After many years of teaching freshman and conversing with teachers who do the same, I’m convinced that if there were to ever be a “national” curriculum, at least for English, every freshman would study Romeo and Juliet. I’m not here to criticize the choice, I just want to share my own experiences as I totally changed the way my students experience this classic work.
My first goal was to review my past and current practices to see what was really necessary and what was simply comfort food for me. As much as a pattern of reading, performing, note-taking, and activities for each act seemed to be working, he reality is that kids put up with the work because they like the play. This is not always the case with books we read, but for the most part, they like the story because there’s something for everyone. My second goal was to keep the integrity of the major themes and ideas, while creating space for discovery and connection. Finally, being in a 1:1 laptop environment, I wanted them to integrate technology for more than just research and writing. This seemed to fit well with the idea of Project Based Learning or PBL.
Initially, I created random groups and gave each group a big idea from the play, such as “All actions have consequences”, “There is a fine line between love and hate”, and other universals (forgive the cliches). Each group was then asked to come up with questions related to their idea, identify themes, and track literary and poetic devices throughout the work. In terms of reading the play, we did a class dramatization of Act 1 with plenty of stops and starts for note-taking and information. For the most part, this was a fairly traditional experience for the students. Following this, students went off in their groups and finished reading the play through. I provided plenty of parallel texts, websites, and other resources for their exploration. They used the big idea as their lens or focus for reading. The students did well as they explored the play on their own. They were advised to use various resources as they progressed and to stop at the end of each scene to summarize and clarify with each other. This also provided a natural opportunity to consider their big idea as well as themes. As students began to put their presentations together, created a few checkpoints as well as ongoing monitoring and conferencing. I frequently encouraged the students to refer back to the play and utilize the resources to clarify as they continued to create their presentations.
On presentation day, I was amazed by the level of creativity and the understanding of the play that students displayed. Within frameworks of game shows, talk shows, and even play auditions, it was evident that they “got it.” They didn’t need me to give them the play with all the innuendos, interpretations, and subtexts; they did need me to give them space, creative license, and time. They needed me to let go of one of those precious canonical works that English teachers hold dear. I did, and their discoveries and creativity simply lifted me. These students learned. From the bard, they learned a classic from the master’s pen. From me, they learned they were capable of understanding and interpreting a classic. From themselves, they learned and earned the confidence that will help them with their next big challenge.
Here is my Entry doc for the project which contains directions and links to supporting documents.
Thanks for reading!