Archive for the 'The Brain' Category

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Biochemistry

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

In As You Like It, Le Beau gives some friendly advice to Orlando:

Good sir, I do in friendship counsel you
To leave this place. Albeit you have deserv’d
High commendation, true applause and love,
Yet such is now the duke’s condition
That he misconstrues all that you have done.
The duke is humorous: what he is indeed,
More suits you to conceive than I to speak of.

The duke is humorous? He doesn’t sound very humorous to me. Can we get a Shakespeare Follow-Up?

The “humours” referred to four bodily fluids that were believed to affect one’s mood and personality: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. This was a theory that traced back as far as the ancient Greeks, and it was widely accepted in Shakespeare’s time. An imbalance of any one of these fluids in a person would have a particular effect. So, the duke is moody, not funny. And this use of the word is fairly consistent across the canon. So when Antipholus of Syracuse says he is not in a “sportive humour,” or Benedick says “a college of witcrackers cannot flout me out of my humour,” or Petruchio says “I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour,” none of them are talking about the funny.

It’s clearly a retrochronism, but understanding a little bit about the humors can actually shed some light on quite a few lines in Shakespeare, so let’s review.

An excess of blood was thought to make you sanguine, and the cheerfully happy word actually comes from the Latin for bloody. So when Sir Toby Belch asks “Am not I consanguineous? am I not of her blood?,” he is using the term to describe a blood relationship.

Phlegm leads to quiet rationality. Kant actually thought it was the absence of temperament. Mistress Quickly therefore misapplies the term in The Merry Wives of Windsor when she beseeches Doctor Caius to “be not so phlegmatic.” She is trying to calm his anger down. She should have said “choleric.”

Choler stems from yellow bile (from the Greek “chole” for bile), and the word appears frequently in Shakespeare to describe anger or bellicosity. The black (”melan-”) variety of bile (”chole”) was also a frequently used theme. I’ve already written about melancholy in Shakespeare in an earlier post, so I don’t need to repeat it all here. The important thing to remember is that Shakespeare and his audience would have believed that these moods were caused by an imbalance of fluids. This is why bloodletting was such a popular medical practice; they believed they could remove the excess humours by drawing blood or applying leeches.

A poetic reference to bloodletting appears in King Richard II, as Richard attempts to sooth the conflict between Bolingbroke and Mowbray:

Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be rul’d by me;
Let’s purge this choler without letting blood:
This we prescribe, though no physician;
Deep malice makes too deep incision:
Forget, forgive; conclude and be agreed,
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.

The complainants are seeking a duel, another way to purge choler by letting blood. Richard reframes their grievances as merely an imbalance of yellow bile, and uses the bloodletting metaphor to advocate a more peaceful solution. (It doesn’t work.)

In the 19th century, humours and bloodletting fell out of fashion as medical science developed a better understanding of human biochemistry. Apparently, though, the idea of the four humors survives today as a popular screenwriting technique.

On a somewhat-unrelated final note, do you know why the “funny bone” got its name? Because it’s the humerus! And I hope you find that humorous.

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Nature vs. Nurture

Friday, November 8th, 2013

The term “nature vs. nurture” is a poetic turn of phrase that refers to an ongoing reexamination of the roles that heredity and environment play in determining who we are as individuals. The expression was popularized in the 19th century by Francis Galton, though the debate and the phrase had been around much longer than his day. In fact, Shakespeare himself juxtaposed the two words in The Tempest, as Prospero describes Caliban thusly:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick;

Shakespeare was not the first to contrast these two words, but Galton is known to have been a Shakespeare fan, and it seems reasonable to imagine this was his source.

Shakespeare’s plays are filled with models of the intricate workings of human nature, depictions of how individuals are influenced by external factors, and the complicated interplay between the two. As we will soon see, Shakespeare was also an early voice in this conversation, and an often-quoted source by later thinkers as well. Therefore, our Shakespeare Follow-Up will focus on the development of the nature vs. nurture debate from Shakespeare’s time to ours today.

But please note that this is a very large topic, and I’m going to sweep through it rather quickly, so feel free to do your own follow up on any topic here that interests you.

Political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are often grouped together as “social contract theorists,” because they presented ideas about how and why humans form societies. But when considering their impact on the nature/nurture question, it’s more illustrative to focus on their differences.

In Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes argued that human beings, existing in a state of nature, are savage and brutal. Therefore, we willingly surrender our autonomy to a sovereign unconditionally in order to gain security from our murderous brethren. John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), lays out the idea that we refer to today as tabula rasa, or “the blank slate.” Rather than seeing human beings as being innately evil, as Hobbes does, he sees us as being neither good nor evil naturally, but rather open to influence from our environments. Jean-Jacques Rousseau presents a different view of the natural state of the human in his book Émile (1762). For Rousseau, humans are born innately good, and it is society that corrupts.

Naturally, the choice of which of these three views to adopt will have a profound effect on how a culture views education and child rearing. We can’t control the nature, but we can structure the nurture to make the best use of our understanding of it. If we believe that human beings are born evil, we’ll want to make discipline the backbone of our educational system. If we believe that children are blank slates, we’ll seek to fill those slates with our best models for citizenship and morality. If we believe that our students are innately good, then maybe the best thing we could do would be to just get out of the way and let them explore the world they find themselves in. You can hear echoes of these debates in today’s conversations about education.

In the post-Darwinian era, psychologists began to codify the progression of human development into various stages. The progression was determined by nature, but profoundly impacted by environment. Sigmund Freud described five psycho-sexual stages of development in childhood. The eight psycho-social stages outlined by Erik Erikson were strongly influenced by Freud, but extended to adulthood.

But wait! A lifetime of human progression divided into stages? Why does that sound familiar? Oh right…

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

It seems that Jacques in As You Like It was on the right track, centuries ahead of his time. Freud famously wrote about Hamlet, and Erikson even cites Shakespeare’s “ages of man” in his 1962 article “Youth: Fidelity and Diversity,” which also provides an in-depth discussion of Hamlet.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) developed a set of four stages of cognitive development that have been profoundly influential in our understanding of human nature. Piaget believed that these stages developed naturally, and that new levels of learning become possible at each stage. Score one point for nature! Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) built on these ideas, but demonstrated that learning could actually encourage cognitive development. There is a zone between what students are capable of doing on their own and what they can do in an environment that includes guidance and collaboration. Stretching into this zone can assist children in progressing developmentally. There’s one point for nurture, and it’s a tie game.

