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Shakespeare and the Common Core

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Across the United States, education is undergoing a sea-change (into something rich and strange) surrounding the adoption of something called the Common Core State Standards.

Standards are simply a list of what students should be able to do by the end of each grade. Traditionally, these have been defined by states, with a requirement for them to do so by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. States still define their own standards, but, in an unprecedented act of coordination, 45 states (plus the District of Columbia and a few of the territories) have adopted the Common Core as their state standards. Full adoption has been targeted for next year, though New York has started phasing in significant portions of it this year.

Love it or hate it, the Common Core represents a new direction in pedagogical thinking, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Personally, I think the Common Core standards are a lot better than the existing New York State Standards, but we’re going to have to suffer through a difficult transition period before we can reap the benefits of that improvement. Right now is probably the most difficult time, as we have to deal with students who are not starting on what the new structure defines as grade-level, a lack of Common Core-aligned teaching materials, and uncertainty surrounding precisely how these new standards will be assessed. May you live in interesting times.

As with anything new and complex, there are going to be a number of misconceptions floating around about it. One of the most prevalent I’ve seen is that the Common Core eliminates (or at least de-emphasizes) literature, in favor of informational texts. In particular, many are convinced that Shakespeare will be replaced entirely by non-fiction, as public education descends into a Dickensian nightmare of Shakespeare-deprived conformity and standardization.

In fact, Shakespeare is mandated by the Common Core.

The confusion seems to stem from a chart that appears on page 5 of the English Language Arts Standards document, outlining the percentages of literary vs. informational texts included in the National Assessment of Educational Progress:

(Click for a larger image.)

The Common Core is explicit about aligning curricula with this framework, but it is just as explicit about how that alignment should be distributed:

Fulfilling the Standards for 6–12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional. Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.

So, despite the canard that high-school English classes will only be allowed to teach literature 30% of the time, the 70% informational text requirement refers to the entirety of student reading across the curriculum. Given that one of the major shifts is an increase in reading and writing in the content areas, the ratio makes sense.

Let’s say that, over the course of a particular unit, a high-school English teacher is assigning 3 literary texts and 1 informational text. That means that (text length aside) students are reading 75% literature in English class. And if this is the only reading the students are doing, then they are reading 75% literature overall. But now imagine that, during the same timeframe, they are also reading 2 informational texts in social studies, 2 informational texts in science, and 2 informational texts in all of their other classes combined. They are still reading 75% literature in English class, but this now represents 30% of their reading overall.

And, far from being lost in the informational-text shuffle, Shakespeare now becomes the man of the hour. As the only author explicitly required by the Common Core, Shakespeare must be taught in grades 11 and 12 (see page 38, right column, Standards 4 and 7). Shakespeare is also included in the recommended texts for grades 9 and 10 (see page 58, left column, center). And Shakespeare is not excluded for younger students either, as the standards outline only the minimum of what must be taught in each grade. The Common Core does stress using authentic texts, so updated language versions of Shakespeare would be frowned upon, but that’s actually an adjustment I can get behind.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Common Core, and a lot of objections surrounding the new changes. Some of these objections are legitimate, and some are not. I look forward to continuing that conversation as the implementation develops. But rest assured that Shakespeare isn’t going anywhere.

Shakespeare Autocorrect

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Top Ten Shakespeare Audio Productions

Monday, August 29th, 2011

In Shakespeare’s time, people did not go to “see” a play; they went to “hear” a play. Which Shakespeare play would you like to hear?

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my Shakespeare addiction that referenced the Caedmon audio production of As You Like It. Regular readers of the blog know well the extent of this addiction, but what they may not know is the degree to which that addiction includes audio productions of Shakespeare. Most people organize their mp3 playlists with different genres of music plus one “Spoken Word” category. My iPhone has a “Music” playlist, with various Spoken Word sub-genres, including several playlists of performances of Shakespeare. Given the hours upon hours I have spent listening to these productions, I am now pleased to share with you my ten very favorite selections.

Now, if this is your thing, you really need to get The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare. This is a breathtaking collection of top-quality productions of each of Shakespeare’s plays, directed by Clive Brill and with original music by Dominique Le Gendre. The advantage of buying the set is that you will then have the option to listen to any title you choose. But if you’re not ready to make that kind of investment into the eclectic world of Shakespeare audio, I can give you my own top picks so you can get your feet wet before diving into the deep end of the pool.

