Friday, May 8, 2009

Shakespeare anyone?!

I have had a bit of a pity party this week. I have just not had the time to read as much as I would like because of end-of-the-year activities at two different schools. Because I haven't completed a book this week, I figured I had nothing to post. That led me to feeling guilty that I have not posted in nearly a week - and my goal is try to post at least 5 days out of 7. Then it hit me -- I do teach English. Perhaps I could post about recent lessons I have taught (or learned) and that would be considered "bookish" enough for a book blog. What do you think?

So...I will consider this my first English teacher post.

Today my 8th grade class performed the first 3 Acts of Midsummer Night's Dream to a crowd of about 75 parents/fellow students/faculty. I must say I was very proud. First of all, we have only studied this play since spring break (about 6 weeks) and while it was not a "perfect" performance, it was indeed an amazing performance.

I teach at a University Model School - which means that we only have class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the students are home-schooled. When I only have the students 3 times a week - and we need to study grammar and writing in addition to literature, that does not leave much extra time to perfect a performance of the Bard.

While I suggested that the students obtain and read the No Fear Shakespeare version (to help with comprehension) - we only discussed the original Shakespearean language in class - and it was the original version that the students performed.

I assigned a student director - and truthfully, this student did a LOT of work. I would chime in every once in a while - but he blocked the scenes, interpreted the play, and inspired the actors. These students even met after class - on several occasions - on their own accord - to practice the play. I was so impressed!!

We spent so much time running the scenes, that I was afraid that I had not spent enough time on the comprehension/analysis of the play. After about 4 weeks of practice I gave the students a multiple choice comprehension test. To my great surprise - 80% of the class passed the test with a 90% or higher!! I was thrilled -- and learned that if students immerse themselves in literature, they can indeed teach themselves (I surmise that these students have read the first 3 acts of the play no less than 10-12 times. They KNOW their stuff)

At the end of today's performance the student director asked the audience if they understood the climax of the play (we ended with Act III and the resolution that leads to the happy ending had not yet happened). I would say 25% of the adults raised their hands. Isn't that amazing?! These 8th graders know more about Shakespeare than 75% of the adults in attendance! I hope they realize what an amazing academic feat that really is. Probably not. They have probably focused on the fact that they missed several English classes (eg - grammar) having fun practicing a silly play. But the incredible thing is --- they had no idea that they were actually learning while having fun. In fact I had one parent tell me that his son is no longer "afraid of Shakespeare." WOW! That is a highlight of my teaching career! An 8th grader who is not intimidated by the language of Shakespeare. AH....what a GREAT way to end the year!


  1. How fun is that. I've done several very abridged productions of Shakespeare with 5th through 9th grade students. I use Shakespeare's words, just not all of them. We always had a lot of fun along with the learning. My feeling is that making Shakespeare fun is more important than anything else I can do with him, in the long run. I'm just about to start Midsummer Night's Dream with my 7th graders. We won't be doing as much with it as you did, but we always have a good time.

  2. I loved this post! My former teammates and I lead our 6th grade students through Macbeth, and performed a very abridged version of it for parents as our final unit at the end of the year (16 years worth!). It's the thing I miss most about teaching 6th grade now that I'm teaching the younger grades. (I haven't put together a Shakespeare experience for the 2nd graders, although I know teachers that do that.) Your parent's comment that his son is no longer "afraid of Shakespeare" is a compliment indeed!

  3. I really wish that I had been introduced to Shakespeare earlier, at least on some level. I started with Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, but I had a tough time with it--especially since we did not act out the play but just read it aloud during class. Sounds like this was a great way to get the class involved and really teach them some of the basics of Shakespeare. And I'm guessing many of those adults probably haven't read a Shakespeare play, as sad as that is!

  4. It sounds like it was a wonderful experience for the students and the teacher! I think some teachers forget that learning needs to be fun even when the students get older.

  5. I'd love to see more posts like this! And you should never feel guilty for not posting. :)

  6. Wow, I've never heard of a University Model School before. Shakespeare is great. I think we should give kids earlier access to Shakespeare, but do it the right way by actually having them put on a performance instead of just sitting there and reading it. Sounded it like your experience was a success.

    By the way, I just found your blog and really like it. I decided to add it to my blog roll at

  7. I am not a teacher but I can feel your enthusiasm. I didn't study Shakespeare at school and only studied a little with the Open University a few years ago. The course covered 'Taming of the Shrew' and 'Romeo and Juliet' , I did find it hard but stuck it out and passed. That was when I was 54 , so for school children to get to grips with it is wonderful. All credit to the teachers.

  8. Molly, I am very intrigued by the idea of a University Model System, which is completely new to me. It's really cool (read, admirable!) that you're introducing middle schoolers to Shakespeare. My first encounters didn't happen until ninth grade with Romeo and Juliet. Feel free to write more English teacher posts!

  9. That's awesome - a tribute to good teaching. I'd love to read more posts like this!


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