High School English Teachers discussion

Help with Teaching Shakespeare!

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message 1: by Janelle (new)

Janelle (nellefro) | 2 comments Hello teachers! I'm finishing up my last year as a English Teaching major at Brigham Young University, and I'm wondering if anyone has any insights about the following:

How should teaching Shakespeare be adapted to fit the 21st century? With current massive changes happening in technology, what should we similarly be changing in the way that we approach teaching Shakespeare?

Any information/comment that you have to share is appreciated!

message 2: by Karie (new)

Karie (kariesaurusrex) Congrats on your last year! I'm not actually a teacher yet, either, but I have thought about this myself.

I think the easiest way to engage students and to help them understand the works of Shakespeare is to use film. Some students may feel overwhelmed by the language, and will miss the plot points. Seeing it will help them understand the language and the text.

One of my favorite things that I did in my AP English class in high school was to take a scene from Shakespeare and update it. Split students into groups, assign them a critical scene, and have them interpret, re-write, and perform the scene in a modern telling. It helps with comprehension and is a really fun and creative way to engage them. So that isn't really incorporating technology, but maybe the students will choose to have the witches of Macbeth be replaced by an iPad horoscope app... who knows!

Another thing I saw in one of my middle school classroom field experiences was 'bitstrips' - to do a book report, students had to create a comic strip version of it online. http://www.bitstrips.com/
For Shakespeare, you could have students research Shakespeare's life, the era he was living in, the theatre, etc. and have them present comics of them to the class. I think this would work best with younger high school students like ninth graders who are more reluctant.

Some other resource you may want to look into is here: http://shakespeares.mit.edu/


I'm not sure if that really answered your question, but those are some suggestions I have!

message 3: by Julie (new)

Julie Shankle | 8 comments I also find that using the same scene from numerous adaptations to discuss interpretation of the text is exceptionally useful. Shakespeare was meant to be seen and experienced, not just read. Seeing how different actors and directors interpret the same set of words helps students explore more deeply. In Macbeth, I typically use the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" scene as portrayed by Ian McKellan, Jon Finch, and Patrick Stewart. There are also some great short youtube videos of Stewart talking about how he chose to characterize Macbeth in that famous soliloquy.

message 4: by Annette (new)

Annette (Adwritea) | 1 comments There is a book series titles No Fear Shakespeare. It gives the original text alongside a modern language version. It is especially helpful for ELL students.

message 5: by Nikki (new)

Nikki Putnam | 2 comments I say just don't teach it! Kids hate it and unless there's a reason for it, why teach it. If it's for drama, there are many more and better works out there. Or, give them the choice of whether or not to read it. But there is absolutely no value in teaching something that kids don't understand, telling them what it means, and then testing them on whether they can spit that back out to you. What did they learn? What did you want them to learn? Always remember we teach standards not books/authors these days! It's incredibly freeing to you and your students when yon remember this.

message 6: by Julie (new)

Julie Shankle | 8 comments I have students who would disagree with you--they embrace the ambiguities they find in Shakespeare's storytelling. Just because it's difficult, it doesn't mean we should give up and move on to easier literature. Reading for enjoyment and reading for academics to train our minds to think serve different purposes. Both are valuable.

message 7: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Johnson (MsJohnsonteaches) | 2 comments I agree with Julie. Shakespeare is valuable and, in my experience, when you help students help themselves read, understand, question, and evaluate his work, they actually kind of love it. Get them out of their seats dueling and making ridiculous professions of love! Of course, if you just sit and make them translate, then test on it, they hate it. Who wouldn't?!

message 8: by Nikki (new)