In fact, it will always be a tie game. Everyone agrees that both nature and nurture are significant, and we can argue about various degrees. Noam Chomsky (1928 – ) revolutionized the field of linguistics by describing, in Syntactic Structures (1957), the innate ability of the human brain to acquire language. This was a challenge to the behaviorist philosophy that was dominant at the time. In Frames of Mind (1983), Howard Gardner describes a system of multiple intelligences that different people seem to possess in different measures. The rise of theories such as Chomsky’s and Gardner’s would seem to move the needle towards nature, but the fact that they continue to influence our educational practices demonstrate the importance of nurture in the equation all the more powerfully.

Shakespeare, of course, didn’t know any of this. Nevertheless, his understanding of the complex interplay between nature and nurture was nuanced enough for him to create models that still have us debating the actions and motivations of fictional characters as though they were real people. Why, for example, does Macbeth kill Duncan? Is it because he’s ambitious? Or does he succumb to pressure from his wife? If it’s the former, would he have done so without prompting from the witches? And if it’s the latter, what elements of his nature make him susceptible to his wife’s influence?

I give up. What do you think, Lady Macbeth?

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promis’d. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way; thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it; what thou wouldst highly,
That thou wouldst holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win; thou’dst have, great Glamis,
That which cries, ‘Thus thou must do, if thou have it;’
And that which rather thou dost fear to do
Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown’d withal.

A lot of these Follow-Ups are about how much Shakespeare didn’t know. This one is about how much he still has to teach us.

Don’t Be Rotten to the Core

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

I thought I’d take this opportunity, while the federal government is shut down over the question of its own power to legislate, to talk about another somewhat controversial initiative, namely the Common Core State Standards.

It should be noted that this is not a simple left-right issue. At a recent conference, I heard Kim Marshall joke that he never thought he’d see national standards because “the right doesn’t like national, and the left doesn’t like standards.” So, as you might expect, the Common Core seems to be embraced by moderates in both parties, while being attacked by extremists on both sides. Teachers and parents, who are the most directly affected by the changes, express the same range of opinions as policymakers and pundits. So, the discussion continues.

To get a sense of the issues involved, as well as the general tone, check out this New York Times editorial by Bill Keller, and this response by Susan Ohanian.

For the record, I agree with the Bill Keller editorial (you can just change that “K” into an “H” and we’re good). I’m a fan of the Common Core, though I have a number of concerns about the way it’s being implemented. But I respect the opinions of many who oppose it, and understand the quite valid reasons why they do. Unfortunately, most of the rhetoric that I encounter against the initiative is either focused on areas that have very little to do with the standards themselves, or are based in a fog of misinformation.

Now, if you’ve read the standards, and you honestly believe that we should not want our students to be able to cite evidence from informational texts to support an argument, I’m very willing to have that conversation. If you think the Common Core shifts aren’t the right direction for our students, I’m very willing to have that conversation. If you have a problem with emphasizing literacy in the content areas, I’m very willing to have that conversation. That’s just not the conversation I’ve been hearing about the Common Core, and if we’re going to discuss these very large-scale changes in the way they deserve to be discussed, we need to clear the air of distractions and distortions.

With that in mind, I present the Top Ten Most Common Objections to the Common Core, and my responses to them. This is meant to be the beginning of a conversation and not the last word, so please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section below.

1. The Common Core is too rigorous. The standards are not developmentally appropriate.

I think we’re feeling that now because we’re transitioning into these standards from a less rigorous system. If students come in on grade level, what they’re being asked to learn in each year is very reasonable. The problem is that we’re so far from that “if,” that the standards can often seem very unreasonable. Add to that a rushed implementation, complete with career-destroying and school-closing accountability, and the Common Core expectations can leave a very bad taste in our mouths.

What’s more, the Common Core includes qualitative shifts as well as quantitative shifts, so students will be as unfamiliar with the new ways of learning as their teachers are. The good news is that each year we implement the Common Core, students will become more used to Common Core ideas such as text-based answers and standards of mathematical practice, and will be better prepared for the work of their grade each year. It will likely get worse before it gets better, but I do think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will at least become visible in the next year or two.

2. The Common Core is not rigorous enough. My state had better standards before.

Well, the standards are meant to represent only the minimum of where students need to be in their grade level in order to be on track for college and career readiness by the end of Grade 12. So if you can meet these standards and then exceed them, more power to you. States that adopt the Common Core are also free to change up to 15%, and to add additional standards as well.

So here in New York State, we added Pre-K standards that aren’t in the national version, we put in additional standards throughout the documents (including Responding to Literature standards in ELA and teaching money in early-grade math classrooms), and we still retain the state-wide content standards in social studies and science that students need to pass their Regents. And even where states are slacking, a high-performing school won’t suddenly lower their standards just because they can. That’s not how they became high-performing schools in the first place.

3. The Common Core is a mandated top-down program that infringes on state control of schools.

The Common Core is not mandated by the federal government. States can choose to adopt the Common Core or opt out. I hesitate to present the most blindingly obvious of proofs, but here we go: not all of the states adopted the standards. Some states chose to opt out. That should suffice as proof enough that states can choose to opt out if they want to.

Did the federal government sweeten the deal by adding Race to the Top incentives for states that adopted the Common Core? Yes. But that’s bribery, not coersion. You can say no to a bribe, even if you need the money. And this wasn’t even that much of a bribe, as everyone knew there were only going to be a limited number of states that won Race to the Top funding and Common Core adoption was far from a guarantee.

Whether you love or hate the Common Core, it was your state legislature that adopted the standards, and the credit or blame should be placed there. States are just as capable of having cynical self-serving politicians as the federal government is, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But some states may have genuinely adopted the Common Core to improve education for their students, even if you don’t think it will.

Frankly, I’m no more a fan of Race to the Top than I was of No Child Left Behind. I don’t think states should have to compete for education funding. And there were other incentives in the Race to the Top formula I had issues with, like the charter school expansions. But these are criticisms of federal education policy, and not the Common Core standards themselves.

4. The Common Core is a result of the corporate reform movement that’s undermining public education.

Maybe.

