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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: December ::
Re: Teaching
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2184  Thursday, 9 December 1999.

[1]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Dec 1999 21:25:21 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

[2]     From:   Diana Sweeney <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Dec 1999 23:49:35 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

[3]     From:   Richard Regan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Dec 1999 01:20:11 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

[4]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Dec 1999 18:58:39 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

[5]     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Wed, 8 Dec 1999 10:47:16 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Dec 1999 21:25:21 -0500
Subject: 10.2167 Q: Teaching
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

> I am a masters student attempting to develop an interesting method for
> teaching Shakespeare. It's difficult for students on the secondary level
> to appreciate Shakespeare when they're trying to interpret the meaning
> of the language. Only beyond that difficulty can an appreciation of
> Shakespeare emerge. Presenting Shakespeare with modern English obviously
> makes it easier to grasp.

Though you expressed both real concerns and good solutions in the rest
of your posting, I felt the need to respond to just the above.  First,
putting Shakespeare into modern English cannot but diminish the power of
the musical qualities in its language, as has been addressed by several
on this list in the last few days, most recently and most eloquently by
Geralyn Horton.

Second, I cannot date my own love of Shakespeare to a pre-school time as
Geralyn and others have done.  My exposure came later, but I do remember
vividly as a high school sophomore, watching a young girl from another
school do Juliet's balcony speeches in a regional declamation contest.
I can still picture the girl and the Duluth Central High School
classroom in which, enthralled, I fell madly in love for the first
time.  Forty-six years later, I still remember her name, her hair color
and style, and her voice.  The only Shakespeare I had previously
experienced was classroom study of JULIUS CAESAR, but this was
altogether different; this was "love," the way it was supposed to be,
and I was hooked.  Yes, I finally did get up the courage to talk to
her-when we were both seniors, but the closest I ever got was dating
another girl from her school, which was 40 miles away from my home, for
which I had to talk my Dad into using his car.   I don't think a
modernized text would have aroused this 15-year-old quite so
dramatically.

Ed Pixley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Diana Sweeney <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Dec 1999 23:49:35 EST
Subject: 10.2167 Q: Teaching
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

I think perhaps you underestimate a secondary student's ability to grasp
Shakespeare as it was written.  I teach in an urban public high school
in Los Angeles.  The majority of my students score below the national
average, speak English as a second language and 98% of the students fall
well below the poverty line.  I teach a Shakespeare class in the spring
which is the only class in the school to actually have a waiting list.
I also direct a full length Shakespeare production each spring and the
house is always full of students who understand and appreciate
Shakespeare's works.  I do not tell you these things as a way of
bragging but because young people, even young, poor, underachieving
students can "get" Shakespeare if approached properly.  I really don't
believe that "cart and pony shows" are necessarily the answer.  The best
approach to the language for the secondary student is to involve as many
of the senses as possible.  Find the images, the music, the passion, and
yes, the bawdy references.  Explain it all in minute detail.  Then, get
them on their feet speaking the words and suiting them to the actions.
My students love it when I turn out the lights and we act out the
opening scene from Hamlet with the class making the sounds of wind
blowing and owls hooting.  They love the insults and sword fighting in
Romeo and Juliet (I actually have some adapted fencing swords and I
dress them in capes and give them a few basic rules and let them have at
it.)  They love killing Caesar (and not just because the majority of
them are gang members) and will cry at Antony's funeral oration.  Even
the shyest of the group will at some point want to read and even get up
and act the words. From this point, the student will begin to find the
complexities of meaning and move into a deeper, more analytical
understanding of the text.  With patience, a little passion on the part
of the teacher and given the chance to make their own discoveries, they
will "get it"...honestly.  These kids know what love is.  They know
betrayal and heartache, and death is an all too common occurrence in
their lives.  They live much of what Shakespeare wrote almost 500 years
ago and if you teach them the words as the beautiful, sensual, powerful
things that they are you will not have to resort to technology.  Your
explanations at the beginning of the work are like training wheels on a
bike.  Give them confidence and before you know it, they are maneuvering
the text on their own.

Best of luck,
Diana Sweeney

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Regan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 1999 01:20:11 EST
Subject: 10.2167 Q: Teaching
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

I have a suggestion about classroom presentation in response to the
posting by Linda Graceffo, excerpted below. I have been using a
multimedia presentation for the last few years, and I'm pleased with the
students' perception that it helps them with Shakespeare's language.

