In the fall, my “pod” (group of Grade 9 teachers) went to a PD day in Saskatoon on Inquiry based learning. It was amazing. There are moments in my teaching career that have changed the way I teach, and this was one of them. Inquiry and challenging students to think critically went from intimidating to achievable. The speaker was a member of “The Critical Thinking Consortium” (yes I had to look that word up), and the website is http://www.tc2.ca/wp/. It’s worth checking out.
In February, part two of the PD session came around, so we went again. It was another amazing day, a day that Krista and I said “shut-up” in loud voices and high fived each other every ten minutes. Needless to say, the speaker came over to see what we were planning:
That, my friends, is the most exciting unit planning I’ve ever done. It is also the conception of our Grade 9 unit, “Love, A Fair.” Rather than just teaching Romeo and Juliet for the sake of teaching it, we wanted to take a step back from that text and make the unit about something bigger. So, the overarching question of our unit is “What is love?”, and the assignments and texts all hinge on that question.
We started with an introduction to Shakespeare. We knew we would eventually be reading Shakespeare, and students’ gut reaction to saying “We are going to read Shakespeare” is a mixture of fear and loathing. We wanted to take the stigma out of Shakespeare, so I showed the students a power point.
Aside: I think this is an appropriate time for a disclaimer. I’m not an expert. On anything. So if you read this power point and think to yourself, “She doesn’t know the history of the English language at all!”, you are correct. I know tiny bits, and that was all I cared to know for the purposes of this power point. If you find errors or offenses, let me know and you can educate me over a London Fog and cheesecake sometime.
We then took modern songs and Shakespeare-ized them. Credit to Krista for this genius:
Not Over You – Gavin Degraw
If you ask me how I’m doing
I would say I’m doing just fine
I would lie and say that you’re not on my mind
But I go out and I sit down at a table set for two
And finally I’m forced to face the truth,
No matter what I say I’m – not over you (not over you).
If thee enquire in what way I emote
I hath speak I feel satisfactory
I show untruth and speak to thee that thee is not being contemplated
I depart to a soiree, sit unaccompanied at a slab for devotees
I conclude to look upon actuality,
Under no falsehood, I love thee with an unmovable force.
The students chose groups, a song, and got translating. They used thesauri as well as a list of common Shakespearey words we put on the board (thee, thou, hath, etc), and played with the order of words. And if all else failed, we told them to put a –th at the end of the word. We were pleasantly surprised with some of the things they came up with:
“Your beauty is as continuous as the dawn” (you’re beautiful)
“Festivity boulder in thee abode on the nighteth. One and all entirely haveth a satisfactory duration.” (Party rock is in the house tonight)
“Raise a tender ear to the palpitations of my life source” (my heart beats for you so listen close)
“Breathtaking course of action, thou cast thy mane, thy render me speechless” (the way you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed)
“I ignite hell to the tears of the sky” (I set fire to the rain)
While students were working, Krista and I walked around reading their lyrics and then yelled “tweeting it!” when a student wrote an exceptionally good lyric, like the ones above. The students were excited about it, and it eased some of their fears about reading Shakespeare. Win-win. I need to go high five Krista again.
After introducing students to Shakespeare, we next indroduced them to the assignment. As I said, Krista and I wanted to take a step back from “We’re reading this for the sake of reading this” and make Romeo and Juiliet come alive with the themes and events of the play. This is the assignment we introduced to students before we started reading the play:
The day after we gave students the “Love, A Fair” handout and discussed it, we had students choose their top three interest areas. Krista and I chose four topics and wrote them on the board, then wrote questions that arose from that topic. For example, questions under “young love” might be: how young is too young to be in love? Is there a too young to be in love?When do we start to love our parents? How does love change as we age? For “marriage”, questions might be: What is the ‘right’ age to get married? What makes a marriage last? What is the difference between an unhealthy/healhty marriage? Should people even bother getting married? Students chose one of their top three topics and wrote questions for it, using our guidance if needed. They brainstormed questions on their own and then in pairs. From there students chose one or two questions to focus on for their presentation, so their focused topic would have a focus. We conferenced with each student, helping them pick a focus area of their topic that would have lots of ways they could research and find information.Krista bought notebooks from the dollar store for each student. In it they keep track of information from the play that relates to their specific topic, as well as scene summaries (more on that later).