Standard disclaimers apply. These are based on my own preferences, which are always subject to change. I based my rankings on writing, acting, directing, production, and music. I limited myself to modern productions only, so you won’t find Paul Robeson or Orson Welles on the list. And I’m sure there are many excellent productions I haven’t listened to. Basically, these are the ten audio productions of Shakespeare I find myself returning to again and again.

And, in keeping with tradition, my top ten list will have twenty entries. Enjoy!

1. King Lear (BBC)

Directed by Glyn Dearman; Starring Sir John Gielgud (Lear), Kenneth Branagh (Edmund), Emma Thompson (Cordelia), Derek Jacobi (France), Bob Hoskins (Oswald), Judi Dench (Goneril), Michael Williams (Fool), and Richard Briers (Gloucester).

This, to me, is the definitive audio Lear. Gielgud takes a larger-than-life character and truly brings out his humanity. An all-star cast delivers solid performances across the ensemble. This is Shakespeare the way it was meant to be performed.

2. As You Like It (Caedmon)

Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind gives one of the greatest audio performances I’ve ever heard. If you’re a fan of the play, or even if you’re not, you owe it to yourself to hear this amazing production.

3. Richard III (Cambridge)

Starring Kenneth Branagh (Richard III), Celia Imrie (Queen Elizabeth), Bruce Alexander (Edward IV), Michael Maloney (Clarence), John Shrapnel (Hastings), Stella Gonet (Anne), Jamie Glover (Richmond), and Nicholas Farrell (Buckingham).

I wouldn’t really have thought of Branagh for the hunchbacked villain, but he does a great job leading a top-notch cast in performing Shakespeare’s classic history play. I never really knew how much was going on in this play until I heard this production.

4. Julius Caesar (Arkangel)

Starring Michael Feast (Julius Caesar), John Bowe (Brutus), Adrian Lester (Mark Antony), Geoffrey Whitehead (Cassius), Estelle Kohler (Portia), and Jonathan Tayler (Octavius).

I can listen to this one again and again. The exchanges between Bowe’s Brutus and Whitehead’s Cassius are electric, and Marc Antony’s powerful monologues are explosive in Lester’s more-than-capable hands.

5. The Comedy of Errors (Arkangel)

Starring David Tennant (Antipholus of Syracuse), Brendan Coyle (Antipholus of Ephesus), Alan Cox (Dromio of Syracuse), Jason O’Mara (Dromio of Ephesus), Niamh Cusack (Adriana), Sorcha Cusack (Luciana), and Trevor Peacock (Egeon).

Along his path to directing the canon, Clive Brill has a lot of fun with Shakespeare’s only slapstick comedy. Silly sound effects and comical music underscore fantastic comic performances by a brilliant cast. Remember, dying is easy; Comedy‘s hard.

6. King John (Arkangel)

Starring Michael Feast (King John), Eileen Atkins (Constance), Michael Maloney (Bastard), Geoffrey Whitehead (Phillip), Trevor Peacock (Hubert), Bill Nighy (Pandulph), and Margaret Robertson (Elinor).

Michael Maloney steals this particular show, as the Bastard often does in King John. But strong performances across the cast have the power to churn the blood and tug a few heartstrings as well.

7. Macbeth (Caedmon)

There are a number of audio Macbeths to choose from, but I give Anthony Quayle pride of place. Mood-enhancing sound effects and strong performances across the board make this production the Macbeth of choice.

8. Othello (Cambridge)

Starring Hugh Quarshie (Othello), Anton Lesser (Iago), Emma Fielding (Desdemona).

Lesser’s edgy voice creates a dangerous Iago, who provokes a genuine sense of menace. Quarshie’s passionate Othello makes for a worthy tragic figure. Together, the two performances leave us with an unforgettable audio experience.

9. Henry V (Cambridge)

Directed by David Timson; Starring Samuel West as Henry V.

This is a stirring and creative production of Henry V. Vibrant interpretations of even the minor characters make for a consistently interesting and entertaining presentation of the well-beloved history.

10. As You Like It (Arkangel)

Starring Niamh Cusak (Rosalind), Stephen Mangan (Orlando), Gerard Murphy (Jaques), Clarence Smith (Touchstone), and Victoria Hamilton (Celia).

This is a really great audio production of the play. I rated the other version much higher, but I actually prefer Dominique Le Gendre’s music in this one. And for As You Like It, the music is no insignificant character.

11. Measure for Measure (Arkangel)

Starring Roger Allan (Duke), Simon Russell Beale (Angelo), Stella Gonet (Isabella), Jonathan Firth (Claudio), and Stephen Mangan (Lucio).

