Archive for the 'NYU' Category

The Wager

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The year was 2002. I was teaching an advanced graduate course on Shakespeare, and I chose to give my final exam as a take-home. The questions included true/false, short answer, extended response, and one long essay.

I mentioned this while having dinner one night with friends. Brian, who runs a successful business he built himself, scoffed at the very notion of a take-home final in the age of the Internet. Couldn’t the students just look up all of the answers? This was around the time when people were starting to use “Google” as a verb, and many students were more tech-savvy than their professors. I assured Brian that the test would still be challenging as a take-home, but he remained unconvinced.

Brian offered me a wager. He would take the exam along with my students, despite not having taken the course or even knowing very much about Shakespeare. As long as he could research and plagiarize as much as he wanted, he claimed he could pass my final. I accepted the bet.

In the weeks to come, Brian became consumed with the task. He researched each question, writing and rewriting answers to perfection. He put way more time into that final than any of the students, and he plagiarized without shame. But, he completed the final on the same schedule as the students, and ended up scoring a 91 out of a possible 100 points. This was slightly below the class average, but he clearly won the bet.

However, he did admit that, in order to be successful on the final, he had to learn a whole lot about Shakespeare along the way. He may not have taken the course, but he ended up doing much of the work he would have had to do anyway, engaging with the material throughout the process.

It’s worth noting at this point that the exam only represented 10% of the final grade. Much more of the course was about participation in class discussions and completing projects. But with Brian’s self-guided work, he was able to earn 9.1% of the course grade without ever setting foot in my classroom. Had he attempted some of the projects, and applied the same level of drive to them, he could have earned even more points, learning even more about Shakespeare in the process.

This is a good way to think about assessment. We define what students should be able to do after a unit of study, and we define a way to measure whether or not they’ve learned it. The unit of study, then, should be designed to help students succeed in the measurement. If that sounds too much like teaching to the test, that’s fine, but then we should start designing tests worth teaching to.

This is the idea of the performance task. Rather than having students fill out multiple-choice bubble sheets, they do authentic tasks. They understand how the skills they are learning in school are applied in the real world. And when students show they are able to transfer their learning into unfamiliar contexts, as they should in any good performance task, they demonstrate deep understanding of the skills and concepts being covered.

So, if a student can succeed in the teacher-created assessment before the instruction, is the instruction really necessary? If students can take the initiative to demonstrate their meeting the same learning goals some other way, shouldn’t they get credit for it? And if real-world authenticity is the aim, shouldn’t students be able to use the same tools a real-world businessman would use when working toward the same goal?

These are questions we’re now grappling with in assessment. But I thank Brian for giving me a head start in thinking about them so many years ago.

Eating Ambrosia on Mount Olympus

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

As the year is winding down, I’m looking back over the last twelve months of Shakespeare Teacher to prepare for the annual Top Ten Posts list, which will be up tomorrow. I admit that this has not been my most prolific year, but I’ve been extremely busy. Busyness is often cited as a complaint, but I have no complaints. Rather, my busyness has been the result of having too many opportunities that were too good to pass up. Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

One of the things that has been occupying my time has been a new graduate-level course I’m teaching for NYU on evaluation for school administrators. I didn’t know I’d be teaching it until the course actually started, so I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to stay prepared each week. The effort has been worthwhile, as the students have been giving glowing feedback to the department, and I’ve been hired to teach it again in the spring. I’ll also be teaching my regular course for English teachers on using drama as a teaching tool, so I should still be pretty busy… the good busy, but busy nevertheless.

Still, I’d like to be using the blog to write about the things that I’m doing and to process what I’m learning while I’m doing them. I haven’t been doing that, and my New Year’s Resolution is to return to doing that. So busyness isn’t an excuse to avoid writing; it should be a call to write. Readers have continued to enjoy the regular features, and I’ve enjoyed writing them, but they were never what this blog was supposed to be about. I recently had one experience in particular that I’ve regretted not taking the time to share with the readers of this website, so I’d like to do so now. Better late than never.

Thirteen (WNET) has produced a series called Shakespeare Uncovered which will premiere on PBS stations on January 25. I had nothing to do with the creation of the series, but Thirteen asked me to sit on an advisory board to consult on the educational outreach component that accompanies their programming. So far, this has consisted of previewing the series and having a day-long meeting with Thirteen educators and other members of the advisory board.