I don’t think the standards do undermine public education, though, and I believe the people who actually put them together are earnest in their attempts to improve it. I’m not blind to some of the strange bedfellows involved with the process, but if an idea leads to good things, I don’t care where it comes from. This is an argument that just doesn’t work on its own. Just because Bill Gates funded it, it isn’t necessarily Windows 7. Zing!

5. The Common Core is only about testing and accountability.

I hate to break it to you, but the testing and accountability movement has been around a lot longer than the Common Core. We’re already teaching to the test, so it makes sense to design a better test, one worth teaching to. You can read about early attempts to align New York’s state-wide exams to the Common Core in this article, and I’m quoted towards the end, but the bottom line is that they didn’t go very well.

Two multi-state consortiums are now hard at work to build a better test, though this turns out to be a tougher job than they originally thought. They are talking about having students take the state-wide (actually, consortium-wide) tests on computers, which means that every school needs to have computers. That could be a logistical nightmare in itself, but it could also mean more funding for computers in schools.

In New York City, teachers are being evaluated through a system that uses test scores, in one form or another, as 40% of a teacher’s score, while the other 60% will be based on the Danielson Framework. In my opinion, that’s a vast improvement over using test scores alone, which even the Gates-funded MET study doesn’t endorse.

6. The Common Core is a conspiracy to keep the poor uneducated.

No, that’s what we have now. There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement. Having a set of common standards is one step in the process of attempting to close that gap.

7. The Common Core replaces literature with government manuals.

That simply isn’t true. There is an entire section of the standards that covers Reading Literature. There may be a government manual listed somewhere in the examples of informational texts, but it’s disingenuous to hold that up as the centerpiece of Common Core expectations for student reading. Anyone who makes this argument is either unfamiliar with the standards, or uninterested in engaging in a serious discussion about them.

8. People are making money from the Common Core!

This is true, in as much as we need people to write tests, publish classroom materials, and train teachers. But we would have needed this anyway, Common Core or no.

Liberals tend to think that everyone should do their jobs with the purest of motives, and if someone’s profiting from something, it must be an evil conspiracy. Conservatives tend to believe the opposite: that if you made money from an idea, then that proves the idea had market value, and those who improve the system deserve to profit from their innovations. I take a more neutral view of profit’s correlation with good in the world. I work in teacher training, and the Common Core affects what I teach, but not how often I teach or how much money I make. I have no financial interest in defending the Common Core.

Keller’s editorial estimates the costs of the new tests at about $29 per student, in a system that spends over $9,000 per student in a year. You might not like the Common Core for other reasons, but cost alone can’t be the only reason to oppose it.

9. These Common Core-aligned materials I have are bad.

I don’t doubt it. But just because a product claims to be “Common Core-aligned,” it doesn’t mean that it is Common Core-endorsed. I have no end of problems with the range of “Common Core-aligned” curricula being rolled out by New York City alone. This is not a function of poor standards, but rather poor implementation.

By the way, a lot of the Common Core-aligned materials were delayed getting into schools this year, even as teachers were required to start using them. You don’t have to convince me that we’re having implementation problems.

And I spent last summer modifying my own organization’s social studies curricula to be Common Core-aligned, and I feel strongly that our products improved immensely because of it.

10. The Common Core is untested, and shouldn’t be implemented on such a large scale without a pilot program.

This is from Reign of Error author Diane Ravitch, and she makes a fair point. But nothing’s written in stone. The standards will work in some ways and need mending in others. And where they need mending, we’ll mend them. Ten years from now, we may come to see the current version of the Common Core as a really good first draft. Or we may remember it as New Coke. There’s no way to know until we try it out. That can be used as an argument for it as well as against it.

I do think that we should do everything we can do to make it work. That’s the only way we’ll really know if it doesn’t.

Honorable Mention: President Obama is for it, and therefore I must be against it.

Hey, look! Someone over there is getting health care.

I really do see a lot of parallel between the Affordable Care Act debacle and the Common Core controversy. Tea party Republicans want to talk about how Obamacare will destroy the economy and force the government between you and your doctor and lead to the apocalypse, but they really oppose it on ideological principles. If they would talk about their principles, we could have an honest debate, but they know these principles sound cold and selfish, so they obfuscate. Common Core opponents dance around the actual changes being made in education because most of them make sense. The real concern, as I see it, is the danger of the larger corporate-funded movement to use testing and data to prove the ineffectiveness of public education in order to move to a privatized free-market system.

That’s a concern worth discussing directly, and I’m very willing to have that conversation.

In the Zone

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

As we begin implementing the Common Core State Standards this year, many of the schools I advise are having very similar problems with grade-level readiness. This isn’t a new problem, to be sure, but it has become intensified by Common Core expectations. The Common Core standards are more rigorous than last year’s New York State standards, so even students who were on grade level last year have some catching up to do. Also, built into the DNA of the Common Core is the idea of a “staircase of complexity” in which students must master the standards of the prior year before they are ready for the standards of the current year. In other words, they must master the 5th-grade standards in order to become 6th-grade ready.

For example, students in Kindergarten learn to state an opinion (”My favorite book is…”). In Grade 1, they provide a reason for their opinion. In Grade 4, they support their reasons with information, while in Grade 6 they write arguments to support claims with reasons and evidence. In math, students are expected to be effortlessly fluent in addition and subtraction by the end of Grade 2, so they will be ready to begin fractions in Grade 3. By the end of Grade 5, their understanding of fractions is thorough enough to begin algebra in the 6th grade. It’s a well-structured progression that brings students step-by-step from Kindergarten to college and career readiness by providing incremental support based on the learning that has accrued through the previous years of instruction in every grade.

What happens, then, during the first year of implementation? Our students aren’t even coming in on grade level based on the old standards, let alone the more rigorous standards demanded by (and required for) the Common Core. Our 6th graders aren’t coming in having mastered fractions or the opinion essay. Their reading levels do not prepare them to approach the complex texts in the new reading band levels, which themselves are set higher than previous levels by the Common Core (as can be seen in the chart at the bottom of page 8 of the ELA Appendix A):

(Click for a larger image.)

And this problem is even more profound in high school, where the high-stakes Regents Exams are looming, and many students aren’t even prepared to read the instructions.

In a December 2011 keynote titled “What Must Be Done in the Next Two Years” (you can download the transcript here), David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core Standards, addresses the idea of grade-level readiness. He’s a brilliant man who speaks with a persuasive confidence, but he’s on the wrong side of this particular issue.