Here’s another one I keep revisiting. Beale and Gonet create sparks as Angelo and Isabella, Mangan is brilliant as Lucio, and Allan’s Duke never lets you forget who’s in charge. I think I want to go listen to this one right now.

12. King Lear (Naxos)

Starring Paul Scofield (Lear), Alec McCowen (Gloucester), Kenneth Branagh (Fool), David Burke (Kent), Harriet Walter (Goneril), Emilia Fox (Cordelia), Sara Kestelman (Regan), Richard McCabe (Edgar), and Toby Stephens (Edmund).

Okay, so Paul Scofield as Lear should be enough, right? But he is supported by a great ensemble cast in a well-directed version of one of the greatest plays ever written. Check it out!

13. The Tempest (Naxos)

Starring Ian McKellen (Prospero), Scott Handy (Ariel), Emilia Fox (Miranda), Neville Jason (Antonio), Benedict Cumberbatch (Ferdinand), and Ben Onwukwe (Caliban).

Okay, so Ian McKellen as Prospero should be enough, right? But this is another high-quality Naxos masterpiece – a must-have for Shakespeare audio collectors.

14. Henry IV, Part One (Arkangel)

Starring Jamie Glover (Hal), Julian Glover (Henry IV), Alan Cox (Hotspur), and Richard Griffiths (Falstaff).

I really love this play, and the Arkangel production does it great justice. Griffiths creates a Falstaff with his voice that has the power to rival his stage counterparts. Each scene in this production is like a little gift-wrapped present.

15. Hamlet (Cambridge)

Anton Lesser is the man! This time, he lends his distinctive voice to the Melancholy Dane, striking just the right balance between contemplative and bitter, between witty and mad. There are certainly other audio Hamlets, but Lesser is greater!

16. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Naxos)

Starring Warren Mitchell (Bottom), Michael Maloney (Oberon), Sarah Woodward (Titania), Jack Ellis (Theseus), Benjamin Soames (Lysander), Jamie Glover (Demetrius), Cathy Sara (Hermia), Emily Raymond (Helena), and Ian Hughes (Puck).

Again, I have several versions of the Dream to choose from, but I think I’ll take Naxos for the win. I’ve heard these words so many times, it’s an impressive production that can still make me laugh at them.

17. Richard II (Arkangel)

Starring Rupert Graves (Richard II), Julian Glover (Bolingbroke), and John Wood (John of Gaunt).

Let’s talk of Graves. (See what I did there?) He gives an outstanding performance as Richard, which is important, because – let’s face it – he does tend to go on a little.

18. Henry VI, Part Three (Arkangel)

Starring David Tennant (Henry VI), Kelly Hunter (Margaret), Clive Merrison (York), Stephen Boxer (Edward), John Bowe (Warwick), and David Troughton (Richard).

This is the beauty of the Arkangel series. You can listen to any play, any act, any scene you like. And sometimes, you just really need to hear the “paper crown” scene. When that day comes for you, this is the recording you’ll want to have.

19. Romeo and Juliet (Arkangel)

Starring Joseph Fiennes (Romeo), Maria Miles (Juliet), and Elizabeth Spriggs (Nurse).

Dominique Le Gendre’s love theme for this production becomes the theme song for the entire Arkangel series. Fiennes and Miles are wonderful, as you knew they would be. When you want to hear this play, hear this version.

20. Twelfth Night (Cambridge)

Starring Stella Gonet (Viola), Jonathan Keeble (Orsino), Jane Whittenshaw (Maria), Malcolm Sinclair (Andrew), David Timson (Feste), Lucy Whybrow (Olivia), Christopher Godwin (Malvolio), and Gerard Murphy (Toby).

Well, what can I say, this is my twentieth favorite. But it’s the best of all of the Twelfth Night productions I own, and it’s a great presentation of a fun play, so why not give it a listen?

Fifty Apps for the iPad

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Last year, I wrote that I didn’t need an iPad, because I had an iPhone and a Macbook Air. I still have them both, and they are still working out great. But my nephews got iPads for the holidays, and this is how I bond with them, so I had to get an iPad too. How’s that for a rationalization?

But now that I’ve bought one, I’m glad I did, because it’s adding value in ways I hadn’t anticipated. True, it is basically an iPod Touch with a larger screen, but that larger screen makes a big difference. There are a lot of things I can technically do with my iPhone, but usually don’t because the screen size is too small. And I’m finding it easier to do those things on the iPad.