I was excited enough to work with Thirteen and on teaching Shakespeare no less, but when I found out who the other members of the board were going to be, I was floored. These are my teaching Shakespeare heroes, some of whom I’ve met through my dealings with the Folger, others of whom I know by reputation. My claim to fame, on the other hand, is that I snatched a good Internet domain name when the snatching was good. But I think my enthusiasm for the subject matter made up the difference. Having the chance to spend an entire day discussing the teaching of Shakespeare with a team of experts was like being invited to eat ambrosia on the top of Mount Olympus. And I’ve been yearning to tell you about it ever since.

By the way, the Shakespeare Uncovered series is amazing, and you should watch it when it airs. If you’re into Shakespeare, you’ll appreciate all of the different angles the series covers. And if you’re not a Shakespeare fan, you may come to understand why some of us are.

I had hoped that this post wouldn’t come off as too self-critical or apologetic. But now that I read over it, it comes off as one big humblebrag. I can live with that. The Top Ten list will be posted tomorrow.

May the Fourth…

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

…be with you.

Today is Star Wars Day, and Shakespeare Geek and Bardfilm made sure that Shakespeare got in on the action. For my contribution… No, I’m not going to compare Luke Skywalker to Hamlet, at least not today. But I would like to share how the Star Wars franchise has made teaching Shakespeare just a little bit easier.

A series of three related dramatic works is called a trilogy. Four works make a tetralogy. Early in Shakespeare’s career, he wrote a tetralogy of plays about the English kings: Henry VI, Part One; Henry VI, Part Two; Henry VI, Part Three; and Richard III. The plays cover the span of events from 1422 to 1485, and are referred to collectively as the first tetralogy.

A bit later (though still early in his career), Shakespeare wrote another tetralogy of plays about the English Kings: Richard II; Henry IV, Part One; Henry IV, Part Two; and Henry V. These plays were set earlier; they run from 1399 to 1415. This was the second tetralogy.

This seems pretty straightforward, but it could often cause confusion, even for graduate students. The second tetralogy takes place before the first tetralogy? How can that be? Why did he do it that way? Wait, which was the first tetralogy?

Everything changed with the release of Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Now, when I explain that Shakespeare wrote the first tetralogy before the second, but the second takes place before the first, I can enjoy their momentarily confused looks. I know I can just add “You know, like Star Wars…” and instantly see the clouds lift and light shine into the room. Since the second Star Wars series, everyone understands the idea of a prequel trilogy.

So thank you to Star Wars for making a hard thing easy. May Henry IV be with you!

Under the Influence

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

I’ve been asked by the good folks at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to participate in a project with other bloggers in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday. The idea is to describe in a blog post how Shakespeare has influenced my life. My first impulse was to decline. First of all, it would require providing a name and bio, and I blog anonymously. Though I’ve linked to it several times, I’ve never posted my full name on the blog. More importantly, Shakespeare’s influence is an aspect of my life I don’t usually like to talk about. But perhaps this is an opportunity. By speaking out now, I can help others avoid the nightmare I have lived through. Because you see, my friends, Shakespeare has completely destroyed my life.

As a high school student, I showed a modicum of potential to become a productive member of society. I went into college as an undeclared major, with an array of exciting career options ahead of me. I took classes in a variety of disciplines, with the naive hope of discovering my passions. I took an acting class on a whim, and the professor suggested that I audition for her play. I was ready to do it, until I found that the play was by Shakespeare. Now, I was always taught to stay away from Shakespeare, but the professor was persuasive and I figured there wouldn’t be any harm in trying it just that once.

I was cast as Sebastian in Twelfth Night. I memorized my difficult lines by rote and went through the rehearsal process. One night, while I was waiting backstage and listening to the play, a single line caught in my ear and made me smile. “Hey, that’s pretty clever,” I admitted. A bit later, another line stuck in my head. “I see what he’s doing there.” Like popcorn popping, the revelations began to gradually speed up. Each weave of imagery, each implied metaphor, each beat of the iamb was like a jolt of adrenaline to my young brain. I was converted into a card-carrying Shakespeare fan.

I continued with acting as well, and in my junior year I had the opportunity to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was the experience that first sent me down the rabbit hole. No longer just a casual Shakespeare fan, I had become a full-blown addict. And of course the comedies proved to be merely a gateway drug to the harder stuff. My senior year, I discovered Hamlet, and what should have been a year of personal exploration and maturation was completely lost to that play. I would read it over and over, fascinated by the experience of making new discoveries every time, no matter how many times I had read it. Any thoughts I may have ever had of doing anything else were drowned in that play.

