I love the resources at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The site contains background info on Shakespeare, background on each play, and lots of detailed lesson plans and resources for each play. Right now I am teaching "Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet," and I used two of the lesson plans, with some modifications, this week with pretty remarkable success.
The Romeo and Juliet lesson explores a primary document from 1604 outlining the rules for marriage. First we talked about why folks back then had each rule. I taught them about reading banns and how marriage licenses today work. Then the kids discussed as a class how Friar Laurence doesn’t obey any of these rules when he marries Romeo and Juliet. After that, I split the class into two groups, one to argue in favor of Friar Laurence performing the marriage and one to argue against it. Each of their points needed to be supported by specific evidence from the text or the marriage law document. They worked for about fifteen-twenty minutes.
The next day we did a debate. I let pro give all their arguments and then the con give theirs. Afterwards, each group had several minutes to confer before presenting their rebuttals. The day of the debate, my principal and my chair walked in to observe me, during my insane, overly-full-of-ninth-grade-boys class! And they actually didn’t make eighty million references to sex! Yea!
I felt so proud of what they did today. Both groups had strong arguments supported by the texts and responded to my clarifying questions like they understood the play backwards and forwards. They were magnificent. The head and the heart both won.
At the end, my principal told me the lesson was "very inventive.” In my head, I was all like, “Uh, not really. Teachers do this kind of thing all the time.” But here’s the thing: he doesn’t KNOW that. My school is lost in some sort of college-circa-1950-teaching black hole, i.e. old, ivy-educated, white-haired men wisely intoning their knowledge while students busily write everything down to repeat back on a big test. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything disastrous about those teachers or their methods. One day those kids will probably have a class with a professor long past the age of retirement, and they will be ready. But I think, I hope, things are changing. I hear some admins and teachers say the right (according to me) things (you know, interdisciplinary learning, authentic learning, student-driven, interest-driven, collaborative, blah blah blah) , but when it comes to implementing real change, I see major foot dragging. I can’t even write about that yet because it’s making me really upset.
I’ve been feeling for awhile (is this supposed to be "a while" like Word tells me??) that the school wants a teacher like me in theory but not in reality. Tomorrow I am thinking about suggesting to my principal that I step out of teaching literature classes altogether next year and shape my position as a combo of writing center, learning lab and techie girl. It is part of the “vision” of the school to use more instructional technology, and I can easily envision bringing the techie love to other teachers as part of my job. You know, teaching workshops, suggesting lesson ideas, helping implement them, etc.
Hm, grumps again. More on the Macbeth lesson later…