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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0586  Tuesday, 2 March 2004

[1]     From:   Bob Grumman <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Mar 2004 10:06:33 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Mar 2004 14:31:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

[3]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Mar 2004 11:54:07 -0800
        Subj:   Re: Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

[4]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Mar 2004 22:19:15 -0000
        Subj:   SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

[5]     From:   John V. Knapp <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Mar 2004 01:24:22 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Response to Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English
Chunk Writer


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Grumman <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Mar 2004 10:06:33 -0500
Subject: 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

Teaching Shakespeare in chunks sounds good to me, if he has to be
taught, at all. It might be worthwhile to expose students 17 or 18 to
sure-fire scenes like Launce and his dog, and some grand rhetoric like
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow." Those few students who are able to
get anything out of Shakespeare will then go on to read and watch his
plays on their own. A teacher should make students aware of worthwhile
material, not force it on them.

--Bob G.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Mar 2004 14:31:27 -0500
Subject: 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

I am not sure that a smattering of Shakespeare, rather than lengthy
exposition of a single play, is not more appropriate in a survey class.
  Isn't that sort of thing likely to generate a greater appreciation for
WS's variety, increase the likelihood that the students will find
something they enjoy, and give them the broad exposure needed to make
them appear to be a little cultured.  After all, what is the purpose of
a survey course?

A proper survey course in English Literature necessarily includes
Spenser and Milton too; and it is not possible to teach those poets
without The Faerie Queen and Paradise Lost.  Does that mean that college
freshmen must read and analyze the entireties of those epic poems?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Mar 2004 11:54:07 -0800
Subject:        Re: Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

Al Magary remarks that some teachers (in the UK at least) are focusing
on "chunks" of text rather than teaching a complete play by Shakespeare.
  Part of the problem may stem from the conflict that many English
teachers encounter.  Do I teach as much "content" as possible or do I
focus on helping students become more proficient readers of a variety of
texts? If a substantial portion of a student's grade is measured through
standardized tests administered by the government, teachers will feel
obliged to teach the content that will appear on the test. If those who
provide the test are going to disclose which portions of a particular
text will be considered, a teacher will naturally prepare students to do
well on those portions.

Where I teach, in British Columbia, Canada, senior students write
standardized tests in English that focus on a variety of texts. (Next
year, 10th grade students will do so, as well.) But there is no
expectation that students (at a particular grade level) will become
proficient at discussing a particular play by Shakespeare.  Yet, in my
school, virtually every English teacher (in every grade) will devote
some 20 hours of classroom time to one of the plays prescribed by the
curriculum. I could, I suppose, spend a great deal of energy lecturing
kids on "what the play means." My best students would be able to
regurgitate my thoughts on some test. My job, however, is to encourage
them to "make meaning". In reality, I actually do a little of both. My
teaching practice, however, would be very different if I knew I needed
to prepare my students for a standardized test. I would, naturally,
teach to the test. Particularly if my continued employment is contingent
on my students' test scores.

The only standardized exam in British Columbia that would require
students to be familiar with several plays by Shakespeare is the senior
English Literature exam. I don't teach that course, but the last time I
glanced at the exam it was clear that students would have to be familiar
with several plays and with considerably more than a few "chunks" of
text.  Typically, the course attracts students who are already
enthusiastic readers and writers.

Any system of education must balance accountability of teachers (and
students) with the need to give teachers some autonomy in delivering the
curriculum and students some flexibility in demonstrating their
learning.  I enjoy teaching Shakespeare, but that pleasure would quickly
grow stale if I had to teach according to some bureaucratic model.
Standardized exams in English should examine a student's ability to read
and make meaning from a variety of texts. If I am truly teaching a
student to read, I am, naturally, teaching him strategies for
deciphering difficult or unfamiliar text. But I see no need to include
either "chunks" or entire plays by Shakespeare on a standardized exam
for 15 and 16 year-olds. That strikes me as an excellent way to teach
kids to dread Shakespeare and to turn him into some sort of cultural
ornament.  Do we want to teach students to truly read (and perhaps
enjoy) Shakespeare - or do we simply want them to acquire some vague
"appreciation" for a cultural icon? If the former, get him off the
standardized tests and develop an education system that attracts
talented, well-educated teachers to the profession.