Nikki Putnam | 2 comments I don't think I ever said to switch to easier literature or not to challenge them. But I challenge you all to identify what you want them to learn. Why am I teaching Romeo and Juliet? It's a horrible play and a ridiculous story. I can challenge them to read complex texts without teaching this particular work. I don't dumb down the curriculum. If anything I see amazing results I never thought possible when I abandoned this WE MUST ALL READ THIS mentality. Yes, we read together (we are currently working with The Odyssey but in a way that supports their other reading and their writing). We do whole class, book group, and independent reading. You may WANT them to get and fall in love with Shakespeare because you get and love it, but very few students will connect with it in the way you desire no matter what you do in the classroom. Also, step back or ask someone you trust to observe what is really going on in your classroom. Sometimes we mistake our own excitement for that of our students.

message 9: by Julie (last edited Dec 01, 2015 07:48PM) (new)

Julie Shankle | 8 comments Nikki, I agree that Romeo and Juliet is not the Bard's finest work, but it is a fun topic for kids and can introduce them to the archetypes of star-crossed lovers. To teach kids how to approach ambiguity in literature (including Shakespeare) and how to find the "so what?" is part of the reward. I just finished Hamlet with my seniors. We looked at the play through a variety of critical lenses--such as gender (looking at whether the women were powerless and how they exerted their influence), familial structure (Polonius to Laertes versus Hamlet to Hamlet versus Fortinbras to Fortinbras). Then it's easy to bring in modern perspectives, as women having autonomy is still a very real issue in our modern world. We also look at form rather than just function. What are the characteristics of tragedy, how are archetypes used, how do the use of symbols, etc, add to the meaning. Once a student connects the universal themes to their lives, the Bard, or any other classic author, is not so inaccessible. Besides, I still contend his work is meant to be seen rather than read. Comparing interpretations is something my students enjoy. They get a hoot out of watching Olivier, while they are intrigued by Branaugh reciting Hamlet's famed "To be or not to be" soliloquy into his mirror. And students tend to enjoy the comedies. I've yet to find a student say they hated Midsummer Nights Dream. You are correct that there are less than engaging ways to approach Shakespeare--or any pre-20th Century English/American lit. Heart of Darkness is not an easy text either, especially without historical context. The old days of assigning parts and painfully (mis)reading the entire play aloud are long gone. And I did not start a lover of Shakespeare. But I grew to respect his work as I became a more engaged reader. I agree that The Odyssey is great too. Cultural literacy is still important. I also am a huge proponent of modern works in the classroom too. My seniors have read Chinua Achebe and will be introduced to Cormac McCarthy and Ian McEwan in my class too. My sophomores tackle Sandra Cisneros, Amy Tan, and Tim O'Brien as well as Shakespeare. I had many sophomores list Julius Caesar as their favorite unit last spring, so helping students engage with Shakespeare can be done. They may never choose the Bard in their adult life, but they will have at least been expose to these timeless stories featuring universal themes.

message 10: by Helle (new)

Helle Lauridsen | 1 comments Hi I'm an A-level teacher of English in Denmark, and here we have to teach Shakespeare :) So far I have taught Romeo and Juliet, mainly because it is a play which appeals to the students in many ways. However, next year I am planning to teach Macbeth.
I find that getting them to interact with the play always makes the lessons more fun and adds variation to the way of teaching complex language. By selecting specfic central passages in the play, you can prompt the students to act out the scenes from different perspectives.Ask a lot of 'what if...' questions - what happens if so and so overhears the conversation between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, and then ask them to act it out in groups of 2. Also ask them to read aloud in large groups ( sometimes the entire class) to get the feel of the language, to perform and ask questions while doing it about characters, setting and so on. If you visit the Royal Shakespeare Company's website you'll find resources there. I had the privilege of attending a workshop conducted by one of their teachers, and she talked about mimicking what actors do in the rehearsal room i.e. asking questions, testing different ways of acting out the characters etc. Plus then there's all the theory about language, rhythm, rhyme, imagery, the historical context etc. that they need to know about.

message 11: by Julie (new)

Julie Shankle | 8 comments Yes, you are right! Royal Shakespeare, and Folger Library as well.

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