So here are the top ten things you can do on an iPhone or iPod Touch that you can do better on an iPad:

1. Watch: I’ve been carrying around movies and TV shows on my iPhone for years, but I’ve watched more on the iPad in the last couple of months than I ever watched on the little screen. The Videos app (Included) is the very first app on my iPad. But I’ve also signed up for accounts with Netflix (Free app + $7.99/mo.) and Hulu Plus (Free app + $7.99/mo.) that let me stream video content from their impressive libraries. The combined monthly cost is far, far less than the Cable TV I’m canceling. And apps for YouTube (Included) and ABC Player (Free) help establish the iPad as a truly flexible video viewer you can take anywhere.

2. Connect: The power of social media has risen incredibly in the past year, and the App Store (Included) has kept pace. There are a variety of apps to help keep you connected, but I use Reeder ($4.99) as my Google Reader client, Friendly (Free) as my Facebook client, and Twitter (Free) as my client to access the Twitter account I finally broke down and created so that I could follow the national conversation where it seems to have gone. You can also consolidate the three, and much more, in one app called Flipboard (Free), which formats the content into a friendly magazine layout for casual browsing. There is also a WordPress app (Free), which allows me to blog on the go, and Yahoo! Messenger (Free) – actually an iPhone app – which lets users exchange text messages and participate in voice chat. And the iPad Mail interface (Included), designed for the larger screen, is much easier to use than its iPhone counterpart.

3. Read: The biggest surprise for me on the iPad is how much I love my Kindle app (Free), which lets me download books from Amazon and read them on the iPad. And these are real books that I actually want to read, not the limited eBook selection available through Apple. However, there are a lot of places online to get free books in ePub format, which can then be imported into your iTunes library and read on iBooks (Free), so you should definitely get it. I’m a fan of Offline Pages ($4.99), which allows you to save websites (from the iPad or from your home computer) and read them on the iPad, even after you’re no longer connected to the Internet. I also highly recommend the Shakespeare Pro app ($9.99) if Shakespeare’s your thing, and the Newspapers app ($2.99), which lets you access local newspapers from across the country on a daily basis.

4. Play: Any game you can play on the iPhone, you can play on the iPad, either in the original size, or expanded to fit the screen (sometimes with the expected loss of quality). But the expanded real estate has given developers something to code about, so there is a whole spate of new games and revamped versions of old games at the ready. Plants vs. Zombies is the absolute best game to ever grace the iPhone, and Plants vs. Zombies HD ($6.99) is even better on the iPad. Games like Cover Orange HD ($0.99) and Cut the Rope HD ($1.99), which combine tricky puzzles with engaging animations, demonstrate a new level of what is possible in portable gaming. Even the simple games, like Saving Seeds HD ($0.99) or Aces Traffic Pack HD ($2.99), really make you feel like you’re using a next generation device. I was able to play GT Racing: Motor Academy ($0.99) with my two nephews, each of us on our own iPads, racing each other on the same track. This was cool on a level they could not possibly appreciate.

5. View: I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss how viewing photos is better on the larger screen, obvious as it may be. The iPad has a built-in Picture Frame feature, which lets the device function as a digital picture frame when it’s not otherwise in use. There are also apps that take advantage of the view, like Beautiful Planet HD ($0.99) that shows high-quality images from across the globe, and The Guardian Eyewitness (Free), which shows a different news photo every day. And The Elements ($13.99), the flagship app of the iPad, is everything it’s hyped to be: an interactive periodic table in which you can rotate high-quality 3D images of each of the elements. But it does take up almost 2GB of storage space, so don’t even bother with it if you’re only working with 16GB.

6. Work: The iPad is expensive to begin with, so it seems worth it to me to invest just a bit more in the iWork suite – Pages ($9.99), Numbers ($9.99), and Keynote ($9.99) – to add value to your device. I’ve also become fond of GoodReader ($2.99), which reads PDF files, and Teleprompt+ ($9.99), which allows you to load up text documents from your desktop and use the iPad as your own portable teleprompter. Try that with an iPhone.

7. Organize: I’ve actually not had a problem with the Calendar app on the iPhone, but the iPad’s Calendar interface (Included) makes it possible to see my whole month at a glance, which is a useful feature. As a MobileMe user, I like to use iDisk (Free app + $99/yr. for MobileMe) to coordinate between my desktop, laptop, iPhone, and iPad, but if you’re not a member, I’ve heard good things about Dropbox (Free app + Dropbox account). And I have to mention the Delivery Status app ($4.99), which lets you follow multiple packages from FedEx, UPS, etc. as they are tracked through the system.

