Catching Up: Folger Education

English Journal September 2009I have been trying all week to finish the last English Journal so I can gush about all the Folger goodness, but I haven’t had a chance. Lest I let too much more time slip by, I’ll discuss the articles I have had a chance to read. Mike LoMonico, as usual, is on target with his suggestions for teaching Shakespeare in his editorial. The Shakespeare Set Free series taught me a great deal about how to teach Shakespeare, but participating in the the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute in Decatur last year transformed how I approach not just Shakespeare, but everything I do.

I also read my friend Joe Scotese’s editorial about reading Shakespeare’s text as opposed to easy versions with “translations.” Joe’s description of the words as the tools of Shakespeare’s art (Stephen Booth) was beautiful, and I have had the occasion to bring it up twice in the last couple of weeks during teaching. Thanks for the timely imagery, Joe!

I read Peggy O’Brien’s and Robert Young’s discussions of the history of Folger’s work with teachers (and students) and its present and future. I began reading Susan Biondo-Hench’s article “Shakespeare Troupe: An Adventure in Words, Fluid Text, and Comedy.” You might recall that Susan Biondo-Hench wrote the Romeo and Juliet unit in the first volume of Shakespeare Set Free.

Several of my friends have articles in this issue. Chris Shamburg and Cari Craighead collaborated on “Shakespeare, Our Digital Native.” Cari and I were in the same TSI, and Chris and I connected at NCTE and online. I also met Chris Renino, author of the Macbeth unit in SSF and the EJ article “‘Who’s There?': Shakespeare and the Dragon of Autism,” at NCTE last year. Chris and I both have autistic children, and though mine are younger, I am obviously excited to read his article for personal reasons as well as professional ones. Christy Desmet, who wrote “Teaching Shakespeare with YouTube,” and I have a long history together. She teaches at my alma mater, UGA, and we worked together about 12 years ago in an online cohort of new teachers, professors, mentor teachers, and aspiring teachers. Our conversations were so helpful to me as a new teacher. We reconnected at the Folger TSI in Decatur last year.

I really wanted to submit an article for this issue, but I was struggling with new roles as department chair and graduate school student, among other duties. I just didn’t have time to do it. And now I’m kicking myself because I would have loved to have been a part of this issue.

In related news, Folger has a new blog: Making a Scene: Shakespeare in the Classroom. Definitely check it out! I’m really excited about it.

I want to talk about all of these articles and blog posts in more detail when I have a chance, but the weeks have been ticking by, and I didn’t want too much time to elapse before I brought your attention to these resources (if you didn’t know about them already).

In other news, I am not able to go to NCTE this year. I knew it was a long shot because I went last year, and the economy being what it is, well, let’s just say I was fairly sure it wouldn’t happen. I do wish I could go, however, because I really wanted to meet up with some friends (not to mention the learning!). I am planning to go to GCTE and possibly ISTE. ISTE takes place in Denver this year, and school will be out, so it would be a good opportunity for me to visit family in addition to attending my first ever technology education conference, so I would like to try to go.

Related posts:

Macbeth Unit Plan

I have not been happy with my Macbeth unit for some time. I sat down with my department chair today and brainstormed, and I have come up with a new plan that includes some serious tweaking and a performance task that I’m in love with (I only hope the students will be, too). I have left my old unit plan up for comparison.

I spent most of the evening reading through Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth, and I have decided that most of the unit will consist of lesson plans from this text. Even if you decide not to use all the lessons in this book, it’s an invaluable resource and perhaps one of the single most important additions to your professional library if you teach Shakespeare. Almost all of my learning plan consists of lessons from this book, and because of copyright restrictions, I have provided only the page numbers for your reference.

I used Wordle to create the Macbeth Wordle/word cloud I reference in the learning plan. You can easily create one, too. I would advise taking out words like “exit, exeunt, Macbeth, and lady” as well as other character names as they will skew the word counts in favor of character names instead of common words, such as “blood, night, sleep, and hands.”

