Go back and read the title again, but this time, to the tune of “Moves like Jagger.”
My grade 10’s are reading Macbeth. But not in the way you’d think. It’s much cooler then the Macbeth you may remember reading in high school. I mean, look at this guy:
He’s a strong fighter. He’s a ruthless King. He’s power hungry. He is owning that purple dress/cape ensemble. And he’s a little bit crazy.
There’s three versions of the Macbeth graphic novel: original, modern, and quick text. The original is, well, Shakespeare’s original version of the play. The modern text is an updated version, and the quick text is the bare essentials of the story. All three texts have the exact same graphics – the only thing that changes is the speech bubbles.
The students started reading the original version, because I wanted them to at least try it out. After a few scenes, they could switch to the modern text if they were having trouble understanding the original. I didn’t hand out many quick texts: I saved those for students who were really struggling. Most students switched to and stuck with the modern text. A few of them thought the original was easy to understand, so they stuck with that. And surprising to me, a few students requested the original play in its full text, rather than the graphic version.
Before reading the play, we discussed the idea of control, and I presented them with the provocative statement (more on that in a later post), “You have no control.” In small groups, students brainstormed all of the things they have no control of. Answers included: disease, weather, parents, curfew, friends, leg hair, acne, the sun, the moon, assignments at school, work hours, blood type, and itches. We discussed this a bit, had some laughs, and talked about the conceptions of ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’, and who controls ours. I would have liked to branch the discussion into topics like ‘who controls society?’, ‘how do we give up control?’, and ‘how do power and control relate to one another?’ – but the bell rang.
The next day, we reviewed our previous discussion, and I gave them a handout that listed different statements that touch on themes of Macbeth, and they wrote whether they agreed or disagreed – things like “women are more frail and delicate than men”, “people who say they know the future are fake”, “the saying ‘what goes around comes around’ is true”, and “sometimes good people do bad things”. When they finished, we went through them and shared our answers, discussing our reasons why we agreed or disagreed. I announced to students that I was going to hand out the Macbeth texts, and they all groaned. Imagine their surprise, and my joy, when I pulled out the graphic novels. It is truly a satisfying moment when a 15 year old boy gives a small nod and smile at a text, declaring, “This doesn’t look so bad.”
A word to those of you who are experiencing heart palpitations because I did not force students to read and analyze Shakespeare’s original play, including matching quotes to characters who said them and notes and lectures on the lines ‘unsex me here’: Do you want students to be able to translate lines and regurgitate quotes, or do you want them to actually like the play? You see, I think we’ve been teaching it backwards. We force all students to do an in depth study of the play in its original form, hoping some end up liking it. And some do. But most walk away with a bitter taste in their mouth, missing the beauty and lessons of the play because they were too busy hating it. What if we taught the play in a variety of forms – parallel texts, graphic novels – focusing on the themes and lessons of the play rather than the language? From my experience, most end up liking it. And some of them are able to translate lines and regurgitate quotes. And guess what – it’s the same handful of students in both scenarios who are able to read, translate, understand, and enjoy Shakespeare. So try out some other text forms. It’s a beautiful thing to see students who declared they HATED Shakespeare say, “Woah, did you get to scene 3 yet?” and “Check this out!”. And yes, I did still call attention to the most famous lines of the play, including ‘unsex me here.’
Students mostly read on their own, and at the end of each Act of the play, they completed this sheet:
We did the first one together, but after that students worked at their own pace. The summary and themes/evidence sections are pretty self explanatory. I’m sure I don’t need to clarify this to you, but I sure did need to clarify for the students that the ‘character snapshot’ section is not for them to draw the character, but to describe him/her. The bubble with the Facebook ‘like’ thumb is for them to write something they liked about the Act. For the tweet box, I told them to pretend they were Shakespeare and had just finished writing the Act: What would he Tweet? I think this was my favorite box.