8. Browse: The fact that the iPhone had a fully functioning web browser was a major breakthrough, but the iPad takes it a step further. It’s not only that the screen is larger, but also the fact that it allows you to view the full versions of your favorite websites, as opposed to the version optimized for mobile devices. Safari (Included) also syncs your bookmarks bar from its desktop counterpart (via MobileMe, I think), which I have found very convenient. It’s worth checking to see if the websites you frequent have their own apps as well. I recommend Google (Free), WolframAlpha ($1.99), and Articles ($4.99), which is a sharp-looking Wikipedia client.

9. Explore: Here’s how you know you are living in the future. Download GoSkyWatch Planetarium (Free) to your iPad. Then point it at the sky at night. It will display for you the same stars at which you are gazing, along with their names and even the constellations drawn in. Move the iPad around and the display will adjust. It’s also worth getting Solar Walk ($2.99), which gives you more freedom to move around the solar system and see what’s going on, including watching our own artificial satellites as they orbit around the Earth. The more expansive interface also breathes new life into old favorites such as Maps (Included) and Google Earth (Free).

10. Distract: So you’ve bought your iPad and now the kids want to play with it. What can you download to keep them out of your online banking app? The boys have their favorites, but Elena, who is now almost two, can work the icons along with the best of them, even knowing to hit the menu button when she’s bored with one app and wants to switch to another. Voting with her fingers, she recommends Sound Touch ($2.99), Art in Motion ($2.99), Tesla Toy ($1.99), and Drawing Pad ($0.99). Ian (age six) is really into roller coasters, so he enjoys games like New York 3D Rollercoaster Rush HD ($4.99) and Underground 3D Rollercoaster Rush HD ($4.99). But he really loves an app called Coaster Physics ($0.99), which lets him design his own roller coaster and then ride on it as he learns about kinetic and potential energy. He also likes to practice his Dolch sight words with All Sight Words ($0.99) and play Math Bingo ($0.99), while his older brother Jason (age eight) prefers MathBoard ($3.99) to hone his arithmetic skills. I highly recommend the BrainPOP Featured Movie (Free) and PBS’s SUPER WHY! ($3.99), two excellent educational apps by sources from whom we’d expect no less. And there are a whole host of apps that simulate baking different sugary confections, but Cupcakes! XL ($0.99) makes the best use of the iPad’s capabilities.

I certainly mean no disrespect to the iPhone. It’s still, hands down, the coolest thing I’ve ever owned, including the iPad. It has a phone and a camera and it fits in my pocket, so the new kid is really no threat. The iPhone is also better for listening to audio, recording voice memos, MusicID, and playing Doodle Jump or Catan. Most of the things I do with the iPad are things I wasn’t really doing with the iPhone anyway. So the iPad did add value after all.

And now all of my portable digital requirements really are met, and I therefore have no need for any new thing that should happen to be introduced by Apple or anyone else.

Do I?

Arrested Development: A Freudian Analysis

Friday, October 16th, 2009

With rumors of an Arrested Development movie in the works, contrary to earlier rumors that it was not, it seems like a good time to look back at the amazing TV series America discovered just a bit too late. As critics and fans appropriately sing the praises of the brilliant creative team being reassembled, I thought I’d say a few words about the spiritual grandfather of the series, without whom none of this would have been possible: Sigmund Freud. My intent here will not be to add a layer of Freudian analysis on top of the show, but rather to demonstrate the strong Freudian currents that already run throughout the series. If that appeals to you, just lie back on the couch, and read on!

Michael Bluth is established as the central character in the opening credits, and all of the other characters are defined by their relationship to him. The family, therefore, represents Michael’s psyche in all of its facets. Michael has three siblings, who represent his id, ego, and superego. Older brother G.O.B. is the id, seeking pleasure and avoiding responsibility at every turn. He often wins the things Michael wants by pursuing them without any of Michael’s second-guessing. Sister Lindsay represents the ego, constantly refashioning her definition of self to gain the attention and approval of others. It is no coincidence that she is framed as Michael’s twin. Younger brother Buster is the superego, living his life by others’ rules and in constant fear of his own independence. His obvious issues reflect Michael’s more subtle inability to break free from his family. But Michael can no more escape them than he can distance himself from his own psyche; they are a part of him.

