Thank you to Aubrey for snapping these awesome pics.
(And when I say "snapping" it was very much staged and set up, but we can pretend it was just a quick snip snap, right?)
Hey, let's start doing these classroom posts with a little more regularity, eh? YES. I mean can someone around here post with a some consistency, PLEASE?!?
Um... yah. I'm trying to be better. I'm hoping to do What We Did In Class posts twice a month. But I've stopped making guarantees. I am only one woman, after all.
WHAT I WORE:
Necklace: Gold pearl necklace from Hey June
Dress: c/o Micha Maxi dress from Shabby Apple.
I LOVE maxi dresses and skirts for the winter. I have always tried to wear mostly skirts and dresses to work, but winter gets a little tough because Utah in winter in skirts is cold. Tights also warm me up, but they make me feel like someone is trying to squeeze my intestines out of my belly. So then I end up wearing ugly, baggy work pants or I just give up the fight entirely and wear jeans. Maxi dresses for the winter win!
(Also you may notice one certain flat region on my body. I was so excited to get rid of my nursing wardrobe, but with it went the nursing chest endowment. YOU CAN'T HAVE IT ALL, PEOPLE!)
WHAT WE DID:
A few weeks ago we finished up our Scarlet Letter unit. I feel like I am questioning everything when it comes to juniors. I used to love all the material and now I'm just like, 'oh gosh, THIS again?' That may mean it's time for me to take a break from the junior curriculum (6 years strong, yah baby!) It's hard for me to get them to buy into Scarlet Letter like I used to be able to do. (And yes, you always have to get high schoolers to buy in). I felt like this year they were all like, "Why are we muddling through this atrocity?!?" and I was just like, "I know, right?!?"
With a regular junior class I have always done a condensed version of Scarlet Letter. I put students into groups of three or four and then as a group they are assigned two or three chapters of the book. They only have to read those three chapters and then as a group they present to the class in a fun and interesting way what happened in those chapters. We go in order of the chapters of the book. This way students learn everything that happened in the book + are exposed to Hawthorne's language + get a taste of the time period and the culture + become familiar with the themes of a classic piece of literature. All of this WITHOUT having to drag 70 juniors who struggle with reading through the entire 200 + pages of Scarlet Letter. Sounds like a great plan, right?
Up until this year I have always thought so, at least. This year I just doubted everything. More students struggled with this assignment than ever before. The students were so confused, couldn't handle reading isolated chapters in a book, (which I admit, is a very hard task, but I have always felt like students before could manage it ok) didn't understand what they were supposed to present, etc, etc, etc. I also had so many issues with the groups. Kids being mean to each other, kids not showing up on the day of the presentation and screwing the rest of their group over, kids randomly leaving groups and trying to join other groups. I guess this year I just felt very tired the entire time we were doing Scarlet Letter. I told Greg, "I don't know if I am becoming a worse teacher or if my students this year just struggle more, but this year it just feels like it's harder to teach than in years before. I did the exact same assignment as I've done years in the past but it was ten times as hard." I don't know what is going on. I do know I'm not teaching Scarlet Letter to regular juniors again.
(Ugh. I say that but I know next year I'll feel guilty if I don't teach them Scarlet Letter. I have this weird complex with Scarlet Letter... like every student must at least know the basic story in order to understand half of our society's pop and culture references. I need to just let Scarlet Letter go.)
We crawled through Hamlet and finally tested on it a week before Thanksgiving. I know that Hamlet is important to teach and I generally really enjoy it, but by about Act 4 we're all just rolling our eyes like "Hamlet! Do something already you idiot! We can't take your "Do I give my uncle or do I not?" ramblings much longer!"
One of the best things about teaching Shakespeare, or teaching plays in general, is that you get to act them out in class with the students. My AP kids are all about this- lots of them are involved in theater and they get into their parts. Because of some previous ins with the school's theater teacher, (wink wink) I have collected a great deal of theater props in my room. Capes, swords, hats, etc. It makes reading plays as a class much more fun! The kids switch off parts, and I often have them stand up and act out the lines as they go. This seriously makes all the difference when we're reading plays. (My suggestion if you are reading parts in the class together is always take the biggest part for yourself. That way you can control how those lines are read so that the students get what they are supposed to out of it, and it speeds up the reading process. I always take the biggest chunk of lines and it makes reading the play out loud together much more cohesive and smooth.)
