Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “teaching”

Bard Bits: Belated Birthday


I was fully aware of Shakespeare’s birthday last Saturday. In fact, I duly noted the event by checking out the Globe Theater’s production of Julius Caesar.

2015 version at the New Globe

I also noted that the library has added to its collection a variety of Shakespeare productions. A present of presentations.

In May my sophomore students will begin their unit in studying Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. My teaching approach is to include a bit of historical background in order for them to understand why:

a)Shakespeare wrote the play (Queen Elizabeth I had no named heir and the kingdom could be thrown into chaos)
b)the main character dies in the third act (is Caesar the main character?)

Prior to the Globe’s 2015 production the only available version was Charlton Heston’s epic film where Jason Robards plays an overly stoic Brutus. Even I dreaded the Julius Caesar unit having to show this verson

Then along came the Globe’s filmed HD production. Whew! Students were able to experience watching the play as a live audience watched the play. Seeing the audience participation absolutely helps students in better understanding Shakespeare’s lines. Until the Globe’s production, it was difficult for students to understand that the tragedy of Julius Caesar was imbued with humor. My students realized that they could laugh even though tragedy was prevalent and Shakespeare intended his audience to laugh to break the tension. He knew how to sell tickets. His plays have plenty of the mainstays found in Elizabethan life: life/death, love/hate, food/sexual repartee and humor in the face of the tragic.

The Globe’s version has the traditional opening of Marcellus and Flavius chastising the plebeians for celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumph and the actors play up the punnery and rivalry between the classes quite well by interacting with the audience. Billy Bard would no doubt be pleased.

From the lively opening the play revolves around the conspiracy towards Caesar. And this Caesar has a bit of acerbic wit. He knows how to lance his speech with tone when presenting his lines.

This Caesar knows how to roll out the wit when needed

The usually dour Brutus even gets a laugh when reading the fake news that Cassius slips into his windowsill.

Nothing breaks the tension like a clog tapping poet when Cassius and Brutus are at odds while camped at Sardis.

What’s really noteworthy about this production is that the actors were Elizabethan garb under their togas. This provides more authenticity as they are dressed more in the style found in Shakespeare’s day.

Bromance squabbles are awkward

Overall, a thumbs up production.

Happy belated birthday, Shakespeare.

The Amazing Days of Christmas Break: Day One


December: Read a New Book


In case you missed it in September, you can also decide to read a new book in December.

Reading is next to breathing—it comes naturally

Then again, it doesn’t have to be a designated month for me to read a book. And if I haven’t read it yet it’s a new book to me.

Having librarian experience, both paid and volunteer, for over fifteen years, creates in me this urgency to promote reading. Now that I am in the classroom I promote reading to my students with having them read the first 10 minutes of class. Their reactions range from groans to smiles. There seems to be a firm indication that reading is either in terms of endearment or terms of endurement among teens I have encountered in the last few years.

Anyone have a study on how reading fares among our youth?

As for me—I began to seriously get into reading in fifth grade, prompted by my teacher (Hi, Mr. Cassidy) and have increased my passion for holding words upon pages (no thanks Kindle—gotta turn those pages, feel that paper).

In fact, I just hit my reading goal of 101 books for the year just the other day and I still have time and inclination to keep going.

How about you? Do you have a reading goal? Have you read any new books lately?

Bard Bits: Overcoming Shakespism


Up until teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students, my exposure and awareness of Stratford Upon Avon’s poet/playwright had been limited to the usual reference of Romeo and Juliet being a play about two teenagers who have a tragic romance. I saw it as a film in junior high. It was rated “M” for mature audiences (being a 13 year old counted as mature then). Certain scenes were embarrassing and I doubt we were mature enough to handle the morning after flesh flash of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Plus, I had a really difficult time understanding what they were saying—were they speaking English?

That was then and this is now. At present I’m the resident Bardinator at school, being the advisor of the Students for Shakespeare Club and being known for my Shakespeare zeal. We’ve brought Shakesperience to the high school several times, I’ve helped with our own drama club’s version of Romeo and Juliet, designing sets and watching my son contribute his thespian skills, and I do my best to engage and interest students to embrace Shakespeare, nudging past groans when studying his works. My appreciation for Shakespeare has nudged me to leave my usual homebody mode to travel cross country to Washington DC to attend Folger’s week long Hamlet academy. I’ve gone beyond the usual Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar school curriculum offerings and have introduced students to Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and provided background Bard Bits.

How and why did I go from a Shakespeare illiterate to Shakespeare informed?

First of all, I had to overcome the language barrier. Reading Shakespeare wasn’t working so well. Watching well-produced film adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry IV helped tremendously. Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.

Secondly, the more I taught Shakespeare (teaching the same material year after year does have an upside), the more I understood what I was teaching. And if I understand what I’m teaching I can teach the material better to my students.

Beyond teaching the plays, I began reading about the man who wrote them. Since there is so little solid biographical information about Shakespeare, I began researching and became more and more intrigued. Who was this guy and did he really write all these plays and what was theatre like in Renaissance England led to other aspects such as learning more about Queen Elizabeth I and other aspects of that time period.