The lesson I called “If it were done” comes from Joe Scotese and can be found at his site A Way to Teach. You will need to register and earn at least five points before you can download this lesson. Joe has a great site, and I highly encourage you to join up, particularly if you teach British literature or Shakespeare in any capacity. Essentially, the lesson involves a close reading of Macbeth’s soliloquy alongside a version from Shakespeare Made Easy; students learn that Shakespeare says a great deal on many levels with his word choices (this activity will really blow their minds; it blew mine!), and that modern translations cannot adequately substitute for the original.

Finally, you can download a PDF of my performance task. It is customized for my class. If you would like, you may keep the PDF I created for my class, but you won’t be able to make changes to it.

Addendum: I can no longer customize these handouts. Please feel free to use the one I shared here.

Related posts:

GCTE, Reflection, Looking Ahead

Some of you may know I went to the annual GCTE (Georgia Council of Teachers of English) convention this weekend.  It was great, but the numbers were down — probably the economy.  I know lots of the schools systems have probably told teachers they would not pay to send them to conventions this year.  For instance, my children’s system is not paying for field trips this year, so it may be they are also not paying for conventions.  I presented a session on Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development.  I was at first disappointed that it was somewhat sparsely attended, but I think that was the norm.  Several sessions I attended were like that.  I had six folks, which I think is just about what I had at GISA.  It makes sense that the folks who attended the Folger TSI except for Mike LoMonico, who was awesome moral support, didn’t come as I had presented some of the technologies I shared with them over the summer.  Lots of my fellow TSI participants were there, and it was good to see them again.  I was also grateful that my friend and colleague Rebecca came to my session, even though she didn’t have to because she works with me, and I was thrilled to finally meet Clix after working with her online for a couple of years.  She also came to my session even though she already knew everything I was sharing (thanks!).  Aside from my three friends, I had three other attendees, and I hope they found it interesting and learned something they can use.  I do think the presentation went well.  I used Keynote instead of PowerPoint, and I basically wrote down everything I wanted to say in my notes and created the presentation from that so I could avoid crowding my slides.  I’m learning!  Keynote has such beautiful templates!

I went to Mike LoMonico’s Folger presentation, and it was good as always.  Julie Rucker and I covered some of the same ground, but our focuses (foci, if you want to be a pedant) were different, and it was good to meet her as well.  I also attended Buffy Hamilton’s presentation on multigenre research projects, and I am most excited to try one.  Multigenre research projects are something I had heard about but didn’t know much about, so I saw Buffy’s presentation as a great opportunity to learn more.  She created a fabulous wiki to share her presentation.  I found it so inspiring; I think I’ll work some more on the wiki I created for mine.

Aside from the wonderful presentations, the best part of GCTE was seeing everyone again.  Gerald Boyd, who is our state Language Arts Coordinator, used to be the Language Arts Coordinator for Houston County when I worked in that system, and we had crossed paths on several occasions.  It was also good to see Peg Graham again, who was not my professor when I went to UGA, but whom I knew through my own professor.  Of course, all the Folger folks were fun to see again.  I also got to meet Jim Cope, with whom I have exchanged e-mails and who really saved my rear-end when he loaned me a cable I didn’t realize I had forgotten to pack.

I had a great time, and I hope Rebecca did, too.  I feel excited and energized!

Last week, I had one of my classes present their scenes from Taming of the Shrew. I have some great comic actors in my classroom.  This coming week, another class will present scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I am looking forward to seeing these scenes as well.  My ninth graders will begin preparing to present scenes from Romeo and Juliet, too.  I am so excited to have finally figured this out.  I have used some Folger stuff for years, but I shied away from performance because I just wasn’t sure how well it would help students learn the play.  And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.  After actually going through the process of performance and presentation myself, I learned how much it truly does help foster close reading, critical thinking, and enjoyment of the plays, and the light bulb finally went off.  I will never teach a Shakespeare play in the future without incorporating some elements of performance.

Here is my GCTE presentation for those who are interested:

Related posts:

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.

