Thursday, September 24, 2009

Richard 3 letter

I wonder if you can read between the lines in this email that I'm actually kind of seething about some of my students' performance. I wasn't mad until I was going over the quiz answers today and kids were looking out the window, muttering, etc. Grrrr.

Greetings parents and students of IB English IV:

As the 4th week of class comes to a close, I wanted to provide you with a brief update about the course.

Several of you received emails from me today about your student's success or struggles with the first Richard III quiz. I am very happy with the progress of several students, and disappointed with the progress (and efforts) of others. Most of the assessments so far this year up until now have been baselines, but this quiz was definitely an important harbinger of things to come, so I wanted to let parents know right away about how students did.

The reading pace of Richard III has been fairly rapid, but not rapid enough so that students in a college-level English course should not be able to keep up. I have eliminated the time-consuming practice of text-marking as the students read, because we are focusing on different skills this year, and students are completing dialectical journals instead. In class, I have been shifting between group assignments, dramatic activities (re: "acting it out"), and comparison analysis of different film versions of the play, doing whatever I can to make Shakespeare come alive for the students.

Still, Shakespeare can be tough. Students have to struggle with the language for it to start to make sense for them. The quizzes are miniature replicas of the oral assessments students will complete in January, and thus things like Sparknotes or modernized translated versions of the plays are not helpful. We are reading the Shakespeare for the language, not the story. Thus, attitude is important. Students should know that, as they read, they will encounter difficulty, and that they must go slow, and read and re-read, and use the summaries in our version of the book provides, and make sure they understand before they move on. And then read it again (it's not long; to view this onstage, it would take only 2 hours).

For students who are struggling the most, here are some suggestions:

1) Sit in a quiet place in the house and just read, away from the computer, away from the phone. Use the glossary, have a dictionary nearby to look up any other unfamiliar words, and picture what you are seeing on the page. Read sentence by sentence, not line by line. This will get easier as you go, but you have to put in the work for it to happen.

2) Use the list of characters to create a graphical illustration of all the characters and their relationships, and who kills who, and who is on which side. Try this on your own, so you're making sense of the characters by yourself, and then compare it with what I have on the board when you return next week.

3) Visit the website I just made for the course, ______________, and view some of the film clips from Richard III, and make comments underneath the videos. Watch them with your text in front of you. The comments should reflect thought and analysis of the play and how you thought the actors/directors' choices in the films achieved meaning. I would like some conversations to start there, so will be offering some nominal extra credit for students who participate the most on this site.

4) Attend an extra-credit screening of Looking for Richard (starring Al Pacino) on Monday from 3:30-end or Tuesday from 3:30-end. Or, watch the film from 3:30-end on Monday and come to Coach Class on Tuesday, and we will read through some scenes together.

5) Watch various YouTube clips of Richard III, from various stage productions to the 1996 Ian McKellen movie. This is also a great website:

I do not recommend using a translated, modernized text, mostly because I'm finding that most students who have them rely on the modernized text and nothing else. Every student who did this failed the quiz yesterday. If you see one of those "Shakespeare Made Easy" texts at home, they can be dangerous. Students should only use them sparingly, and as a supplement to the actual text; for example, they could read an act, struggle with it as much as possible and figure out what they understand and what they don't, and then, perhaps, read the modernized text and check for any differences. They could then use the modernized text to mark inside the Folger edition, so that understanding is still there.

Additionally, using online sites like Sparknotes do not help students immerse themselves in the language, and thus are not useful in the course.

Thank you for taking the time to read this note, and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Students, enjoy your 3-day weekend, but please work hard if you are struggling.


Anonymous said...

Cool that this letter is on Teach magazine's blogboard.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a post.

english courses london

I am glad to have read this.

Thanks for the share.

Anonymous said...

Your message is outstanding and speaks to so many challenges we face in modern education. From a fellow teacher.