And I branched out to other plays, learning all about one play before committing to another. The benefit being that Shakespeare’s language was no longer puzzling to my ear, it had become a melody of written expression.

My dream curriculum is to teach a course that is all Shakespeare. We would of course study selected plays and sonnets, but also play Bard Bingo (it’s fun, really), create Flash Mob scenes for the community (field trip!), stage fight (sword fights and Hamlet are a natural), and put on a Shakespeare night for the school—best scenes talent show. I think I would call the course, “Shakespeare Then and Now” or maybe “Shakespeare—the Undiscovered Country.” At least a dozen students would need to sign up to make it a go, then again it could become so popular two sections (or more) would be required as Shakespism transforms into Shakesthusiasm.

I can hope.

Do you suffer from Shakespism or are you a Bardinator or maybe somewhere in between.

Looking Forward to Looking Backward


A backwards glance takes a back seat for now

Today is the last day for the 2019-2020 school year and I officially begin my summer break. Usually I stay in “teacher mode” and work on lesson plans and revise units while it’s all fresh in my mind. I do this until June 30th and then allow myself to take July off and slowly ease back into school mode around the middle of August.

That’s the plan, anyway. This year the usual has changed. I am ready to embrace summer break without any hesitation, and will not give school much thought until August rolls around.

This year beginning mid-March business as usual changed. We scrambled to create distance learning curriculum and adjusted and adjusted some more as we rode out the school year. Who would have thought two months could feel like a lifetime.

School officially ended May 29th for our school district. Graduation took place in the school parking lot with families in cars and grads socially distanced. There was a reduction in pomp due to our circumstances. The ceremony ended minutes prior to a spring rain storm. How fitting.

I spent Sunday posting my grades from home and Monday will be spent wrapping up my classroom for the summer. I usually celebrate the end of the school year with reflective euphoria. I dwell on victories and successes of teaching and tuck away the ritual of student farewells.

I haven’t seen the majority of my students since March 18th and briefly said good-bye to a handful of seniors who ventured into my classroom. Sans hugs, I wished them a masked farewell.

This has been a weird end to a school year that started out with such promise. I look forward to looking backward on the 2019-2020 school year. Right now I am numb, weary, and a bit heartsick at not only how the school ended but how our nation is troubled by the pandemic and violent protests.

I usually spend part of my summer break traveling and visiting friends and family. That won’t be happening. This saddens me greatly.

I am blessed to live in a small town, a tourist town. And yet, that brings its own set of concerns as the outside will permeate our little bubble dome of safe haven and possibly bring infection to our fair city.

With all the closures, hard times, and scary events clouding my daily life, I do have something to look forward to: the good news is the library is opening up a day after my birthday. Best present ever!

Any other teachers, parents, or students have reflections on the end of the school year?

What good news do you have that brings some sunshine to your cloudy days?

NPM: The Hand


April is National Poetry Month and my plan of sharing poems of significance to me fell to the wayside as life happened (or didn’t happen).

Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is a Thing of Feathers” was the first post, and now I am ending the month with Mary Ruefle’s “The Hand” as a tribute to students, teachers, the general education community. I miss being in the classroom.

The Hand

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

This poem is a poster that I place prominently in my classroom, to remind me, and to remind my students, that we all have something to share, yet if we don’t make that effort to speak out no one will know what we had to offer.

This poem has even greater meaning for me since I am now separated from my students and I am unable to hear their voices and we are unable to share our ideas with one another. Distance teaching provides learning, yet it’s in a vacuum since I am unable to interact with my students. They might be gaining knowledge through the lessons I send out to them; however, how are they receiving that knowledge, what it means to them is somewhat lost. Electronic response is not the same as seeing that hand raise and hearing their voice.

Yes, I miss being in the classroom. I miss my students.

Milestones


One aspect of ushering out the year of previous is reflection. The year of 2019 has been one of changes—some sad, some significant, and some ongoing.

Among these changes are milestones. A couple worth mentioning:

WordPress has informed me that I began my journey with them eight years ago. In dog years, which is somewhat equivalent to blog years, that would be nearly sixty years of contributing and sharing my thoughts with others. Thumbs up!👍🏻

Goodreads notified me that I’ve read 139 books for the year, up four from last year. And I should have 140 read by this weekend. Woo hoo! 👏

I applied for a part time librarian position at our local high school in 1999 and twenty years later I am in the classroom having become a certified English teacher, expounding on the merits of literature, language, and composition. Whew!😅

In 1992 Highlights for Children published a story of mine, “Marvin Composes a Tea.” It was awarded their Author of the Month and is the title-lead story in a Boyd’s Mills Press anthology. Although I thought my author career had started with a flourish, and I anticipated dozens of published books by now, twenty-seven years later my picture book Someday We Will: a book for grandparents and grandchildren was accepted by Beaming Books. A little later than expected, but happy nonetheless! 📚

And a very significant milestone is that my mother turns 93 at the end of 2019. Having survived Hitler’s war as a teenager in Germany, she has also survived cancer, a heart attack, and has buried three husbands, a son, two brothers, her parents, and keeps forging on. Yup, she’s feisty and tenacious of life. So happy birthday, Mom!🎊🎁🎉

I’m looking forward to 2020–difficult to avoid that 20/20 comparison of seeing life with a clear focus.