The intention of the “Love, A Fair” is to give students a broader focus, to get them linking and applying the things we were reading in the play to themes and events of today. For example, a student who chose the topic “gangs” would read the play with a keen eye on the way the Montagues and Capulets operated as a ‘gang.’ Students who chose “love at first sight” would be especially interested in the scenes where Romeo and Juilet first meet. This assignment makes reading the play a means to an end rather than just an end, and makes Shakespeare relevant to today, rather than the relic most students think of him as. It also helps if you refer to him as “Billy Shakes” on occasion.
Reading the Play
We are reading the play using a parallel text. We read the prologue to Act One and the balcony scene in the original text, but other then that, we’ve been ripping through it with the modern translation. I’m not anti-original play, I’m just not staunchly pro- it. Reading the play in the parallel text is less intimidating, and we have had student volunteers read the play aloud. Some really quiet students have even volunteered to read, which I don’t think would have happened if we were reading it in the original language. Students are also able to understand the events a lot better, and it takes less time to read, as we don’t need to stop and explain very often. There is the argument that students need to learn to translate Shakespeare, to which I would ask, why? It’s a conversation worth having. Let’s get London fogs for it.
At the end of every scene, students write down the events of that scene in their journal. Sometimes we do it as a class, other times they do it individually – it depends on the day and the scene. At the end of an act, students summarize. This will explain how:
This handout was all Krista, and I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. I was concerned with the amount of time it would take and the measure of success we would have. I am so pleasantly surprised with the results so far. There’s a text message conversation that I will post as soon as we figure out how to get it off their phone…..for now, watch this.
(Don’t worry, we asked the student permission to show you that).
And now, the promised text message conversation.
After the Play
After reading the play, it was time to start the researching process for each student’s love affair project. Krista made the following handout for the students to use as an easy guide to their research.
Anytime I’ve been to a conference about inquiry learning, the speaker is excited about it. Krista and I got excited about it. It creates the false belief that students will be excited about it. Students may eventually get to a place where they are excited about it, but in my experience so far, no student has said, “Finally, I get to direct my own learning! No more of this listening to you and regurgitating whatever you taught me, I get to think critically and creatively!” Students like what is comfortable, familiar, and easy. Inquiry is none of those things. (At least not yet….). Students want to plug some words into google, write down some things off the first website, and call it a day, because it’s easy, familiar, and comfortable. So don’t be like me and expect students to receive the above handout with eagerness and start searching for case studies and making interview questions. The reaction we got was, “Why are we doing this?” and “Why isn’t think like other assignmets where I just use the internet?” Students of today are Generation G, where all answers are just a google search away. We need to push students to use the internet as a tool among other tools, and to think critically about what they are reading online. Rant over. For now.
Two weeks of reserach, 14 tri-fold boards, two powerpoints, 28 student created handouts, and three boxes of cookies later, our “Love, A Fair” was a success!! Granted, some students literally printed a sheet of “facts” the morning of, cut them up, and put them on a poster, but most of the projects met expectations – and a few exceeded. We set things up in the lunch room upstairs and invited different English classes to tour through. Things I would improve on for next time:
– to have a feedback forms for teachers and students to fill out at the end of the fair (guest teachers and students)
– teaching the students to synthesize data in their research – many of them were still stuck with pulling things off wikipedia and pasting them to a poster. I think it will help to show the students next year some of the projects from this year as an example (or, ahem, non-example).
– having the students set-up the day before and do a run through with each other – the could even do some peer and self assessment
If you’re in Regina and thinking of trying this project out, feel free to stop by and have a look at the different displays that we kept from the students!