David Wallace

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Mar 2004 22:19:15 -0000
Subject: Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer
Comment:        SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English Chunk Writer

"A three-year study of English lessons has discovered that pupils are
being taught just 'fragments' of the works of literature, rather than
the whole text."

How terribly Renaissance of them! Do they keep Commonplace Books, I
wonder...?

"The lessons are not about what is important in terms of English culture
and tradition. They are about how pupils can get through the exam..."

Sounds like an excellent introduction to what's important in terms of
English culture and tradition to me.

"At one school, researchers sat in on a series of 12 lessons that were
supposed to cover Macbeth. In the first two sessions, the text of the
play was not even in the room.... Instead, pupils learnt about
witchcraft and were asked to match five pictures to five characteristics
that 'define' witches, such as 'They can fly through the air'. In the
second lesson, pupils were asked to imagine what life was like in the
early 1600s, when Shakespeare wrote the play."

In other words, they learnt about context before being exposed to text.
Again, this seems like a sensible way to ensure that one is teaching
something approaching "English culture and tradition" rather than simply
iambic pentameter, metaphor, or the question of whether Macbeth is a
henpecked husband, or the number of progeny borne by his wife.

"Lessons three to five looked at Act 1, scene 1 of the play. In lesson
six, pupils acted out the scene. It was not until the next two lessons
that pupils looked at the plot of the whole play, but this was done
through watching a film version rather than looking at the text."

Why is it intimated to be so awful that students are asked to consider
the text of a drama as if it were the text of a drama? Acting out a play
is clearly a sensible approach which respects the genre, as is watching
an acted-out version of it.

We might criticise these critics as being logocentric, but immediately
we get:

"The last four lessons focused on the planning and writing of GCSE
course work."

So literacy obviously plays a central part in this Shakespeare teaching.
For some reason it causes offence that the literacy that is taught is a
utilitarian, obviously transferable skill, rather than an in-depth but
ultimately arcane appreciation for the niceties of English prosody or
the technique of hendiadys.

"Prof Kress said that the approach, while not used in every school, was
a distortion of what English teaching should be: 'It is making English
more about the transmission of facts than the exploration of meaning. It
is a distortion of what the curriculum should be and of what is best for
the children.'"

How odd that a member of the Economic and Social Research Council, in an
apparently quantitative and qualitative study, should feel able to
separate "transmission of facts" from "exploration of meaning". How on
earth can one expore the meaning of unknown facts? Or, to return to the
main example, how can one explore the "meaning" of the witches in
Macbeth without knowing a few "facts" about witches and the way they
were perceived in Jacobean culture?

"Traditionalists fear that the teaching of Shakespeare is likely to
deteriorate... [blah blah blah]..."

As a person of a certain Burkean temper, it really irritates me when
words like "traditionalist" and "tradition" are employed willy-nilly as
synonyms for "idiot" and "idiocy".

m

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V. Knapp <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Mar 2004 01:24:22 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English
Comment:        Response to Re: SHK 15.0576 Shakespeare, the Famous English
Chunk Writer

Al, et al. --

It will further depress you to know that such has been happening in the
USA for well over a decade now.  *The Odyssey,* for example, is usually
"condensed" only to the four or five books devoted to the "adventure"
part of the epic.  Shakespeare in many HS texts is not only given in
chunks, but is often "translated" (as poorly as you can imagine) for
"slower readers."  I have elsewhere criticized the MLA (*Style* 34.4)
for doing virtually nothing to counter these trends and, sad to say,
they have remained consistent and have done NOTHING, not even to notify
its constituency that the problem exists.

JVK

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