But for your sakes, the really exciting thing is for the first time there’s a measure in the standards that insists that students at each level are encountering texts of adequate complexity.

Nonetheless, you could nonetheless be defeated, because the most popular instructional practice for students who are behind is to replace their core reading with leveled text at their level, right? So if you were to actually look at what your kids are being given, they are constantly matched in this seeming noble idea that you should match everything they read to where they are today, often called a proximal zone of development, et cetera.

Let me be rather clear. Leveled readers and reading at your own level has a crucial role to play for kids in terms of their vocabulary growth, their love of reading, and has a very important role, so I’m not saying kind of just get rid of it. But what I am saying is the core of instruction, if we want kids to catch up, has to be the deliberate study of sufficiently complex texts, again and – we cannot exclude students from that and expect them to magically catch up. That’s a scaffolded environment, do you get me? Where their frustration – they are expected to be frustrated. That frustration is managed. It’s part of the classroom community, and they engage repeatedly in dealing with things that are more difficult than they can handle.

First of all, it’s the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), not the “proximal zone of development, et cetera.” I’m less bothered by his mixing the words around than I am by the “et cetera,” as if to say “yeah, there was more but I couldn’t be bothered to absorb it.” The ZPD is the range between what a child can do independently and what that same child can do with support. The concept was first described by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the 1930’s, and has had a profound impact on developmental psychology and learning science. You can’t be dismissive of the ZPD in one breath, and then go on to recommend scaffolding in the next. The very idea of scaffolding is based on a Vygostkian model of development. The term was introduced by American psychologist Jerome Bruner, and it refers to the supports that we provide students within their ZPD to help them achieve at higher levels. As the metaphor suggests, once students can do these tasks independently, we can remove the scaffolding.

Coleman’s right that there should be managed frustration. If students read texts that are too easy for them, they may enjoy those texts, but it’s not the best way to support reading progress. When students have to read within their ZPD, they feel a frustration we might accurately describe as growing pains. They experience a stretch, and in that stretch, learning can actually help drive cognitive development. If, on the other hand, the material is above the upper limit of their ZPD, they will not experience that productive frustration. They will simply shut down and not attempt to read the material at all. And there is no amount of scaffolding that will make it possible. Think of a weight you can lift easily, a weight that requires some effort to lift, and a weight you can’t budge at all. Which of those three weights would you choose if you wanted to promote muscle growth?

So if you have students who are one or two grades below grade level, it might be worth trying to push them in the way Coleman describes. But students who are four, five, six years below their grade level, aren’t going to be reading on grade level by the end of the year no matter whose philosophical outlook you subscribe to. Nobody is expecting them to “magically catch up.” The idea is to support them in making the greatest progress possible. It is Coleman who is invoking magic when he expects that these students will be able to catch up simply through teacher patience, student frustration, and intense scaffolding.

But if anybody should be a proponent of Vygotsky, it’s David Coleman himself, for Vygotsky provides a clear developmental framework for the Common Core. If learning really can drive development, and I believe it can, then having a rigorous set of standards defined for each grade level organized into a staircase of complexity makes a lot of sense. If we adhere to these standards from Kindergarten, making sure that students receive support in a multi-tiered Response to Intervention system to ensure that they remain on grade level at the end of each year, then the Common Core might actually be a blueprint for making sure that our students are well prepared for the rigors of college and the workplace by the end of Grade 12. Wouldn’t it be a shame if that were all true and the Common Core really is a better way of doing business, but nobody ever knew it because the implementation was so badly botched?

So what can we do? If I were in charge of implementation, I would have had two years of bridge standards before fully adopting the Common Core. If the 5th grade NYS standards say ABC and the 8th grade Common Core standards say JKL, then we develop a logical DEF for 6th grade and a 7th-grade GHI that allow us to incrementally meet the higher standards. Instead, we’re going right from 5th-grade NYS to 6th-grade Common Core, and even students that were on grade level last year are being left behind. The folks at the New York City Department of Education, for their part, seem to understand the difficulties involved, and are trying to make the changes as gradually as possible to support teachers. But no such support is available for students, as the level of rigor expected for them is coming from Albany, and is out of the city’s hands.

I can’t tell you what the statewide assessments are going to look like at the end of this year, but I’m pretty sure the students are going to be expected to read on what is now considered grade level, and this is the problem. What do you do if you have 8th-grade students reading on a 4th-grade level, when you know you are going to be accountable for them passing an 8th-grade test at the end of the year? One option is, as Coleman describes, to give them 8th-grade reading selections anyway, have them read fewer overall texts, and heavily scaffold the texts being read. Another option is to try to give them two years of instruction in a year, committing to bring them from a 4th-grade level to 6th-grade level. Neither strategy will prepare them to read on the 8th-grade level by test time, but I prefer the latter method. It’s better to make meaningful progress in the time that you have than to squander the opportunity by fumbling around with inappropriately difficult texts. I understand, respect, and even admire Coleman’s desire to get everyone on grade level. It’s not going to happen this year.

Given that some of the quantitative targets may not be possible this year, another option is to focus on the qualitative shifts. Give students more exposure to informational texts. Give them more complex texts than they are reading now. Have them read more independently, and give them opportunities to cite evidence from the things they read to support their writing. These are all Common Core-aligned shifts, and can be implemented right away, regardless of student reading levels.

Finally, teachers can make a big difference by differentiating instruction. Some students may have higher upper bounds in their ZPD than might be apparent at first. And if you’ve agreed with me up until now, follow me the rest of the way. It’s important for teachers to challenge their students to the highest extent as is possible for them. Students will push back, but being a teacher means to encourage students to do more than they ever thought they could. Now is the time to do that. Please don’t mistake my nuanced understanding of cognitive development for timidity. I’ve taught Shakespeare, in the original language, to low-performing 5th graders. But to do that, I had to have some confidence that my learning goals were within their Zone of Proximal Development. And when they were, it turned out that it was possible!

As for the end-of-the-year tests, the whole state is in the same bind, so relative success is still very much in reach given the right strategies. Students feel growing pains, and so do teachers. But that pain just means that we’re working outside of our comfort zone, and are instead in a zone that is more conducive to growth.

Shakespeare High

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

New research from Liverpool University shows that Shakespeare (and other classical writers) can stimulate the brain. For me, what stood out from earlier studies, was the attention to the duration of the phenomenon:

The study went on to test how long the effect lasted. It found that the “peak” triggered by the unfamiliar word was sustained onto the following phrases, suggesting the striking word had hooked the reader, with their mind “primed for more attention”.