Even in the series finale, when Michael finally fulfills his wish to be free of them, he winds up face to face with the one person he most wants to avoid, his father. Michael’s number one driving force throughout the series is the very Freudian desire to supplant his father: he wants to replace his father as the president of the Bluth Company, and he wants to be a better father to his son George-Michael than George Sr. was to him. (The names here are no coincidence; George-Michael combines the names of his father and grandfather, and they are to live on through him. Does George Sr. have another grandchild who can carry on his legacy? Maeby.) George Sr. is a very dominant figure to this family – powerful, controlling, sexually voracious. He also has an alter ego in his identical twin brother Oscar, who is carefree and nurturing. Note that Oscar is George Sr.’s middle name as well. It is built into the show’s premise that one of them must be imprisoned at all times. In one episode, they are both out of prison, and they fight. Being twins, neither is able to defeat the other. This represents the duality of Michael’s father image.

Just as George Sr. is an archetypical father figure, Lucille is a controlling mother right out of the Freudian playbook. She is the one who pulls all of the strings, and she’s not above pitting her children against each other as a power play. When Buster (Michael’s superego) disobeys her just once, he literally has a body part bitten off by a “loose seal,” a deliberate play on Mom’s name, justifying his castration anxiety. When Buster first dates, it’s a mature woman named Lucille. Again, Buster’s obvious issues highlight the dynamics of the family as a whole. A recurring theme with Buster is having borderline-incestuous overtones in his relationship with his mother. In fact, incest is much more of a theme on this show than one would normally expect on network television, particularly the tension between George-Michael and his cousin Maeby, but in several other places as well. Lucille has an affair with her brother-in-law. George Sr. and G.O.B. independently see a prostitute that Michael suspects might be his sister (and who is conspicuously played by the actor’s sister). When Lindsay finds out she’s adopted, the first thing she does is make a pass at Michael.

Tobias, as an in-law, is outside of this system of Michael’s psyche, but is close enough to it to provide commentary. He serves as the voice of the analyst (or therapist, or… whatever), and his tidbits of psychoanalysis are all Freud. But Tobias himself is the most overtly Freudian character of them all, as he constantly expresses his repressed homosexual desires through his layered speech patterns. Barry Zuckercorn, who (unlike Tobias) acts on his desires and lies about it, often makes Freudian slips revealing his activity, due to a subconscious desire to be found out. More subtle examples of subconscious feelings revealing themselves through language patterns are found throughout the series, as with Michael’s inability to remember Anne’s name masking his hostility towards her or with George-Michael’s talking about Maeby and inadvertently revealing his lustful thoughts.

One of Freud’s major contributions was in demonstrating how early experiences in our lives can affect the people we will later become, and Arrested Development keeps coming back to this theme. The “lessons” George Sr. teaches his children return to them repeatedly later in life. Michael’s affinity for playacting the role of a lawyer can be traced back to a role he had in a school play. One can only imagine the memories being formed by the kids who acted in the warden’s play. The “Boyfights” that Michael and G.O.B. engaged in as children helped form the relationship they have as adults… to the degree that they have become adults.

And here we have one of the most important themes of the series, found in the very title. Freud originated the concept of stage-based development, which would later influence such thinkers as Erikson and Piaget. If one’s development is “arrested” it means that he or she does not normally move into the next stage at the appropriate time. In the series Arrested Development, adult characters often display juvenile characteristics and continue to play out family dynamics they should have long outgrown, again demonstrating how early experiences can be formative in deciding who we will be later in life. Freud would have been proud.

You may notice that, in all of my discussion of Freud, I have avoided discussing some of the more phallic imagery in the show. But sometimes a banana stand is just a banana stand.

Using Data

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Yesterday, I gave a workshop for teachers on using data to improve student achievement. This is something that is going to become an increasing part of my work, so I may be blogging about it from time to time. The idea is to cull information about students from a variety of sources, systematically analyze that information in order to identify areas of improvement, and then create an action plan for targeting those areas.

In some cases, the results of careful data analysis can be surprising. So often we jump to conclusions about why students aren’t achieving, or we depend on underlying assumptions that may be based on our own pre-conceived notions. Consider for a moment this piece of student work:

Laugh if you must, but it’s easy to get the wrong idea from only a cursory examination. Further investigation revealed that the child’s mother works at Home Depot, and is here depicted selling snow shovels. And if you only relied on your initial observations and didn’t investigate further, you could be lead astray.

Hopefully, the systematic use of data will allow us to avoid such snap judgements and take a more scientific approach to improving student achievement.

Shakespeare Lipogram: Hamlet

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

This is the fourth in a five-part series of Shakespeare Lipograms. For my fourth lipogram, I have chosen to summarize a Tragedy, Hamlet, using “O” as the only vowel.