I needed more… Masters degree… Ph.D… My dissertation was on teaching Shakespeare to elementary school students. No longer content to be merely a user, I had become a dealer. A pusher. Could I decrease my own misery by dragging down others with me? I was determined to find out. I started teaching graduate-level Shakespeare courses at NYU – first a beginner, than an advanced class. I was completely out of control. I founded a Shakespeare reading group. I started a Shakespeare-themed blog. I taught for the Folger’s summer Teaching Shakespeare Institute for teachers. Conferences. Lectures. Seminars. Nothing was ever enough. When life threw me a curve ball, I went looking for answers at the bottom of a Riverside Complete Works anthology. I re-read Midsummer, and hit Bottom.

And what has it all gotten me? I am forty years old, and I have never held a full-time job. I support myself by working part-time, training teachers, administrators, school-based data teams, graduate students… anyone, as long as it will pay for that next Caedmon audio production of As You Like It. Had I never discovered Shakespeare, never developed that unquenchable thirst, who knows where I’d be today? But I know where I’ll be tonight. There’s an off-off-Broadway production of Measure for Measure in the West Village. Picture it. I walk the mean streets of Manhattan, desperate for a fix. I turn down a dark alley where I see a non-descript door propped open with a piece of plywood. I slip twenty dollars to a kid with purple hair who hands me a program and waves me in. And I know that, tonight, I will get what I need. And for a junkie, tonight is all that matters.

My name is Bill Heller. And I am a Shakespeare addict.


Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

I was talking to my graduate students about the literacy standards last night, and predictably got pulled off on a tangent about accountability. I found myself making a point that I’ve alluded to before, but it’s worth making explicit now.

Robert Benchley famously said “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” I will put myself in the former category when I say that, generally, there are two kinds of people who talk about standards and accountability.

The first believes that anything worth doing is worth doing well. In order to make sure we’re doing the best job we can, it’s important to measure our results, so we can identify areas for potential improvement and apply strategies for intervention where they will do the most good.

The second believes that taxpayer-funded education is one of the evils of socialism and must be eradicated. In order to make the necessary changes, evidence must be gathered that the public education system is a failure, so that arguments to turn education over to the free market will be more persuasive.

And my point was that, when you hear someone talking about standards and accountability, it’s important to know which of these two groups that person is in.

Googleplex – 1/17/10

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

It’s time once again to check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought people to this site in the past week.

good rap song to introduce shakespeare

That’s a good question. For the past five years, I’ve been using “Mosh” by Eminem. It was great for teaching repetition, rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, antithesis, allusion, and emendation (where I edited out the profanity). Useful as it is, though, it’s starting to get a little old, so I’d appreciate any good suggestions. Are there any popular hip hop songs today that use a lot of poetic devices that might be good for teaching Shakespeare?

did tudors write in english

Well, the Tudors were English, but it’s important to remember that they reigned from 1485 to 1603, a time of extraordinary changes in publishing, literacy, and what would be considered “the English language.” This was the time of the Great Vowel Shift, as Middle English transitioned into Early Modern English, and the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance.

Probably the most famous work written by a Tudor monarch would be the Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which Henry VIII wrote in Latin, a very common written language at the time. However, his personal letters are in English.

what does bloody mary have to do with shakespeare

Bloody Mary refers to Queen Mary I, another Tudor monarch who reigned from 1553-1558. She was daughter to Henry VIII (by Catherine of Aragon) and older sister to Elizabeth I. She died before Shakespeare was born, and does not appear in any of his plays, not even the one that bears her father’s name.

ghost the fine worth anagram shakespeare plays

The phrase “ghost the fine worth” is an anagram of “Twelfth Night, or Shoe” if you add an extra “L” into the mix. But “Shoe” is not the subtitle of that play, and the extra “L” is cheating, so that’s probably not it. If you do allow substitutions, you can swap “S” for “KNURY” and make “King Henry the Fourth, Two.” The closest I can come is to remove an “O” from the original phrase and replace it with “AEM.” What play title could you anagram then?

UPDATE: Play title discovered by Dharam. See comments for answer.

what grade level is as you like it?