This means that if you’re experiencing a work by Shakespeare, who is constantly throwing these poetic curve balls, you can sustain the brain boost over long periods of time. I’ve certainly experienced this sensation many times. I’ll basically go to see any Shakespeare play, regardless of the venue, just so I can hear these words spoken to me. I participate in a monthly Shakespeare reading group, and feel the effect even more profoundly when I am the one reading the words.

Even seeing the text written can do the job, though I often pause a lot when reading and so the pace isn’t necessarily the same. But the research shows an increase in reflection as well, so perhaps that’s a different manifestation of the effect. I subscribe to a Twitter feed that only tweets the plays themselves, one line every ten minutes like clockwork. Every now and then I’ll hit a familiar line and feel the brain bolt. I don’t know why that should be, but I get my shot to the brain all the same.

If I’m doing something that requires no mental attention, I’ll listen to an audio lecture. If I’m doing something that requires my full attention, I’ll listen to music. But if I’m doing something tedious that needs some focus but provides no mental stimulation, I’ll listen to Shakespeare. I’ll typically choose an audio production that I’ve listened to many times before, so I don’t need to be an engaged audience member the whole time. But I find that I can keep my conscious mind engaged on the task much more easily if my subconscious mind is swept away on a wave of poetic bliss. And when a line or two does drift into my awareness, I know the play well enough that I can enjoy it out of context, much like I do the Twitter feed. I get the hit without having to break my stride.

This is your brain on Shakespeare. Any questions?

Change We Can Afford

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Now that Mitt Romney has chosen his running mate, I’d like to return to a comment he made earlier in the campaign.

“I think this is a land of opportunity for every single person, every single citizen of this great nation. And I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot of realizing their dreams.”

The key phrase is “as much education as they can afford.” Right now, our taxes provide a K-12 education to all children in this country free of charge. This drives conservatives crazy. Their fantasy is a free-market education system where schools have to compete for learner dollars. If a school isn’t making the grade, well, parents just won’t send their kids there and, bang, the education crisis is over.

And I have to admit that the position is consistent with their other ideals. Liberals believe that the government can be a force for good in people’s lives. Conservatives believe that it cannot be, that government interference is always unwelcome. So getting rid of government services like education and Social Security and Medicaid makes perfect sense to them.

Even their lopsided tax values make sense, in an odd sort of way. For you see, Romney tells us in the quote above that the ingredients of success are hard work and the right values. If you don’t have a job, that’s your fault. (Unless the president is a Democrat, in which case it’s his fault.) So the wealthy are a special class of people who deserve special consideration. They should get as much influence in government as they can afford.

It’s not surprising that Romney believes that his immense wealth is a direct function of his hard work and correct values. And it explains his cringe-worthy comments about the economic disparities between nations being due to culture. This is his worldview. The free market is a just God, and doles out rewards and punishments appropriately.

For obvious reasons, he doesn’t like to talk about this worldview very much. We only get the occasional glimpse of it through these “education” and “culture” slips when Romney commits the ultimate gaffe of speaking from the heart.

But with the selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, he is signaling that this is not an accident, not a coincidence, not an occasional gaffe. Paul Ryan is the human embodiment of this philosophy. And it’s not just his adoration of Ayn Rand; his actions speak much louder than her words.

Paul Ryan’s plan phases out Medicare. It phases out Medicare. You hear that, PolitiFact? It phases out Medicare. Over the past few days, Republicans have been quick to point out that, under their plan, current seniors would not have their benefits affected. But after that, they phase out Medicare. Really. Under their plan, Medicare would be replaced by a voucher system which – just like their voucher proposal for education – would be underfunded and ultimately targeted for elimination.

And then seniors will get all of the health care they can afford.

It’s a Poor Workman Who Blames Yogi Berra: Artificial Intelligence and Jeopardy!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Last week, an IBM computer named Watson beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the two greatest Jeopardy! players of all time, in a nationally televised event. The Man vs. Machine construct is a powerful one (I’ve even used it myself), as these contests have always captured progressive imaginations. Are humans powerful enough to build a rock so heavy, not even we can lift it?

Watson was named for Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s first president. But he could just as easily have been named after John B. Watson, the American psychologist who is considered to be the father of behaviorism. Behaviorism is a view of psychology that disregards the inner workings of the mind and focuses only on stimuli and responses. This input leads to that output. Watson was heavily influenced by the salivating dog experiments of Ivan Pavlov, and was himself influential in the operant conditioning experiments of B.F. Skinner. Though there are few strict behaviorists today, the movement was quite dominant in the early 20th century.

The behaviorists would have loved the idea of a computer playing Jeopardy! as well as a human. They would have considered it a validation of their theory that the mind could be viewed as merely generating a series of predictable outputs when given a specific set of inputs. Playing Jeopardy! is qualitatively different from playing chess. The rules of chess are discrete and unambiguous, and the possibilities are ultimately finite. As Noam Chomsky argues, language possibilities are infinite. Chess may one day be solved, but Jeopardy! never will be. So Watson’s victory here is a significant milestone.

Much has been made of whether or not the contest was “fair.” Well, of course it wasn’t fair. How could that word possibly have any meaning in this context. There are things computers naturally do much better than humans, and vice versa. The question instead should have been in which direction would the unfairness be decisive. Some complained that the computer’s superior buzzer speed gave it the advantage, but buzzer speed is the whole point.

Watson has to do three things before buzzing in: 1) understand what question the clue is asking, 2) retrieve that information from its database, and 3) develop a sufficient confidence level for its top answer. In order to achieve a win, IBM had to build a machine that could do those things fast enough to beat the humans to the buzzer. Quick reflexes are an important part of the game to be sure, but if that were the whole story, computers would have dominated quiz shows decades ago.

To my way of thinking, it’s actually the comprehensive database of information that gives Watson the real edge. We may think of Ken and Brad as walking encyclopedias, but that status was hard earned. Think of the hours upon hours they must have spent studying classical composers, vice-presidential nicknames, and foods that start with the letter Q. Even a prepared human might temporarily forget the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1959 when the moment comes, but Watson never will. (It was Ben-Hur.)

