Thursday, July 23, 2015

On Shakespeare

Last year, back when I gave teaching to the text (hah! puns) a shot, I noted that I had developed strong feelings about teaching Shakespeare. Well, you know, so has just about every English teacher in America, I think.

The basis of my feelings are this:

1. The language of Shakespeare is outdated and almost as difficult for students today to navigate as Old English.
2. Yes, the themes and motifs Shakespeare presents are still prevalent in modern times, but other texts (ones where students aren't distracted by what is essentially a foreign language) present them better.

Dana Dusbiber puts it eloquently in her editorial reprinted by the Washington Post.

It seems that Dusbiber and I, however, may be in the minority, at least of those who have vocalized their opinions. Most of what I see online are die-hard Bard fans who criticize anyone who would even think of skipping over that portion of English lit.

They do have make some good points, though. Here are some examples, onetwo, three, and four from the Folger Shakespeare Library's blog, another from that same writer's personal blog, and one from a blog titled Talk Like Shakespeare. Okay, so maybe that's not the most unbiased of resources. Here's one in response to Dusbiber's editorial, and here's one from an author of what appears to be trashy novels from that one time he was on the school board. Neither of those are as eloquently written, but they still have their merits.

The only point that matters to me at the moment, though, is that Shakespeare is, indeed, mentioned in CCSS. So yes, I should teach the things I'm passionate about because the students can pick up on my passion, but I also need to include Shakespeare. It fits into the Classic Lit curriculum well, anyway, and I can teach it in my own way.

Just because the language aspect is difficult doesn't mean we need to shy away from it, I know. We do difficult things because they're difficult, after all. It's just something that needs to be taken into consideration. It should be, "When we study Shakespeare, we're studying a foreign language. Already knowing modern English, this language is pretty easy to pick up, like Spanish, but we need to think of it as a foreign language because people we live with wouldn't understand us if we started speaking like this."

With that as an introduction to set the mood, here are some other things I need to keep in mind to do:

-First, we DON'T need to read the entirety of the play together, like I tried to force last year. We also don't need to act the entire thing out, which I feel a little compelled to try. Those things aren't me. They aren't they way I teach, and they will never come off as genuine. Instead, I can select short but important passages to focus on. We can dissect them, which will be a little tricky but still good for us. We can translate them into our own words.
-We can even practice performing them, just those small little sections.
-This "Living Iambic Pentameter" activity looks fun.
-We can even trade Shakespearean insults.
-Remember to use the Folger Library as a resource.
-And maybe some of this "Teaching Romeo and Juliet" stuff?
-Some Youtube videos about Elizabethan theaterthe Globe, and pronunciation that makes more sense.

I got this. No big deal.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Preparing for Iteration 2 of Literature Curriculum (From Lit Research to CLS)

The original concept for Literature Research was to teach two distinct things--both Literature and Research, as the name implies. It was to teach Literature, as public perception says an English teacher should do, while concurrently incorporating research skills. The thought was that 21st century students need strong research skills, and thus I planned to have students using them frequently.

The first problem with this last year was that I didn't demonstrate how to research as well as I should have. I often had students printing off or copy/pasting Sparknotes and calling it good. So that's my bad. I didn't actually teach research skills. Noted. Lesson learned. Next year will be better now that I've recognized this.

The second issue I'm faced with now as I develop my curriculum for next year is that my parents and principal want more gathered material to present during lessons. That's fine. I can understand and work with that. It's just that the more material I gather for students, the less they need to find. That's not a bad thing, it's just less "research" they are required to do.

It's when considering this fact that I realized that Literature and Research don't actually go together as well as I previously thought. Trying to put both together, one always sacrifices the other. I can either have a good literature program, full of all the gathered material to distribute during lessons, or I can have a good research program where students need to find the material on their own. I can't have both together in this instance. And I need to teach both literature and research, so it's time to uncouple the two.

Thus ended the concept of Literature Research.

But that's not to say that the whole thing is dead. It's only time for an evolution.

The second pillar of the Lit. Research program was that students need to understand the concepts of classic literature. They need to be able recognize titles and authors and connect them to plot points, characters, and quotes, and that pillar still stands. Without the other, in fact, it becomes the focal point of the program. That point will be what my new literature curriculum is based on.

I referred previously to the "collective consciousness" that Americans (or English speakers?) have surrounding literature--that knowledge that we all have about certain classic texts. It's part of our culture, and it's present everywhere. You can find references to literature in movies, TV, popular music, video games, and everyday conversation. Classic literature is the birthplace of cliches. They hold stories and characters that everyone knows, and if a reference or satire is made of them, it is under the impression that any member of the English-speaking audience will understand it.

This is what I intend to impart to my students. This is the foundation of my literature program. It has less to do with reading classics just for the sake of reading them or because of tradition and more to do with seeing literature as a part of our culture.

I'm not mourning the end of Lit. Research. I'm happy that I attempted something new, learned from it, and can now try a second iteration. And in fact, it's rather liberating recognizing that I needed to uncouple the two in order to make them better. Onwards and upwards! (I wish there was a cool new name I could think of for it. I like those sort of things. It's too bad "Cultural Literacy" is already a thing and that "Literature Literacy" sounds weird. Meh. I'll keep thinking!)

Edit: Okay, I decided on a name--Classic Literature Studies, CLS!