It’s hard to really put a play at a particular grade level. I prefer to teach the play I want to teach, and plan instruction to fit the students I’m teaching. I’ve only taught As You Like It twice, once to 7th graders and once to graduate students. The lighthearted tone of the play and the fun situations that it depicts make this a fun choice for even the youngest students studying Shakespeare. So if you’re wondering if As You Like It would be a good play for your students, it probably is!

prior to what historical event is the play set in macbeth

The historical Macbeth died in 1057, so the event you’re looking for is most likely the Battle of Hastings in 1066. This completed the Norman invasion, and basically defined what we think of England even today. William the Conqueror became King William I of England, and every English monarch since – whether King John or Richard III or Henry VIII or George III or Victoria or Elizabeth II – has been a direct descendant of his. That is one impressive legacy.

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:

using shakespeare to increase literacy

how did shakespeare fight back

what technology influenced shakespeare in his times?

iago othello represent the id ego superego

obituary in shakespearean language

slings & arrows new burbage 2010

Googleplex – 5/8/09

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I subscribe to a service called “SiteMeter” which allows me to see a limited amount of information about my visitors. One thing that I can see is if someone finds my site via a Google search, and what they were searching for.

It’s been a while, but every now and then I check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond to those search terms in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought people to this site in the past week.

how many days does it take to read macbeth

Obviously, this depends on how much time you spend reading per day, how quickly you read Shakespeare, and how deeply you want to examine the text. But Macbeth is a play, and is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays at that. You could probably stage an uncut production in about two and a half hours. A first-time reader should be able to make it through the text in two evenings. Reading it out loud in a group should not take more than four hours, including breaks between acts.

the promised end slings and arrows connection to king lear

“The Promised End” is the last episode of the Canadian television series Slings & Arrows. As with all Season 3 episodes, the title is taken from King Lear. In the last scene of the play, Lear enters carrying his dead daughter and, in a mixture of delusion and denial, believes it is possible she is still alive. Kent looks at the pathetic scene and laments “Is this the promised end?” After a lifetime of power and majesty, Lear has become an object of pity. And if a king can be reduced to this, what end can the rest of us be promised?

analysis of othello’s arrogance in act 2 scene 1

The word analysis makes me think this is a homework assignment, but no matter. Here’s the scene. Othello’s hardly in it, and doesn’t seem all that arrogant to me. Did you mean Iago’s arrogance?

direct descendants of the tudors

I still get a lot of hits for this. But we should clear up the difference between descendants of the Tudors, and descendants of King Henry VIII. Henry VIII has no known descendants, though the conversation continues. But the Tudor line was founded, not by Henry VIII, but his father, Henry VII. His line continued, not through son Henry, but through daughter Margaret. She was ancestor to all future English monarchs. So there are many, many people descended from the Tudors alive today.

instruction of king lear

This may be controversial, but I’m not a big fan of teaching King Lear in a K-12 setting. I know there are people who have done wonderful things with it, but I think there are better choices. The themes of the play are really more relevant to more mature audiences. I think kids relate better to young lovers, revenge killings, and battles for power than they do to the strained relationships between aging parents and their adult children. It’s one of the greatest works of literature ever written, but I think it takes some life experience to digest. I’ve only ever taught it once, in an advanced graduate course in Shakespeare, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had teaching Shakespeare.

I admit I could be wrong about this, but I hold this belief firmly. I look forward to one day being convinced otherwise.

shakespeare teacher name

This is probably not what you were looking for, but my name is Bill.

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:

shakespeare as you like it ppt

printable romeo juliet puzzle

william shakespeare’s teacher

shakespeare teacher units

math riddle: why was shakespeare so successful?

online shakespeare teachers

Good Questions

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

We come to school expecting answers, but what we really learn is how to ask good questions.

Any work of drama must ask a question. We see it on television all the time. Who killed Laura Palmer? Will Jack Bauer stop the terrorists? What do the “numbers” mean? We also see a number of television shows and movies where the main characters have jobs that require them to ask good questions. Journalists and police detectives are quite common. We see doctors and lawyers in this role too.

When creating dramatic activities for the classroom, it’s often useful to think of the power of the dramatic question. Putting students in roles (like detectives) that ask questions can help stimulate their inquiry process.

Last night was the last class in my Dramatic Activities in the English Classroom course, and I invited my graduate students to write any remaining questions they may have about the course material on an index card, and I would try to address them. One student wrote “Why don’t you post your Macbeth lesson to your website?” – a reference to a lesson on Macbeth that I had demonstrated earlier in the course. So now I share it with you.

This is an actual lesson I have taught many times to introduce Macbeth to a class that is new to it. I originally created it for a fifth-grade class that would be studying the play, but I have taught the lesson in many grades, and in this course many times. The lesson is meant to be taught before the students begin reading the play, so they are not expected to have any prior knowledge.