If there are any teachers out there who need some ideas to spice up your Shakespeare teaching, may I recommend the Shakespeare Set Free teaching manual? It is a TERRIFIC teaching book for each Shakespeare play that give ideas for each act and scene on how to make the text come alive and make it more interesting for kids. Almost every scene is acted out in some way or other and the book guides you through exactly how to do it. I have used the Hamlet Shakespeare Set Free for two years now and have absolutely loved it. I won't teach a Shakespeare play again without the Shakespeare Set Free guide helping me along.
My favorite scenes to teach in Hamlet were:
(Um... if you've never read Hamlet and want to be surprised when you do, there are definitely major spoilers coming up. So read at your own risk.)
Opening ghost scene with Hamlet's ghost dad. For this scene we turned off all the lights and lit candles to give it that nightlike atmosphere. We draped a sheet over our ghost who silently paced the back of the classroom. So eerie! (Idea taken from Shakespeare Set Free, as are almost all of these.)
Ophelia describing to her dad how mad/crazy Hamlet has been acting. Students got in groups and did a pantomime for this scene, showing the actions of every weird thing Hamlet was doing.
Laertes and Polonius giving Ophelia love advice. In groups, students did a modern day interpretation of the dialogue in 60 seconds or less of this scene and then performed them for this class. We were all crying we were laughing so hard.
"Get thee to a nunnery"/ King and Polonius spying on Hamlet and Ophelia This scene is just----- ah, one of my favorite scenes in all of literature. Hamlet is so conflicted and crazy and Ophelia feels so hurt and betrayed. I just can never get enough of this scene. I have my King and Polonius hide behind a sheet the whole time so we all get it real clear in our head that they are doing some detective work. (Same sheet as ghost!)
Who's under that sheet? It can't possibly be the King can it?!
Hamlet talking to his mom in her bedroom/ weird sexual tension/ Hamlet kills Polonius. This one we full on act out- We set up desks and blankets and pillows to look like a bed and then we had one kid acting as Polonius hiding behing the arras/ tapestry (really a black graduation gown). I also have pictures set on a night stand for when Hamlet is comparing the picture of his dad to his uncle. This is one of the most fun scenes to act out.
Bedroom scene. Oh la la! (Notice my picture of the dead Hamlet? HAHA)
Gravedigger scene/ Hamlet's convo with Yorick. For this scene students again had to act it out in groups- I had one student make up a grave digger song to the tune of Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down" that was so fantastic I made him come back and do it for the next period so they could see it and so we could film it. "Yes, I do, I dig graves, I'm a grave digger it's true..." Best performance ever! Now I am constantly singing it because it is the catchiest little song you're ever going to hear.
Ending scene/ Hamlet and Laertes battle/ everybody dies. For this scene we put the chairs in a big circle in the classroom and had students act out the battle in the middle of the room. We got drinks to use for the poison, my king sat in a "throne" (my cushioned desk chair) at the head of the circle with his queen next to him, and we got perfect fake swords for Laertes and Hamlet to duel with. By the end of the class period I had about six "dead" students lying on the floor and it was PERFECT.
All pictures are used with written consent from parent and student.
Have I convinced you to use Shakespeare Set Free when you teach Shakespeare yet? It seriously makes all the difference!
One little note here before I sign off. I started teaching Hamlet immediately after Greg quit at the school. It was an extremely difficult month personally for me, but I was so grateful for my mad Hamlet and for my sweet sweet students who were willing and anxious to learn. I absolutely loved teach Hamlet and I felt a lot of healing and strength and happiness as I was teaching this play. I really really really love teaching these crazy high schoolers, and I feel so grateful for my job and my interactions with these special kids. In the past months this job has absolutely been a highlight, a joy, and a healing power in my life. I am so grateful for this job.