Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Saved by James Earl Jones

We're at the end of Act II in King Lear, and I needed something to grab them. Some of them are getting it, and some of them aren't, as the Act I Quiz demonstrated. They're not immersing themselves into the language as much as I'd hoped. I'm working hard, but it's not all coming together like I had imagined.

So, yesterday, I tried to remedy that situation by using this lesson from the Folger website. There's nothing earth-shattering about the lesson, but it's a solid 70-line acting exercise that asks students to really immerse themselves in the language and decide how these relationships of power should be played out on stage.

Planning was great, but execution wasn't. I helped out one group way too much, lost track of the others, and found many students off-task. "We're done," they told me, but the depth of their reading was shallow. I should have modeled; I should have monitored more.

I tried to save the lesson by bringing in the James Earl Jones King Lear today. I asked them to read the first chunk of dialogue as they had planned to read and perform it, and to defend their choices. Then we watched James Earl Jones do it, and discussed how the acting and directing choices influenced meaning. We did it for every piece of dialogue in the scene.

Well, the result was tremendous. Students who never raise their hands raised their hands and displayed analytic skills that I haven't seen from them all year. If a student is able to disagree with a line reading and articulate an insightful why, then they demonstrate a superb understanding of the text.

The lesson culminated with them, in groups, analyzing Lear's last monologue in 2.4, and performing it based on the choices made during the analysis, then comparing it to Jones' performance of it. (Which is awesome, by the way.) It worked great.

I hope I have them back and that we're ready to delve into the depths of Act III.

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