The students are put in role as police detectives. The teacher is in role as the chief of police. The chief informs the detectives that they will be traveling back in time to the 11th century, and gives them an overview of the crime – Duncan, the King of Scotland, has been murdered. There were nine people in the castle at the time the body was discovered. They must choose which suspects to interview and form a theory of the crime. The chief reviews each of the nine suspects:

MACBETH – The Thane of Glamis and Cawdor. It was his castle at Inverness where the murder took place.
LADY MACBETH – Macbeth’s wife.
MALCOLM – The King’s older son, and the Prince of Cumberland. It is assumed he will become king.
DONALBAIN – The King’s younger son.
BANQUO – Kinsman to Macbeth and Duncan.
FLEANCE – Young son to Banquo.
MACDUFF – The Thane of Fife. He discovered the body.
LENNOX – The Thane of Lennox.
PORTER – Keeper of the gate. Nobody can enter the castle unless the gate is opened from the inside.

The chief asks the detectives who they would like to interview. The detectives vote, and whoever is chosen is played by the teacher, who sits in a chair to indicate the change in role. The detectives interview the suspect and take detailed notes until they are satisfied. They may then choose to interview another suspect, who will also be played by the teacher. At the end of class, students have to write a police report, stating who they believe committed the murder, and why they think so.

Though the interviews, intriguing details emerge. The porter was not at his post all night! There were two other people in the castle, and they were killed by Macbeth after the body was discovered! Malcolm and Donalbain have fled, and are not available for questioning! Other details provoke further questions. Why won’t Macbeth give a straight answer about what he discussed with Banquo on the battlements last night? Were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both woken by Macduff’s knocking this morning? How did Malcolm respond to hearing his father was murdered?

Obviously, the teacher needs to be very familiar with the play to pull this off. But if done well, it gives the students the opportunity to dig around a little bit in the world of the play before approaching the text. The teacher should not overact the role; the activity should be driven by the questioning of the students. Also, I try to avoid giving any information that’s not in the play, if possible.

It really doesn’t matter who the students ask to talk to. I don’t have any particular information that it’s necessary for students to gain from this activity. The focus is not on giving students any particular answers; the value is in getting them to ask the right questions. And when they leave, they should still have questions. It just might motivate them to want to read the play, and help them understand it better when they do.

Augusto Boal (1931 – 2009)

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

I learned this morning that Brazilian theatre activist Augusto Boal passed away yesterday at the age of 78. His death has received little attention in the news, which shouldn’t be too surprising, but I thought there was a chance that his Nobel Peace Prize nomination last year might at least get him on Stephanopoulos this morning. It did not.

There are many places on the Internet to learn about Boal, so there’s no need for an obituary from me, but I did want to say a few words about how Boal has impacted my life and my work. I can easily say that Boal’s writings have had a greater influence on me than any other author’s. (Shakespeare doesn’t really count as an influence.) I apologize in advance if this post seems indulgent, but I could think of no better place to record my thoughts about the man whose work has meant so much to me over the years.

In 1993, as a young graduate student, I read Theatre of the Oppressed for a class, and it blew my mind. Boal examines the conception of theatre from Aristotelian, Hegelian, and Brechtian standpoints, and redefines the theatrical event as a political act. Aristotle’s concept of a catharsis, explains Boal, purges the audience of the impulse to act and to make a change in society. The spectator gives away the right to act to another person, who is even referred to as the actor. Just as Paolo Freire before him had demonstrated the need for teachers to learn from their students, breaking down the artificial barrier between them, Boal calls for a new theatre, one where the barrier between actor and spectator is broken down, and the theatrical event increases the impulse to act instead of purging it.

My interest stimulated, I sought out Boal’s other key work, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, which contained a wealth of activities I’ve been able to draw from for the past 15 years. In 1996, I had the opportunity to take a class with Boal himself at the Brecht Forum here in New York City. The class was on the then-new techniques he had developed for using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques for therapeutic purposes. It was an incredible experience. I had read Boal’s book on the subject, The Rainbow of Desire, but wasn’t able to make any sense of it. Actually getting a chance to use the techniques under Boal’s guidance was an invaluable experience I’ll never forget.

