how big you want your groups to be and cut accordingly.  You can download my scene for three players or create your own.  The essential idea is to pick a scene from the play you are studying that will work well for this type of exercise.  Some suggestions:

  • Tybalt kills Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet
  • Anything with the three Weird Sisters in Macbeth
  • Cinna the Poet is murdered in Julius Caesar
  • Bottom is transformed into an ass in Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Petruchio forces Katherine to skip their wedding banquet in Taming of the Shrew
  • The guards see the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet

Obviously, these are just suggestions.  If you have ideas for scenes that might work for this activity, feel free to share in the comments.

My students have actually been doing a great job.  I have circulated and viewed their practicing, and wow, how wonderful to hear the walls ringing with Shakespeare instead of the usual.  And as Jake said, it will be interesting to see how each group personalizes this scene.  The feedback I am getting all the way around is that acting like this really helps them think about and understand what they’re reading, and they seem more enthusiastic.  Not only that, but their quiz grades are improving.  We started acting with the second act of the play, and the quiz grades improved dramatically.  In fact, the class average on quizzes from Act 1 to Act 2 increased by 16 percentage points from a respectable B- to an astounding A+.  I should add these are not objective quizzes but short answer quizzes.  Therefore, my conclusion is that Folger teaching methods work.  My students learned more and had more fun while learning.  What I need to do is plan for more experiences like this in all my classes.

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Folger Shakespeare Mini-Institute

Last week, I participated in a Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute with the Folger Shakespeare Library. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in one of Folger’s institutes, seize the opportunity. You will not only learn great practical methods for teaching Shakespeare and learn about Shakespeare and his plays, but you will also develop professional ties to amazing educators from all different backgrounds.

Much of the Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute’s methodology will be familiar to teachers who use Folger’s popular Shakespeare Set Free series. Our focus was on Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We began the first four days with a lecture from either Barry Gaines, professor at the University of New Mexico, or Christy Desmet, professor at the University of Georgia. We also had curriculum sessions twice a day, seminar discussions, and performance classes taught by Laura Cole from the New American Shakespeare Tavern and Caleen Sinnette Jennings from Folger. Our culminating project was performance of a scene on the stage of the Shakespeare Tavern, which was an amazing experience. Here is a video of my group’s take on the scene when the Mechanicals in MND are receiving their parts from Peter Quince.

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We all went to the Shakespeare Tavern to see Laura as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, which was a great experience.  The actors were kind enough to stay late for a Q&A with all of us, and the Tavern was generous with great seats.  If you live in the Atlanta area (or even just Georgia or nearby) and have never been to the Tavern, do yourself a favor and go.  You will not be disappointed.  Laura was brilliant, and the rest of the cast was also a delight.

I had an amazing time, learned a lot, and made new friends.  I am still processing everything I learned, so please be patient as posts about the experience will come out as I think it through and make connections.

Here’s a picture of all of us on the stage at the Shakespeare Tavern.  Click the image to see a larger version.

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