In fact, given what I could see, Watson’s biggest challenge seemed to be understanding what the clue was asking. To avoid the complications introduced by Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiement, we’ll adopt a behaviorist, pragmatic definition of “understanding” and take it to mean that Watson is able to give the correct response to a clue, or at least a reasonable guess. (After all, you can understand a question and still get it wrong.) Watching the show on television, we are able to see Watson’s top three responses, and his confidence level for each. This gives us remarkable insight into the machine’s process, allowing us a deeper level of analysis.

A lot of my own work lately has been in training school-based data inquiry teams how to examine testing data to learn where students need extra help, and that work involves examining individual testing items. So naturally, when I see three responses to a prompt, I want to figure out what they mean. In this case, Watson was generating the choices rather than simply choosing among them, but that actually makes them more helpful in sifting through his method.

One problem I see a lot in schools is that students are often unable to correctly identify what kind of answer the question is asking for. In as much as Watson has what we would call a student learning problem, this is it. When a human is asked to come up with three responses to a clue, all of the responses would presumably be of the correct answer type. See if you can come up with three possible responses to this clue:

Category: Hedgehog-Pogde
Clue: Hedgehogs are covered with quills or spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff by this protein

Watson correctly answered Keratin with a confidence rating of 99%, but his other two answers were Porcupine (36%) and Fur (8%). I would have expected all three candidate answers to be proteins, especially since the words “this protein” ended the clue. In many cases, the three potential responses seemed to reflect three possible questions being asked rather than three possible answers to a correct question, for example:

Category: One Buck or Less
Clue: In 2002, Eminem signed this rapper to a 7-figure deal, obviously worth a lot more than his name implies

Ken was first to the buzzer on this one and Alex confirmed the correct response, both men pronouncing 50 Cent as “Fiddy Cent” to the delight of humans everywhere. Watson’s top three responses were 50 Cent (39%), Marshall Mathers (20%), and Dr. Dre (14%). This time, the words “this rapper” prompted Watson to consider three rappers, but not three potential rappers that could have been signed by Eminem in 2002. It was Dr. Dre who signed Eminem, and Marshall Mathers is Eminem’s real name. So again, Watson wasn’t considering three possible answers to a question; he was considering three possible questions. And alas, we will never know if Watson would have said “Fiddy.”

It seemed as though the more confident Watson was in his first guess, the more likely the second and third guesses would be way off base:

Category: Familiar Sayings
Clue: It’s a poor workman who blames these

Watson’s first answer Tools (84%) was correct, but his other answer candidates were Yogi Berra (10%) and Explorer (3%). However Watson is processing these clues, it isn’t the way humans do it. The confidence levels seemed to be a pretty good predictor of whether or not a response was correct, which is why we can forgive Watson his occassional lapses into the bizarre. Yeah, he put down Toronto when the category was US Cities, but it was a Final Jeopardy, where answers are forced, and his multiple question marks were an indicator that his confidence was low. Similarly cornered in a Daily Double, he prefaced his answer with “I’ll take a guess.” That time, he got it right. I’m just looking into how the program works, not making excuses for Watson. After all, it’s a poor workman who blames Yogi Berra.

But the fact that Watson interpreted so many clues accurately was impressive, especially since Jeopardy! clues sometimes contain so much wordplay that even the sharpest of humans need an extra moment to unpack what’s being asked, and understanding language is our thing. Watson can’t hear the the other players, which means he can’t eliminate their incorrect responses when he buzzes in second. It also means that he doesn’t learn the correct answer unless he gives it, which makes it difficult for him to catch on to category themes. He managed it pretty well, though. After stumbling blindly through the category “Also on Your Computer Keys,” Watson finally caught on for the last clue:

Category: Also on Your Computer Keys
Clue: Proverbially, it’s “where the heart is”

Watson’s answers were Home is where the heart is (20%), Delete Key (11%), and Elvis Presley quickly changed to Encryption (8%). The fact that Watson was considering “Delete Key” as an option means that he was starting to understand that all of the correct responses in the category were also names of keys on the keyboard.

Watson also is not emotionally affected by game play. After giving the embarrassingly wrong answer “Dorothy Parker” when the Daily Double clue was clearly asking for the title of a book, Watson just jumped right back in like nothing had happened. A human would likely have been thrown by that. And while Alex and the audience may have laughed at Watson’s precise wagers, that was a cultural expectation on their part. There’s no reason a wager needs to be rounded off to the nearest hundred, other than the limitations of human mental calculation under pressure. This wasn’t a Turing test. Watson was trying to beat the humans, not emulate them. And he did.

So where does that leave us? Computers that can understand natural language requests and retrieve information accurately could make for a very interesting decade to come. As speech recognition improves, we might start to see computers who can hold up their end of a conversation. Watson wasn’t hooked up to the Internet, but developing technologies could be. The day may come when I have a bluetooth headset hooked up to my smart phone and I can just ask it questions like the computer on Star Trek. As programs get smarter about interpreting language, it may be easier to make connections across ideas, creating a new kind of Web. One day, we may even say “Thank you, Autocorrect.”

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that these will be human achievements. Humans are amazing. Humans can organize into complex societies. Humans can form research teams and develop awesome technologies. Humans can program computers to understand natural language clues and access a comprehensive database of knowledge. Who won here? Humanity did.

Ken Jennings can do things beyond any computer’s ability. He can tie his shoes, ride a bicycle, develop a witty blog post comparing Proust translations, appreciate a sunset, write a trivia book, raise two children, and so on. At the end of the tournament, he walked behind Watson and waved his arms around to make it look like they were Watson’s arms. That still takes a human.

UPDATE: I’m told (by no less of an authority than Millionaire winner Ed Toutant) that Watson was given the correct answer at the end of every clue, after it was out of play. I had been going crazy wondering where “Delete Key” came from, and now it makes a lot more sense. Thanks, Ed!

Shakespeare Teacher: The Book!

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

I am proud to announce that I have recently published a chapter in this book on teaching literature through technology. You can ignore the description; it seems to have been inadvertently switched with that of this book. Neither page describes my chapter, but you can read the abstract on the publisher’s page, or I could just tell you what it’s about.

Unlike this blog, the book chapter is actually about teaching Shakespeare! No riddles. No anagrams. No politics. (Well, maybe a little bit of politics.)

Here is the basic idea. I begin by citing experts who are skeptical of the ability of elementary school students to do Shakespeare. Specifically, I discuss the Dramatic Age Stages chart created by Richard Courtney.