Use a computer and projection system (ceiling mounted or portable) to
scroll the text on a screen. You can scroll from a CD-ROM with
Shakespeare's text or download (and save) scenes from the MIT site. Next
to that screen, run a performance tape (BBC or film) on a VCR and TV
monitor. With a little practice, you can pause the tape while you
highlight words or passages on the text screen, or you can highlight
text while the performance is running. This gives students a vivid sense
of the text, and emphasizes the interpretation of performance. It is
especially effective when you use different versions of the same scene
(Lear, I.i, in the BBC, Olivier, and Peter Brook versions, for example).

Richard Regan
Fairfield University

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Dec 1999 18:58:39 +1000
Subject: 10.2167 Q: Teaching
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

I have no doubt the writer will be deluged with responses to her
posting, below:

>I am a masters student attempting to develop an interesting method for
>teaching Shakespeare. It's difficult for students on the secondary level
>to appreciate Shakespeare when they're trying to interpret the meaning
>of the language. Only beyond that difficulty can an appreciation of
>Shakespeare emerge. Presenting Shakespeare with modern English obviously
>makes it easier to grasp. Altering the setting to accommodate present
>day society would also bring understanding within the grasp of a much
>larger population.
>
>Do you have any suggestions as to how Shakespeare might be taught to
>high school students that will bring them closer to the inner
>Shakespeare?  Can you recommend any web sites or educational software
>which might be helpful?

Linda, if you really want students to get "closer to the inner
Shakespeare," you're going to have to get beyond your unsupported
assumptions that high school students will have difficulty with the
language.  And that IS an unsupported assumption!  Students think
Shakespeare's language is difficult if it's taught by a teacher who
thinks it's difficult.  What they need is a teacher who confidently
assumes the contrary-that the language is, perhaps, different than what
they're accustomed to hearing, but that they will, with a bit of effort,
be able to understand it.  And here's how you do that:

You read it out loud to them.  You put on your best teacher-as-performer
persona and you make it come alive.  The language is "difficult" if read
silently.  This situation is made worse by the fact that most of today's
high school students were deprived of phonetic-based reading methods, so
that they have no way to approach a word with which they are unfamiliar
other than to look it up in a dictionary or give up.  You can help them
with this by offering them the pronunciations and communicative context
which will help them make sense of the new vocabulary...along with the
occasional vocal-parenthetical paraphrase if necessary.

The other way you get them around the language "difficulty" is to
somehow expose them to the plays in performance.  This can be via
video/film versions if no stage performances are available.  Branagh's
films are especially good for this because he gets his actors to speak
the poetry communicatively-by this I mean that the emphasis is on
constructing meaning, rather than on aesthetic appreciation of the
poetry.  I know this gets irritating for many of my colleagues, but for
high school students the approach is unbeatable.  Another good choice is
Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night.

This is probably not "new and interesting" enough to satisfy the average
college of education language arts program.  But it works: I can vouch
from my own years teaching high school and college here in Guam, where
the kids are not only victims of too much TV and too much bad primary
education, but also (for many of them) are fighting the battle of
learning English as their second language.  If my students can learn to
deal with Shakespeare's language, yours can too.

I wouldn't put too much faith in clever software.  Students will focus
on the bells and whistles and come away having had fun, but probably
without much more of a grasp of Shakespeare.  There are, however, a
number of marvelous web sites which are helpful; I expect others will
include URLs, but if they don't, write me off list and I will forward
them to you.

Best wishes, and good luck...

Karen Peterson-Kranz
Dept. of English & Applied Linguistics
University of Guam

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:           Wed, 8 Dec 1999 10:47:16 EST
Subject: 10.2167 Q: Teaching
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2167 Q: Teaching

The source for the best ideas I've found is the Cambridge School
Shakespeare series of editions for single plays.  It's set up with
facing pages of text on the right hand and a left hand page with  (a) a
very brief summary of the action opposite, (b) a variety of wise and
engaging classroom and home-work individual and group activities, (c)
photos and drawings, and (d) standard vocabulary glosses.

These are all first rate, generous, imaginative.  They offer dimensions
of learning unexplored or actively suppressed in most conventional
editions.

These volumes run about $6-$8 each, so they're not much more than the
cheap-o texts often available.  But one can purchase one copy as the
instructor, and then hit the books-for-a-buck bargains from Dover.

When I worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company folks on a joint Folger
RSC project for secondary school teaching, these volumes were just in
the planning stages.  They've since sprouted under the editorship of Rex
Gibson.

They are wise, sometimes difficult, always engaging when grappled fully,
like the works of that WS guy.

I'd like to hear from others about their experiences using the Cambridge
School texts.  Do they have a website?

Steve Pedagogowitz
 

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