Boal was not like I thought he would be. I was expecting him to be a serious revolutionary type, but he had a jovial, even avuncular, demeanor. Even when telling a story about how he was tortured in Brazil, he had such a positive energy and good humour that you’d think he was talking about riding his bicycle in the park. (The punchline was that he was being tortured for going to other countries and saying that Brazil used torture.) He also told us about his recent experiment in what he called legislative theatre. He returned to Brazil (many years after his torture experience) and successfully ran for public office. As an elected official, he had his theatre group conduct Theatre of the Oppressed workshops with the people to learn what they needed, and then he would introduce the ideas into legislation. The experience is chronicled in an entertaining and enlightening way in Boal’s book Legislative Theatre.

In 1997, I started using Boal’s Forum Theatre technique as a staff development activity within the organization where I work. I have since used it in a variety of settings and it remains the sharpest tool in my kit. For a while, it looked like I might do my doctoral dissertation on Boal, though I ended up returning to Shakespeare in the end. But while I was doing my coursework, I was planning to write about Boal, so a great deal of my graduate studies focused on his work.

For the past twelve years, I’ve been teaching a graduate class at NYU on using drama as a teaching tool in the English classroom, and Boal’s influence is ubiquitous. Not only do I devote an entire class session to using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques in the classroom, but a major theme of the course is taken directly from a speech that Boal gave when Paulo Freire died, which I read during the second session of class each year. (The speech can be found in Legislative Theatre.) Boal describes how power relationships too often create a monologue, where only one party has the right to speak. Freire’s insight, according to Boal, is that education is much more effective when it becomes a dialogue between teacher and student. This forms one of the core philosophical principles of my course. The theatrical metaphor is significant, as dramatic activities can empower students to find their voice, drawing upon their prior experience and cultural values. This makes the learning experience more relevant to them.

You may have noticed this blog is more interactive than most. I certainly share my own opinions about the matters at hand, but almost all of my regular features are interactive. This blog is nothing without you. That’s because I believe that the power of Web 2.0 tools is that they break down the barrier between writer and reader. This is a philosophy I may not have embraced if it weren’t for Boal and Freire.

We lost a giant this weekend. But his legacy lives on in me, and the many, many others who have been influenced by his work and his writings. And I invite here all of them who wish to say along with me what Boal said upon Freire’s passing:

I am very sad. I have lost my last father. Now all I have are brothers and sisters.

Even More Shakespeare Writing Assignments

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

I had to access an old hard drive to find the final exam that had the five questions I used for the last Conundrum. While I was looking through it, I also found a list of Shakespeare assignments that might be of interest to readers of this blog. Every now and then, not too often mind you, but every now and then, this blog is actually about teaching Shakespeare.

These assignments were for a graduate course on Shakespeare, but one in which I did not assume that the students had any prior experience in Shakespeare. I later adapted these into a list of assignments for a more advanced course on Shakespeare, which is the same class who got the final exam. The earlier class did not have a final exam, but instead were assigned to design a final exam for the course, and provide an answer guide and grading system. That assignment worked out really well. They also were given the assignments below, some of which you may notice are similar to the extra credit assignments I give my English Education students.

Please choose three of the following assignments:

1) Write at least 24 lines of iambic pentameter. This does not need to be in Elizabethan language, nor does it need to rhyme. It can be anything you want, as long as it’s once piece of cohesive writing in iambic pentameter. Each line of iambic pentameter contains ten syllables, with the stress on every second syllable.

2) Choose any text, such as a poem or a song, that has been written in the last twenty years (at least 15 lines). Add footnotes that annotate this text for an audience reading it 400 years from now who might not understand contemporary allusions and idiomatic language. Be sure to choose a text that is conducive to this assignment.

3) Choose any passage from one of the plays we’re studying this semester (at least 30 lines). Rewrite the scene in contemporary language. You may choose a contemporary setting and style as well, but try to stay as faithful to the meaning of each line as possible. The use of iambic pentameter is not required.

4) Choose a scene from one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the scene as a director and describe your concept for the scene in a 5-7 page essay.

5) Choose a character from one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the scene as an actor and trace the character’s development through the play in a 5-7 page essay.

6) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the scene as a teacher and develop a three-lesson unit plan to teach the play.

7) Watch two movie versions of one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Compare and contrast them with each other and with the original text in a 5-7 page essay.

8) See a live production of one of the one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Write a 3-5 page essay describing the choices made by the production in interpreting the text.

9) With at least one other person, prepare and present a scene from one of the plays we’re reading this semester. (minimum 15 lines each). Memorization is required. In a one-page essay, describe your reasoning for choosing this scene and the approach you intend to take.

Which assignments would you have chosen? What assignments could I have added to the list of choices? How could these assignments be adapted to make them more appropriate for high school students?