Forlorn Son

Two on post show Old Crown Lord’s Ghost to Bosom Cohort, who looks on spook from top to bottom. Bosom Cohort knows to show Ghost to Forlorn Son. Forlorn Son dons low moods, won’t show known Crown Lord props. Forlorn Son broods:

“O God! O God! How worlds rot! How’s Pop forgot so soon? Not two months lost, no, not so, not two. So good to comfort Mom. Now – oh no! – to go from joy to sorrow. Crown Lord mocks protocol to hook control of stronghold so pronto to follow Pop’s drop-off. Took Mom for consort too soon, too soon. O, Mom shows so hollow! So not cool.”

Cross Hotblood told Moon Tot not to grow too fond of Forlorn Son, for Moon Tot’s born too lowbrow to show Forlorn Son how to don crowns. Top Lord told Cross Hotblood world-won words: “Son, do not borrow – not from, nor to – for to do so oft shows not gold nor cohort to follow.” Top Lord told Moon Tot not to grow too fond of Forlorn Son too, for boys’ vows oft show too hollow. Moon Tot conforms.

Bosom Cohort shows Ghost to Forlorn Son. Ghost told Forlorn Son to follow. Ghost shows Forlorn Son books of sorrow, from Ghost’s own bro, Crown Lord. “Son, for honor, go knock on Crown Lord’s door, who took to rob Pop of crown, of growth, of consort – lost! Do not scold Consort Mom. Now go!” Forlorn Son opts to go from low moods to mock fool.

Crown Lord now longs to know roots of Forlorn Son’s odd moods. Top Lord shows Crown Lord how Forlorn Son’s soft spot for Moon Tot grows odd moods. Consort Mom looks to how Forlorn Son sobs for Pop for roots of Forlorn Son’s odd moods. Forlorn Son shows two old school cohorts (who snoop for Crown Lord) how loss of Pop’s crown grows odd moods. Crown Lord knows not of Ghost’s words. Top Lord shows Show Troop to Forlorn Son. Show Troop shows off for Forlorn Son. Forlorn Son shows Show Troop how to form shows to work on crooks.

Crown Lord snoops on Forlorn Son. Top Lord snoops too. Forlorn Son broods solo: “To go on, or not to go on? Moot. To drop off? To nod down to stop lots of wrongs? Or to go to post-worlds of doom? No! Horror works on lots of cold-foot poltroons. So, do go on. Do go on. Soft! How now, Moon Tot?” Moon Tot confronts Forlorn Son. Forlorn Son scorns Moon Tot to go to God’s fold.

Crown Lord cottons to go to Show Troop’s show “Knock Off.” Crown Lord holds no joy to look on Show Troop’s show. Crown Lord opts to go, so Forlorn Son now knows. For Crown Lord to go off shows proof of Ghost Pop’s word. Top Lord told Forlorn Son to go to Consort Mom’s room. Forlorn Son looks on Crown Lord’s stoop to roods. Forlorn Son won’t knock off Crown Lord to go to God. Forlorn Son holds on. Forlorn Son shocks Consort Mom. Top Lord snoops. Forlorn Son swords… Crown Lord? No, Top Lord. Oops. Forlorn Son scolds Consort Mom, so Ghost Pop shows to stop Forlorn Son short.

Crown Lord books Forlorn Son’s two old school cohorts to convoy Forlorn Son to London. Forlorn Son looks on Oslo Lord’s troops. Oslo Lord’s honor grows on Forlorn Son. Cross Hotblood shows to look for Crown Lord’s blood. Lots of townsfolk show for Cross Hotblood. Crown Lord knows to look to Forlorn Son for Cross Hotblood’s honor. Cross Hotblood looks on Moon Tot, who shows odd moods. Cross Hotblood vows to knock off Forlorn Son. Moon Tot drowns.

Forlorn Son bolts both old school cohorts. Morons. Forlorn Son shows tomb-lot to Bosom Cohort. Two Tomb-lot Clowns fool to Forlorn Son. Both show Old Fool’s crown to Forlorn Son, who broods: “Forsooth, poor Old Fool. Known to stronghold folks, Bosom Cohort. How oft Old Fool told stronghold folks how to roll. How doom follows Old Fool now. Go to Mom’s room, Old Fool, show how fools rot. Mom won’t howl. Bosom Cohort, follow. Lords or lowbrows both go to worms’ food, or for chocks to stop hooch pots. Soft! Crown Lord shows!” Forlorn Son looks on Crown Lord, who comforts Consort Mom. Cross Hotblood sobs to go down to Moon Tot’s tomb. Forlorn Son hops down to confront Cross Hotblood. Both opt for swords.

Cross Hotblood blots hot sword. Crown Lord blots strong port. Both form doom for Forlorn Son. Forlorn Son shows. Forlorn Son bows to Cross Hotblood for Top Lord boo-boo. Both hold swords for sport row. Both go. Crown Lord holds port to honor Forlorn Son. Forlorn Son longs not for port. Consort Mom downs strong port. Oops.

Forlorn Son shows strong to notch two blows on Cross Hotblood. Cross Hotblood swords Forlorn Son. Ow! Forlorn Son swords Cross Hotblood, who drops hot sword. Forlorn Son now holds Cross Hotblood’s hot sword. Cross Hotblood now holds Forlorn Son’s cold sword. Forlorn Son swords Cross Hotblood, who knows both now look on doom. Consort Mom drops from strong port. Cross Hotblood told Forlorn Son of hot sword, of strong port, of Crown Lord’s non-honor. Forlorn Son swords Crown Lord, floods Crown Lord’s gob of strong port. “Follow Mom!” Crown Lord drops off.

Forlorn Son looks to Cross Hotblood. Both smooth off storms of loss for honor. Cross Hotblood drops off. Forlorn Son stoops down. Forlorn Son sponsors Oslo Lord to hold crown now. Forlorn Son drops off. Bosom Cohort croons: “Good morrow, good crown lord’s son. Go to God on good songs.” London Lord shows to post word of Forlorn Son’s two old school cohorts lost. Oslo Lord shows, now top dog. Both sob for loss. Oslo Lord drops word for troops to go shoot.

Next Lipogram: Measure for Measure

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?

Conundrum: Pic Tac Toe IV

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

In a “Pic Tac Toe” puzzle, there are nine pictures in a three-by-three grid, like Tic-Tac-Toe. In each row, column, and diagonal, there is a common theme that unites the three pictures. The challenge is to find the eight themes.

You can click on each image to see a larger version:

NOTE: Pictures 4 and 6 carry a watermark from iStockphoto. This is not part of the puzzle.

Please post whatever you come up with in the comments section.


UPDATE: Correct themes provided by Neel Mehta (1) and Annalisa (6). See comments for all answers.

Living Descendants of King Henry the Eighth

Monday, September 10th, 2007

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. Recently, I’ve had a number of hits from people looking to find out about living descendants of King Henry VIII. My site isn’t really about that, but I thought I’d provide an answer anyway, as a public service.

There are no living descendants of King Henry VIII.

Henry’s father, King Henry VII, had four offspring who lived past childhood: Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. Arthur was always expected to be the next king, but he died in 1502. When Henry VII died in 1509, the kingdom was passed to his younger son, crowned Henry VIII.

Henry VIII had four known living offspring from four different women. His first wife, Catherine of Arragon, gave him a daughter, Mary (born 1516). He had an illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy (born 1519), with his mistress Elizabeth Blount. His second wife, Ann Boleyn, had a daughter Elizabeth (born 1533). His third wife, Jane Seymour, had a son, Edward (born 1537). Henry VIII would have three more wives, but no more children to carry on his line. And as we shall see, none of his four branches would bear fruit.

Henry FitzRoy died in 1536, while his father was still alive.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, young Edward became King Edward VI, but died in 1553 with no heir. He was 15 years old. That was the end of Henry’s Y chromosome. But what about the daughters?

There was a brief reign by Lady Jane Grey (not a descendant of Henry VIII, but a granddaughter of his sister Mary) and then Henry VIII’s daughter Mary took the throne as Queen Mary I of England. You may know her as Bloody Mary.

(Don’t confuse either Mary with Mary Queen of Scots, who was yet a third Mary. She is a descendant of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret. We’ll come back to her in a bit.)

Mary I of England died in 1558 with no offspring, leaving the country in the capable hands of her sister Elizabeth. During the 45-year-long reign of Queen Elizabeth I, we saw a new Golden Age which included the rise of Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. But alas, we saw no heir. Elizabeth died in 1603, ending her father’s biological legacy forever.

The crown then passed to the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who was James VI of Scotland at the time. He became King James I of England. And Shakespeare quickly began work on Macbeth. Note that the British monarchy even today can be traced back to King Henry VII, the father of King Henry VIII.

But King Henry VIII himself has no known living descendants.

I hope this was helpful for at least some of you. For the rest of you, expect a new Conundrum tomorrow.

UPDATE: An anagram version of the answer!