“To End Where I Begun”: Backward Design and Shakespeare

I am presenting at NCTE tomorrow morning at 9:30 at the Yacht and Beach Club in Grand Harbour Ballroom South. You can download and/or view all my session materials here.

Note: I think if you visit the presentation on SlideShare and download it, you can get the notes.

Here is my handout for my Macbeth performance task that I discuss as an alternative to a performance.

Here is a graphic organizer for my comparative video exercise for Act I Scene 1. I use the filmed versions of Macbeth directed by Jack Gold, Roman Polanski, and Geoffrey Wright for this activity.

Here is a Wordle made from the text of Macbeth that I use to introduce students to themes in the play.

Chris Shamburg’s radio play of the “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” scene.

If you want to explore the UbD Educators wiki (Understanding by Design, ® ASCD) for a variety of resources, feel free to check it out. You don’t have to join to lurk; you have to join to contribute your own work.

Links to my previous work aligning Folger methods with backward design:

Blog posts about Folger/teaching Shakespeare:

Links to other helpful resources:

If you would like to see the Shakespeare Made Easy activity I mentioned, please visit and join A Way to Teach. You’ll find a lot of great resources there.

If I can think of more stuff to add later, I will, so bookmark this post if you’d like to access it more easily.

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Shakespearean Insults

Shakespearean InsultsOne of my favorite stand-by fun lessons is to allow students to create Shakespearean insults. The Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series volume with lessons on Romeo and Juliet has a handout I’ve used since 1997, when I first taught the play, to create insults. Though I consider myself fairly technologically savvy, I found out today the handout may almost be obsolete.

Within moments of my introducing the assignment, my students were happily mixing and matching words to create insults and hurling them at each other (without my prompting, even). I have only two copies of C.T. Onion’s glossary left (I used to have five; what happened to them?), so we were trying to share, when I remembered the Shakespeare Pro app on my iPhone has a glossary based on David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words, so we added my iPhone into the mix, and before long, I was telling students about the app and suggesting that if they had iPod Touches or iPhones, they might like to talk their parents into letting them purchase the app. Within moments, one of my students with an iPod Touch found a Shakespearean Insult generator (iTunes link) app and had downloaded it. He showed me some more apps, including this one (iTunes link), which looks similar to what I was asking students to do today. Several students had their iPods and iPhones out, checking out Shakespeare, and one of my quieter students pointed out to her classmates that they could download the text of Romeo and Juliet (iTunes link) as an app. One student asked excitedly if they downloaded the app, could they ditch their heavy books? I said sure, as long as they wouldn’t have trouble finding their place, and I pointed out that in fact, one of my eleventh graders did just that last semester when his class studied Macbeth.

All of this might sound really obvious in schools where technology is wholeheartedly embraced, but it was interesting for me to watch the students using these tools to study a text I studied in high school. I remarked to my department chair the other day that I wished we could forego books if we wanted and allow students to download their books, including those fat, expensive anthologies, onto a Kindle or iPhone/iPod Touch using a Kindle app. Think about how much less it would weigh, not to mention texts can be more interactive, and students can annotate them and keep them.

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Week in Reflection: March 10-14, 2008

This week, one of my ninth grade classes finished The Catcher and the Rye, and we began discussing it in class.  We also studied adjective and adverb phrases.  The students really enjoyed the discussion of the novel, and I think they liked the book a great deal.  That novel always seems to be popular, especially with boys.  It brings up a good point.  A lot of what we read in school isn’t necessarily appealing to boys.  I think my male students enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey.  I really do try to think about how to draw boys in when we study literature.  The discussions this week went very well.

My tenth grade writing students watched The Freedom Writers.  I know a lot of people don’t like the movie, but I do, and the students were rapt.  We had a really good, insightful discussion about the movie on Friday.  One student in particular really seemed to be able to understand the motivations of Erin Gruwell’s department head.  He said he was playing “devil’s advocate,” but his points were all well taken — why shouldn’t the students move on to a new teacher?  Wouldn’t that be the ultimate test of how ready they were?  Is it really good to have the same teacher all four years?  He also wondered about the issue of seniority.  Was Gruwell getting a “promotion”?  The department head certainly considered it to be one.  Laying aside the assertion that she deserved one (I think she did great work), she had only been teaching two years.  Another issue that concerned the students was the practicality of what Gruwell did — in the movie, her marriage falls apart due to neglect on her part, and she has to take two extra jobs to pay for what her students need.  My students saw the good that resulted from these choices, but they were, I think, right to question the cost.  I thought the students had some really good insights into what they were seeing.

My seniors finished Death of a Salesman.  I wasn’t sure how they would like it, but I think discussing how it is the story of many people today really hooked them, which isn’t terribly easy to do with seniors at this time of year.  I am really excited about this unit, so it could be that my own enthusiasm showed.  I also spent a lot of time planning it — thinking of questions for discussion, assessments, etc. — and that always pays off.  It was remarked by someone who shall remain anonymous that I had put a lot of work into the unit, and I think the insinuation was that given the climate (seniors just ready to graduate and move on with the next stage of life), I probably wasted my time.  I don’t think so.  I think we have to work even harder as teachers to engage students when they are distracted by this future that’s just out of their reach.  They can’t help their feelings — and I had the same ones when I was a senior.  It’s a really exciting time.  I envy them getting to go off to college for the first time, learning so much, figuring out who they are.  I had a great college experience, and I wish I could do it again.

I obtained permission from one of my ninth grade classes to post their writing at a blog I have admittedly only occasionally used for student writing.  The last posts are reflections of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn done a year ago.  The writing I will be posting is collected from creative writing diaries from characters in Romeo and Juliet.  I plan to post one diary entry a day beginning on Tuesday.  If you are interested in reading them, you might want to pop over to the Room 303 Blog and subscribe to our RSS feed.  I don’t have e-mail subscription set up on that blog.

I have been approached to do a blogging project with a teacher in Hawaii, and I am really interested.  I would like my students to have their own blogs for written reflection, but sometimes I feel like I should have established that early on, and how do you do that?  I should think it would be great for interaction, discussion, exploration, and reflection.  Does anyone know if I can do that with Moodle?  I hesitate to put students in the position of public reflection if they feel uncomfortable about it, but if we can do it just within our community, I don’t think there would be a problem.

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Week in Reflection: February 25-29, 2008

The Lamppost Blogger recently mentioned a weekly goal to be reflective about the week’s teaching.  I love the idea and decided to steal it, and I meant to start yesterday, too, but the day got away from me.

I am really happy with the unit I have written on Death of a Salesman.  My main worry at this point is that it coincides with a strange time at my school.  Seniors are given the option to finish high school in Israel through a partnership with a high school there, and Friday was the last day for these seniors.  Frankly, it feels as though the seniors who have decided to finish school here have checked out already.  With three months still to go before they graduate, it is a little early to stop learning.  My worry is that students won’t get all they can out of the unit because they are not prepared to put much into it.  I suppose that is the bane of a twelfth grade teacher’s existence, but it’s frustrating.

By far my most successful lesson this week involved me being utterly silent as my 9th grade students conducted a Socratic seminar around the question Who is most responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?  The discussion was a treat to listen to.  Students were turning to the text.  They knew it backward and forward.  They were citing evidence.  They were debating.  They also told me they had fun.  I am sure they learned much more through preparing for this discussion than they would have studying for a test, and I think the assessment has more real-world applications, anyway.  They wouldn’t let me record it, probably knowing I would share it on my blog!  You can read a description of the assignment here: Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part Four and a reflection from last year here: Who Killed Romeo and Juliet?

I don’t feel good about leaving school early on Friday.  I had to — I actually have a mild concussion.  I got bonked on the head Thursday night when a glass full of pens and change fell off my bookshelf and hit my head, but I didn’t think it was too bad until the next day when I felt sort of dizzy and queasy.  Finally, I felt too bad to carry on, so I asked a colleague to teach my writing class about documentation and Works Cited pages.  I am sure she did a great job, but I hate feeling as though I let my students down, even when it couldn’t be helped.

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Students 2.0

I was thrilled today when my 9th grade students told me they created a study group on Facebook to keep up with work in my class and help each other as they study Romeo and Juliet. When they told me, they were almost sheepish, as if they were afraid they were doing something wrong. I told them it was an excellent use of Facebook, as far as I was concerned. I do wish the students would make use of the commenting aspect of the blog I’ve set up for study purposes, but I am glad they are making use of social networking in such a positive way.

I have asked them to memorize Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech, too. Unable to find a complete version of the speech online that they could hear, they created a YouTube video in which one the students reads the speech. Their thinking was that they could play the video and recite along with it. I decided it was an excellent idea. I recorded myself reading the speech in mp3 format so they can download it to their mp3 players and practice on the go. If you are curious, here it is, but don’t laugh at my voice:

Download link

I’m really excited to see my students refute the naysayers and use technology like Facebook and YouTube in such positive and helpful ways. The fact is that if we do teach students how to use these tools for such purposes, they will. I use YouTube in my classroom all the time. Facebook is blocked at school, and I understand why, but I am excited that they use the site at home for schoolwork in addition to socializing.

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Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

I just finished writing UbD units for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet at the UbD Educators wiki.  As I finished writing the unit for Hamlet and saved the page, I lost half the work I had done, and I am still not sure how it happened, so I had to re-do it.  Word to the wise — when working with anything you’re doing online, save and save often.  When, oh when will I learn to do that?

Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1In order to successfully steal the Hamlet unit, you’ll need to purchase a copy of Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1.  I have the edition published in 1994, and I haven’t seen the latest edition, so if you know the difference between the two editions and would care to share in the comments for interested parties, I would appreciate it.  I think the Shakespeare Set Free series is a great resource for educators, but I don’t do all of the performance activities.

While we’re discussing good resources for teaching Shakespeare, don’t forget the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website, which has a large repository of lesson plans contributed by teachers.  If you can get them for your classroom, the Folger Shakespeare editions of the plays have pretty good explanatory notes and glossaries, too.  A Way to Teach has a great selection of Macbeth lesson plans and Tempest lesson plans.

If you are looking for Shakespeare video, you might check out Shakespeare and More over at YouTube.  They have a large selection of Shakespearean video.   Speaking of video, if you were looking at older posts about teaching Romeo and Juliet, you will have noticed the videos don’t work.  I’m sorry about that.  I’ll need to go back and revise the posts so that the video isn’t necessary, as the videos are no longer available at YouTube.

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