Related posts:

I Noticed: Week in Reflection, January 12-16

The title of my post comes from a check-in activity I learned at the Folger Teaching Institute in which I participated last June.  At some point of closure — the end of the day or right before lunch — we gathered in a circle and made a statement about something we had just done beginning with “I noticed…”  I introduced the idea to one of my junior British literature classes.  They are currently studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  We had a really good class in which everyone was on their feet acting at some point.  We reviewed subtext and tried some exercises before getting in groups and using subtext and movement to interpret lines from the play.  It was such a good class!  They are usually somewhat reluctant to participate, and I don’t know what was different.  Actually, I have a theory, but I can’t prove it.  My theory is that one or two students who are usually quiet and don’t often participate decided for some reason unknown to me to get into it that day, and the rest of the class just followed their lead.  I can’t explain it.  It was actually kind of strange!  At any rate, it seemed like the perfect time to close up with an “I noticed…”  I hadn’t planned to to do it, but it felt right.  I started with “I noticed how much fun it was when everyone participated and got involved today.”  (Or words to that effect.)  My entire insides screamed YES! when one student said, “I noticed how reading the text and trying different subtexts and acting made it easier to understand the play.”  I liked that one student noticed that his classmates were better actors than he anticipated they would be (he’s a fine actor himself — much acclaim for his work in the play last year).  I felt sad that some students used “I noticed…” to be down about some aspect of themselves.  I can’t remember that anyone used “I noticed…” to to be down on the class, which is good because “I noticed…” carries that risk, I suppose.  It was the best five minutes of my teaching all week.  I need to do it more often.  In case you are curious, my students have read up to the part when Bottom is “translated” and Titania has fallen in love with him.

I worked a bit on next year’s teaching assignments, but whether or not they will actually be used, I have no idea.  It depends on the schedule and enrollment and in terms of students, who signs up for what classes.  Working on Romeo and Juliet is a lot of fun for me, but this time around, I am noticing I am not as much into it as I have been in the past.  After all, this is my tenth year teaching the play, and in some cases, I taught it to several classes.  I am really familiar with it, and I think at this point, I can very nearly teach it in my sleep.  That sounds really boastful, and I don’t mean it that way at all.  I love the kids’ excitement over the play.  It’s hard not to feel enthusiasm when they so clearly enjoy what they’re learning.  But this year, and maybe it’s because I’m teaching MND and Taming of the Shrew, neither of which I’m nearly as familiar with, I am not enjoying it quite as much as I have in the past.  That means one of two things: 1) maybe it would be a good idea for me to get out the ninth grade, or 2) maybe I need to try some new approaches.  The problem with the latter is that I have a really good plan, and it works.  The former seems like a better idea to me given that Romeo and Juliet is the only part of the curriculum in ninth grade that really excites me, and if even my excitement for that play is starting to diminish, perhaps it’s time.  So whether it will happen or not, I can’t say, but my suggested schedule doesn’t include any ninth grade classes.  And perhaps taking some time off teaching it will be good if I wind up in ninth grade again.  If I do teach ninth grade next year, I need to figure out a way to get excited about it.

Taming of the Shrew is going well, too.  We tried physicalizing some lines, something I also learned at Folger.  Folger has a video of Caleen Jennings, who led some of our classes, demonstrating how to physicalize lines, and I shared it with the students.  Their reaction was not what I expected.  They thought it was funny and were excited to try it.  I expected they might be “too cool” for it and think it was weird.  One of my students still has the two lines we tried memorized, and she said it was interesting to see how physicalizing the lines helped.  I tried to talk her into trying it to help her learn her lines for our school play, but she didn’t think she would.  Here’s the video:

So all in all, a really good week with some fun on-your-feet learning and reading.  Is there anything more fun than teaching Shakespeare?  Not in my book, anyway. (Sorry about the pun.  No, I’m not.)

Related posts:

Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the ShrewI found a wonderful unit plan for William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which I begin teaching one of my British Literature and Composition Classes tomorrow.  I adapted it, adding in some ideas from the Folger Shakespeare Library (whose lesson plan section on this play is kind of skimpy) and some ideas from the Penguin-Putnam Teacher’s Guide (pdf) for the play.

You can view my UbD plan uniting these ideas and comprising NCTE and Georgia Standards addressed in the unit plan at the UbD wiki.

I wasn’t too sure about this play at first.  It’s been a while since I had taught it, and I was not sure if I really wanted to teach it, and I certainly didn’t want to sit down and plan it.  Now I’m really excited about it, and I can’t wait to work with this class.  I kept visualizing them completing the activities as I read over the lesson ideas and began incorporating them into the UbD framework.

Teaching Shakespeare can be daunting, but it can be so much fun.  Kudos and thanks to everyone who so willingly shares his or her ideas online for the rest of us.  What I wouldn’t have given for the large community of English teachers on the Internet now when I was a new teacher!  Now I’m off to share this resource with even more teachers who otherwise might not read my blog or see it at the English Companion Ning.  If you’re not already there, consider yourself invited.

Photo Credits: North Carolina Shakespeare Festival production of Taming of the Shrew
Photographer: NyghtFalcon
Actor(s):Monica Bell and Dan Murray

Related posts:

The Teacher’s Daybook, 2008-2009

The Teacher's Daybook, 2008-2009I just pre-ordered my copy of Jim Burke’s handy planner, The Teacher’s Daybook, updated for 2008-2009. The planner will not actually be released until July 10. Usually, it is released much earlier, and I wonder if some of the changes made didn’t cause a delay in publication. The planners usually run from July to June of the year specified, so I can’t help but think there was a problem this time.

I actually mocked up syllabi for this fall yesterday. Why do I want to go back to school so bad when I just started my summer? The Folger Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute! I am really excited to teach three Shakespeare plays this year — Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth, all of which, interestingly enough, are included in volume one of the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series. As a participant of the institute, I will be receiving a copy of this volume. I already have one, so I plan to donate the older copy to a colleague and keep the new one. I am not sure what the difference between the one I already have and the new one is (aside from the cover). Does anyone else know?

If you can only get one volume of the series, this volume is the one I recommend because it contains two of the most frequently taught plays — Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth — both of which are frequently anthologized in 9th grade texts and British literature texts respectively. It is my hope that if Folger produces another volume in the series, they will consider creating a unit for Julius Caesar, as when I have had to teach that play (twice), I have had difficulty in coming up with creative ideas, although it looks like there are some good ideas on the Folger’s Web site. There is a great idea for the scene when Cinna the Poet is attacked by the plebeian mob that we did at the Mini-Institute, but I don’t see an identical one on the Web site (here is a similar one).

Well, I need to tell myself to enjoy this break from teaching. I am twenty pages from the end of Wuthering Heights, which I am actually reading in its entirety for the first time (sorry Mrs. Keener — it wasn’t personal — I just couldn’t keep up with the reading schedule!) and Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them was set aside while I finished up with end-of-year business (and I mean “busy-ness,” too), and I feel I have not been a good participant at the wiki. And I need to read the summer reading books assigned to my students (or at least the ones I haven’t read yet) so that I can make assessments for the books.

Techy Addendum: I have been getting a 500 Server Error when I post to this blog that says there is a misconfiguration on the server.  No problems posting at all, so it must be related to something that happens after I post.  No problems when I edit posts.  I am not sure what is causing it, and trying to figure it out over the last couple of hours hasn’t been fruitful.  Please let me know if you are having problems commenting.  Comments are held in moderation, so your comment might not appear right away, and that is not a bug.  However, if you get a strange error message (such as a 500 Server Error message), please let me know.

Related posts:

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.

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.

Related posts:

Teaching Shakespeare Institute

I am very excited to tell you I was selected to participate in the Teaching Shakespeare Institute here in Decatur, Georgia next month.

If you haven’t checked out all the Folger Shakespeare Library has to offer teachers, go take a look now.

Related posts: