Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Bitter End

I hate when a semester ends. It’s really the day of reckoning: you realize you didn’t get some (many, all, whatevs) of the stuff you wanted to teach done and you reach the point where the kids you have come to love over the course of the semester are getting on your nerves asking about extra credit and other ways to boost their grades. I also think I tend to get annoyed because it’s easier than being sad.

In two weeks, I say goodbye to about 70 kids and say hello to about 60ish new ones. Yup, I teach the exact same class all over again. A blessing and a curse, that one, as I’ve worked out many of the kinks with this crop of kids. I tell them that they’ve paid it forward and that the spring sophomores will thank them for it. That comment merely elicited some eye rolls. I don’t think you want to be a martyr when you’re fifteen…

do think there’s something to be said about reaching the point with students that–as their teacher and fellow learner–you know them relatively well and they need to move on, and you know that they’re NOT coming up to the fifth floor to see you if they don’t have to, and that those conversations in the margins, the ones about books and about literary puns and about the kid who writes poetry about a summer spent with his brother, and the hashtag they use to tweet about your class (#dparkz) and I get…sad. 

I hate the end, even if I’ll be so delirious grading exams and prepping for the next term that I can’t even breathe. I hate the end, as bitter as it is. I hate the end.


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Self-Reflection: For Them, For Me, to Learn Shakespeare

Self-reflection is one of the most powerful aspects of teaching, both for myself and for students as learners. There’s something profound about having to determine what you learned, how (and if) you learned it, and one’s personal responsibility in that process.

One of my favorite parts of teaching Shakespeare–a part that I’m only reminded of once it’s over, usually, because it’s so hectic in the flow of it–is this project I do called the Shakespeare Festival. I have adapted it from a unit I found from a fantastic teacher in Utah. Essentially, kids select a scene (this time from Macbeth) and perform it. But that’s probably too much of a simplification of what they do. They also must select their groups, write a justification of their scene, memorize(ish) their lines, create a storyboard, create a mock-up or model of their setting and costumes, make a film of their scene and then write a self-evaluation in which they tell me what they’ve learned and also evaluate their group mates.

It’s a LOT. And it takes a lot of time; however, it is the most tangible way that kids learn to own Shakespeare. 

I’m in the process of grading their projects now (and re-watching their excellent videos, if I must say so myself) and am reading their self-reflections. Repeatedly, they say how they had to understand subtext from reading their scenes over and over again, how they actually understood themes and motifs because they had to become the characters, how they worked with others to accomplish a task…

And what I also love is that kids that I would have thought would not have been major contributors STEPPED UP to do amazing work: from costume designs, to settings, to justifications…I never would have known had their peers not have explained what went into the final projects. I want to find a way to make sure they know how much their peers thought of them. Shouldn’t they know these great things?! 

Again, I’m humbled by my kids, by their work, by how fortunate I am to teach and learn with them each day. 

Here’s what one of my students concluded (his group made a scene as a film noir):

I cannot think of anything else that you should know, except I would like to recognize [one of his peers in the group]. He was the only one in the group who actually knew a considerable amount about film production. He was really the brains behind each shot and contributed his knowledge of film to help us create a powerful film noir version of Act V Scene viii. After all, he did do essentially all of the editing alone, which we greatly thank him for. Also, I will stress the fact that we all wanted very much to succeed in making a great movie. We all really worked our hearts out in creating the film, and above all, we really enjoyed it. I will leave you with that [all emphases are student’s own].

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