How about you, what milestones happened for you in 2019?

A Shout Out for Leisurely Reading


After Tuesday June 12th my door to summer vacation fully opened. “I have no definite plans,” is my reply when asked, “What are you doing over the summer?”

I don’t know what the reaction would be if I gave an honest answer. You see as a Book Booster, I love reading ❤️ with big hearts of appreciation for the absolute joy books bring.

Reading through my subscribed blogs, I hang out with a plethora of other WordPress bloggers who love reading also, such as littlemisswoodsreads. Scrolling through her reasons for reading, I added my own for why I love to read. It has to do with reconnecting.

Even though the majority of my day is interacting with my students, I do spend a considerable amount of time with the computer. Grading, emails, lesson plans, PPT lecture enhancements are all part of the day. By the time I get home I am wanting a break from screens and keyboards.

After a brief walk around the block to get my physical reboot, I head for my library book bag, grab a selection, and find a comfy chair. Reading helps my mind unwind.

After an hour or so I begin to feel back in alignment: my body is tuned from its walk, and my mind has gone through its paces with a chapter or three.

Reading, paper in hand, both stimulates and relaxes my brain after a day of working with the computer screen. Kindle doesn’t cut it since glass doesn’t stimulate connectivity to the brain. Good old paper in hand. A prescription for defragmentation of tech stress.

To celebrate my kick off to summer reading, I am rebooting my Book Boosters feature. Click on the link and connect with other readers, find that simpatico, discover new blogs, collect my TBRs. Add your name in comments if you want to join the list of fellow love-books-readers.

Oh I do love my summertime of leisurely reading.

How about you–what books do you find yourself reading during the summer? Do you have special places, special times set aside for reading?

April Rue


April has been described as the cruelest month, as one full of showers, and it is a month full of celebrations from April Fool’s Day to pretzels.

Most notably, at least for me, is how April is a month celebrating poetry in that it’s National Poetry Month. Usually I post a poem every day. Didn’t happen this year.

I also do a Shakespeare shout out on my blog. Sorry, Bill–happy belated 454. He did get a video acknowledgement in the school’s morning announcements.

I managed to celebrate Poem in a Pocket Day on April 26 by handing out poems to my students. Always a big hit. I just didn’t write about it.

I didn’t even read much this month. *sigh*

So what did I do this month?

A small pause and a reflection…

I taught in fits and starts. Mainly having fits about the difficulty of starting a unit, considering after we returned from spring break we had a week to prepare students for a week of state testing.

No, I am not going there.

I became so frustrated with not being able to teach without interruptions to the class schedule that I would go home and binge watch Doctor Who. I could have run to my usual standby of Haagen-Daz or chocolate, but I am trying to find non-caloric comfort food these days. The Doctor works.

Somewhat sad and pathetic I know.

But–

May is nipping around the calendar and that means AP winding down and diving into Julius Caesar.

I’m ready to spring into a new month.

PADding About with Poetry


Teaching poetry to a class of teens is almost intimidating as being the student learning the language of metaphors and similes and alliteration and such.

For one thing there is the DWA

factor–Dead White Authors.

Occasionally I detect a certain resentment of having to study the antiquated language and suspect ideas of people who lived in times current adolescents have a difficult time relating to, especially when many of these authors were among the 1% of their day. Understanding that religion revolved around one belief and not a myriad seems wrong to some of many students.

Getting students to remove their 21st century hats in order to not be hindered by Frost using “queer” when describing how the speaker’s horse thinks it’s strange to stop in the middle of the woods is a little challenging but not insurmountable.

Another challenge is getting students to embrace poetry as a necessity. Actually, for that concern I have a ready reply:

If you can figure the meaning of a poem and explain it in such a way it is comprehensible to others, you will no doubt succeed in other endeavors in life, such as presenting a new scientific concept to your co-workers or even putting together that bike in a box for your kid some day.

I do sympathize with my students about the saturation of 18th and 19th century poems we tend to study, especially in AP Literature. This is why I subscribe to services that provide a poem everyday. It’s like those word a day subscriptions except more words and they sometimes rhyme.

Over the past few years I have amassed quite a collection. Now what? Aha! I pulled together a monthly menu and created a PPT what I call the PAD–Poem A Day. While I take attendance, students read the poem on the projector screen and then discuss some aspect. Most of these poems are contemporary and the topics, as well as formats, tend to be more relatable for my students.

The other day we covered Robert Bly’s moon poem. I then had students find three objects in the room and describe them in a new way. The best one involved calling our box fan a meditation counselor since it had the ability to provide a cooling off whenever we were heated up. Nice.

I remember Robert Frost and his puzzled horse in fifth grade and I have taught it to my tenth graders and seniors. I’m hoping once we have chatted about meaning and metaphor they will think poetry is lovely as they move through life. My hope is they’ll carry a verse in their pocket or be able to pop out a ready line to fit any occasion.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: