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.

6 thoughts on “Proof Folger Methods Work: Week in Reflection, 1/20-1/23”

  1. Dana:

    I absolutely love this idea of the scene. I already have my seniors act out a scene of their choice from Hamlet but I love the items you've added that must happen in the scene when it is presented! I am going to try it! Now, does every group do the same scene? Or different ones?

  2. Wow, Carol, you're fast. In the case of this assignment, my students are doing the same scene; however, there is no reason why you couldn't do different ones. It would involve more work on your part to cut them down (if necessary), but I don't see why it wouldn't work. The reason I didn't is that I plan to have students select from a list of scenes to perform later in the unit, and at that time, I will not provide a checklist, but will leave interpretation open to the students.

  3. In my experience if I am having a good time it is highly likely that my students are too!

    From middle school all the way through college studying Shakespeare was always one of my favorite things about English. I'm glad your students are having such a positive experience!

  4. As a pre-service teacher, I think that your blog has to be one of the most useful and inspiring things I have found anywhere so far. The outlines and ideas are so useful that I add many of them to my Potential Lessons Book for when I have my first class. The comments you get from your students are the kind that I hope to hear from my own future students some day. It's great that you find and share methods that get students like Sophie who lack some interest in reading to be more involved. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Azrael. I appreciate that. I think Sophie enjoys reading quite a bit, but Shakespeare isn't every high school student's cup of tea. If memory serves, she enjoyed the Twilight series quite a bit, and she wrote a great short story for our own Canterbury Tales book we are calling Goin' to Graceland.

  5. Is the subtext activity something specific that you could point me to? I am teaching Othello right now and we did the Folger Connotation, Denotation, Inflection exercise last week, and the kids really loved it. After we said all the lines on the sheet, I had the kids each choose a 2-4 line section of text and read it two different ways, changing the meaning by changing inflection/emphasis.

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