Courtney describes “The Role Stage” as lasting from ages twelve to eighteen, at which point students are capable of a number of new skills that I would consider essential for understanding Shakespeare in a meaningful way. These skills include the ability to think abstractly, to understand causality, to interpret symbols, to articulate moral decisions, and to understand how a character relates to the rest of the play. So based on this chart, I would have to conclude that a student younger than twelve would not be ready to appreciate Shakespeare in these ways.

But Courtney bases his chart on the framework of developmental phases of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. These phases describe what a lone child can demonstrate under testing conditions. A more accurate and nuanced way of looking at development is provided in the work of Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who described a “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD), which is a range between what a child can demonstrate in isolation, and what the same child can do under more social conditions.

So I wondered if fifth-grade students (aged 10) would have some of the skills associated with “The Role Stage” somewhere in their ZPD. If so, a collaborative class project should provide enough scaffolding to develop those skills and allow ten-year-old students to understand and appreciate Shakespeare on that level.

So I developed and implemented a unit to teach Macbeth to a fifth-grade class in the South Bronx, using process-based dramatic activities, a stage production of the play performed for their school, and a web-based study guide to apply what they had learned. The idea was to use collaborative projects to get the kids to work together to make collective sense of the play. I then examined their written work for evidence that they had displayed the skills associated with “The Role Stage” in Courtney’s chart, and I was able to find a great deal of it.

I also create a three-dimensional rubric to assess the students’ work over the course of the unit. I say a three-dimensional rubric because I use the same eight categories in all three rubrics, but they develop over time to reflect the increased sophistication that I expect the students to demonstrate. I then compare the students’ performance-based rubric scores to their reading test scores to demonstrate that standardized testing paints only a very limited picture of what a student can achieve. (I did say that it had a little bit of politics.)

Anyway, that’s what my chapter was about. I just saved you $180! And I’m hoping to return to a regular blogging schedule soon, so more content is hopefully on the way.

Googleplex – 2/14/10

Sunday, February 14th, 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.

was erikson influenced by shakespeare

That’s a great question. I think it’s fair to say the idea that human beings develop in distinct stages was pioneered by Sigmund Freud in the 20th century, when he outlined his psycho-sexual stages of development in childhood. Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist strongly influenced by Freud, described his own set of psycho-social stages, which carried through to adulthood.

Groundbreaking as these ideas were, they were to some degree anticipated by Shakespeare in his Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It. In the speech, Shakespeare describes seven developmental stages that carry through from childhood to adulthood, and the common characteristics that men display at each stage. Freud and Erikson would later codify this scientifically, but the Bard was able to figure it out just by observing the human condition. Point: Humanities!

It’s worth noting that both Freud and Erikson wrote about Shakespeare, and Hamlet in particular, to describe their theories. In a 1962 article entitled “Youth: Fidelity and Diversity,” Erikson actually references Shakespeare’s “ages of man” before spending about four pages examining fidelity and identity in Hamlet. So it would seem that the answer to the question is, yes, Erikson was influenced by Shakespeare to some degree, as was Freud. But influence often tends to be reflective, and the developmental psychologists certainly left their mark on Shakespeare as well.

poetic elements in song mosh by eminem

I touched on this a bit about a month ago. I used to use “Mosh” to teach poetic devices, and I’m having trouble finding a more contemporary replacement. I’ll just give a sampling of each of the poetic devices I mentioned in that post. I tend to use only the middle stanza and the chorus, which I make into a handout. I also distribute the Prologue for Romeo and Juliet as a handout, so we can compare the two.

Repetition: “We gonna fight, we gonna charge, we gonna stomp, we gonna march”; “All you can see is a sea of people”; “If it rains let it rain”; “Rebel with a rebel yell”

Rhyme: Not only is there end rhyme, but there is internal rhyme as well. “They tell us no we say yea, they tell us stop we say go/ Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell we gonna let em know”; “yea the wetter the better”; “that we need to proceed”

Rhythm: “Mosh” is written in anapestic tetrameter, which I always point out is the same meter as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”… and other popular poems as well. The Prologue for Romeo and Juliet, of course, is in iambic pentameter.

Alliteration: Note that in “we gonna mosh through the marsh” the words “mosh” and “marsh” start and end with the same sounds. Compare with “doth with their death” in the Prologue for Romeo and Juliet.

Antithesis: “They tell us no we say yea, they tell us stop we say go”; “from the front to the back”; “some white and some black”

Allusion: There’s a reference to George W. Bush in the passage.

Emendation: This is where I edited the reference to George W. Bush. I usually change it to “Stomp, push, shove, mush, [mock] Bush” even using the brackets like a Shakespeare editor.

president bush reads shakespeare

In a 2006 interview with Brian Williams, President Bush claimed to have recently read “three Shakespeares” in addition to curling up with some Camus:

WILLIAMS: We always talk about what you’re reading. As you know, there was a report that you just read the works of a French philosopher. (Bush laughs)

BUSH: The Stranger.

WILLIAMS: Tell us the back story of Camus.

BUSH: The back story of the the book?

WILLIAMS: What led you to…

BUSH: I was in Crawford and I said I was looking for a book to read and Laura said you oughtta try Camus, I also read three Shakespeare’s.

WILLIAMS: This is a change…

BUSH: Not really. Wait a minute.

WILLIAMS: A few months ago you were reading the life story of Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer.

BUSH: Which was a good book.

WILLIAMS: You’ve been on a Teddy Roosevelt reading kick.

BUSH: Well, I’m reading about the battle of New Orleans right now. I’ve got an eclectic reading list.

Williams didn’t ask him what “Shakespeares” he read, but I have my guess at one of them, as well as a selection I wish he’d read.

somewhere in the number pi is shakespeare

The constant pi is nature’s random digit generator, stretching out infinitely long and with no predictable pattern. This means that any finite string of numbers can be found somewhere out in the vast expanse of digits.

So if we were to express the Complete Works of Shakespeare in, say, ASCII code, it would indeed be represented as a very long, but certainly finite, string of digits. This string of digits is represented somewhere in pi, not once, but an infinite number of times. What’s more, the very first time it appears would be a finite distance in. Which means, there is some number X where you could say that if you start X digits into pi, you can read the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Before you get too excited by that, you should realize that X is so unfathomably large that it would most likely be beyond human comprehension to even find a way to express it, let alone come anywhere near identifying it. You may think of the monkeys-at-typewriters thought experiment (and for our purposes, we can consider both the digits of pi and monkeys typing to be generating random characters). Even using theoretical monkeys, the number of simian typists needed would be beyond astronomical.

But, yes, the Complete Works of Shakespeare are somewhere in pi with a probability of 1. If the thought of that makes you smile, I’ve done my job.

what was king henry four’s last name

Henry IV was often referred to as Henry Bolingbroke, but actually, his last name was Plantagenet.

In fact, all of the English kings from Henry II to Richard III carried the surname Plantagenet. This means that throughout the entire Wars of the Roses, the Yorks and Lancasters all had the same last name, which is found throughout the history plays. This is because both sides were led by male-line descendants of Edward III. There is a reference to this in Richard III, as Richard hits on the widow of the cousin he killed:

Glo. He that bereft thee, lady, of thy husband,
Did it to help thee to a better husband.
Anne. His better doth not breathe upon the earth.
Glo. He lives that loves thee better than he could.
Anne. Name him.
Glo. Plantagenet.
Anne. Why, that was he.
Glo. The self-same name, but one of better nature.
Anne. Where is he?
Glo. Here.

The long Plantagenet line comes to an end in 1485, when Richard III is defeated by a young man named Henry Tudor.

rick astley allusion to shakespeare

Rick Astley, before he became well known as a singer, did a bit of acting and even performed in some Shakespeare. Most of his Shakespeare work was done on stage and not screen, but there is a video clip of him performing the “never give her o’er” speech from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The video can be found on YouTube here.

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


what would malcolm say about shakespeare advice in hamlet

what do shakespeare have to do with the gilded age

love letters written by shakespeare

who played in the kings men in macbeth

id, ego, superego of othello

four letter shakespearean rebuke

Double Googleplex

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

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.

In celebration of the fact that I’m moving the Googleplex to Sundays, I’m going to double my usual 6-for-me/6-for-you format and give you 12 of each. Full disclosure: I actually started this post some time ago. All of the following 24 searches did bring people to this site in the same week; it just wasn’t this past week.

Enjoy!

william shakespeare’s teachers

I kept getting hits for this search, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what people were looking for. Then, I realized that they were searching for this TED lecture on how schools kill creativity, given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006. It’s almost 20 minutes long, but well worth watching. I should have posted this a long time ago.




freud and arrested development

I think they were looking for the actual psychological phenomenon, and not my analysis of a sitcom. But this post now ranks fourth in this particular Google search. The Internet is a funny place.

if shakespeare were alive today, who in history would he write tragedy about?

Shakespeare’s take on George III would have been well worth the staging. He probably would have also had a go at William III and the Glorious Revolution. We’d probably still be staging the famous Battle of the Boyne scene and debating whether or not Shakespeare was a secret Jacobite.

two monarchs reigned during shakespare lifetime. the bu

The two monarchs were Elizabeth I and James I. I’m not really sure what the rest of your question was going to be.

what do shakespeare’s play show about religion of the time

Shakespeare lived between two periods of severe religious strife. The mid-16th century was marked by radical shifts in English religious life described in greater detail here. After Shakespeare’s death, growing religious tension between Catholics and Protestants would lead to civil war and the execution of King Charles I. Compared to these two periods of violence, Shakespeare’s England was relatively stable religiously, though obviously there was still some unrest.

People have looked to Shakespeare’s plays for clues of where he fell on the question, but there’s no concrete evidence either way. Most of his plays are set either before the Protestant Reformation or in Northern Italy (which was solidly Catholic at the time) so Shakespeare – seemingly by design – didn’t have to deal with the religious issue much. One notable exception is Measure for Measure, which takes place in Vienna. If you would like to read Shakespeare’s scenes depicting a Protestant official debating the death penalty with a Catholic novice, you will find them here and here.

the religion in king lear

King Lear takes place in pre-Christian Britain. The characters make various references to Roman gods such as Jupiter and Apollo.

what inspired shakespeare to write macbeth?

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, and Shakespeare had spent much of his career writing popular plays about her famous ancestors. When James I ascended the throne, Shakespeare wrote a play about his ancestors to honor the new king.

Note that the bloodthirsty Macbeth is not one of these ancestors. Rather, the noble Duncan, Malcolm, Siward, Banquo, and Fleance are the ancestors of James depicted in the play. Oh yeah, and the first seven of the show of eight kings. See below.

how does the vision of the eight kings make macbeth feel

Not good. Concerned about a prophecy that says that Banquo’s decendants will be kings, Macbeth demands to know whether all that he has done has been for the benefit of another’s line. The witches show him eight kings, and Banquo’s ghost who points to them as his. These eight kings correspond with the eight actual Stuart kings of Scotland. The eighth king is James himself.

shakespeare plays for junior high students

Well, I suppose the conventional answers are Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I’ve had some success with Othello and Cymbeline which aren’t exactly the first plays that come to mind when I think of the term “age appropriate.” If you can find a way to help students make it their own, the experience will encourage them to appreciate Shakespeare, no matter which play you choose. Go with a selection that you’re passionate about, and maybe your enthusiasm will be infectious. Or, if you’re really daring, describe a few of the plays to the students, and let them choose which one they want to work with.

jack cade henry 6th monologue

Ah, Jack Cade – one of Shakespeare’s most under-recognized comic characters. Propped up as a claimant to the throne, the rough-hewn Cade promises to kill all the lawyers and ban literacy. The famous scene is here and you can find Cade monologues here and here.

does everyone play the queen from cymbeline as purely evil?

She’s pretty clearly evil, and I’ve never seen her played any other way, but that’s as far as I can go. I’m sure someone has played her otherwise. Does anyone have another experience, or an idea of an alternate interpretation?

“nymph fly” tempest

This makes me very curious. Were they looking for my Tempest lipogram? Or did they have another reason to search for this? It seems pretty specific to me. Hmmm.

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


why teach shakespeare

what would you change about macbeth

henry vi jimmy carter

romeo juliet boal technique

what creative artists did shakespeare admire?

why people like genghis khan

3 levels of shakespeare

activities to introduce macbeth

what technology did william shakespeare used

shakespeare “they fight”

how has shakespeare changed our expectations of tragedy to aristotle in romeo and juliet

anagrams for morning coffee