Tag: education

Standardized Testing Sucks, A High School Story

Exam
Photo courtesy of flickr
I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. Formal education, about how I don’t like it. Informal education is great. If you know me, you know that I love learning. I’m quite the autodidact. But whenever the state has been involved in that process, it rarely went well for me.

I’ll be blogging more thoughts on education soon. But first, a short story.

While I was in 10th grade California had the bright idea to require me to take the high school exit exam. A test which all students must pass before being allowed to graduate.

I answered many questions about math, science, English. One essay prompt asked what the best pet for a child is. I answered (in 500 words or more): a younger sibling. I passed easily. Most of my peers did too.

I passed the High School EXIT exam in 10th grade. The next two years of high school I continually asked, “Why the hell am I still here?

Do you have any silly school stories?

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Is Our Children Learning?

A story from New Zealand illustrates an educational trend that is spreading worldwide. A trend I see in the U S of A in the news far too often.

Schools, districts, and government instituted curriculum plans are trimming the meat from classroom learning. The article describes Shakespeare studies as being one of those trims: “Shakespeare’s plays and other great works of literature considered too difficult for some pupils will disappear from classrooms under proposed changes to the curriculum.” That statement makes me sick.

Isn’t school meant to be challenging? I remember complaining about difficult parts of class in middle school and high school, but dangit, I learned something!

Standardized testing and the like are putting emphasis on subjects of minimal importance. You can’t have a multiple-choice test on literature. Learning can’t be measured. Why not reintroduce Shakespeare and other “difficult” materials into the classroom and have the youth of today learn culture, critical thinking, and appreciation of art?

And who says Shakespeare is difficult? The real difficulty today is people finding the patience to really learn something that takes time. Anything worth learning can’t really be studied in one or a few class sessions, can it? I’ve been studying Shakespeare for years! Many have studied Shakespeare (or other creative arts related subjects) their entire lives and still find gratification in the pursuit of knowledge.

What will the world of tomorrow be in an education system that teaches us to skim the surface of the knowledge pool without ever swimming to the deep end of knowledge?

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Speaking With Shakespeare’s Punctuation

To use a comma, or not to use a comma? That is the question editors of Mr. Shakespeare’s text must answer many, many times while working. A similar question may occur for periods, semi-colons, question marks, and exclamation points as well.

For those who don’t already know, the edition of a play that you pick up at your local bookstore does not reflect the punctuation that Shakespeare wrote. If you compare editions you will find that they are punctuated differently, some might look nothing alike; they could even create different meanings.

To students new to Renaissance texts this might seem rather odd. “What’s wrong with the punctuation Shakespeare wrote?” The answer depends on who you ask. One issue is that the surviving texts we have today in the form of Folios and Quartos may not necessarily reflect the punctuation Shakespeare wrote, but rather what the typesetter thought was best. So scholars sometimes try to “correct” the texts to make them as Shakespeare intended. A bigger reason is that the punctuation isn’t really how we normally have it in modern times. Capitalization was even different on a few words that aren’t at the beginning of a line or sentece. What’s all that about?

Scholars take it upon themselves to re-punctuate the text in order to make it comprehendible to the reader of their edition… to create a more familiar format of text.

That may be well and good for the English student, but what about the actor? Are the editors helping thespians too? Let’s explore that, shall we?

Continue reading

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Shakespeare For Dummies and “Smarties”

On numerous occasions I have been reading an edition of one of Shakespeare’s plays and come across an unfamiliar word. I find the corresponding footnote, and lo and behold! the unfamiliar word is defined with an other unfamiliar, albeit more modern, word. If I didn’t have internet access or my healthy library of research materials on my bookshelf I would be very very very peeved. With all the aforementioned at my disposal, I usually am only just peeved.

All of the “standard” editions of Shakespeare (Arden, Penguin, etc) have a few of these in there. I should call them scholarly editions. There is another type of Shakespeare edition out there where this does not occur. I call these the “for dummies” editions. But these editions attempt to translate Shakespeare’s words, and I have already discussed how I feel about that. One of the problems with this type of editions is that Shakespeare seems inaccessible without of one these editions. To the student (or perhaps the average adult) who picks up a scholarly edition may find Shakespeare completely inaccessible and the book they have may not help at all. Some of them are packed so full of definitions that one can easily read the definition of every word and not understand the story at all. So the published edition may be partly to blame for the common assumption that Shakespeare is only accessible to the intellectual snob. If you had little to no Shakespeare experience wouldn’t you be frustrated too? Maybe give up halfway and read the sparknotes summary and try your luck on the quiz at school, if you happen to still be in school.

So where is the marriage between the intellectual and the creative parts of the Shakespeare’s plays? I don’t really have a good answer for that. It seems to be a zig-zag or roundabout way to find it — and it’s unique to every person I’ve talked to — and some do give up along the way before getting too far. If you’re reading this and have any recommendations please share. I’d love to let the masses know, “This is what you need to read,” and end the Bardophobic pandemic.

I’m almost inspired to create my own edition of a Shakespeare play to see if I can do a good one. One that is readable by the young student, actor, and “smartie.” Might be fun! I’ll find the time some day… some year.

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The Shakespeare Projects

On Friday I was lucky enough to witness several students (seniors in college) do an end-of-the-year performance called The Shakespeare Projects. Each student did a 10 minute solo piece. They chose a character and used lines spoken by that character to tell a story. There were sets, costumes, and props were all present. I saw some very creative things ranging from a man whose life and family have been altered by the war in Iraq with lines from Titus to Romeo living his story and the other characters appear as he draws them.

This isn’t the usual way that Shakespeare is performed… but it’s not a bad one. To clarify, the students were not playing the exact character from the play. They were using some of a character’s lines to create their own original journey and agenda. One was a mad scientist far in the future using Prospero’s lines. Miranda was a robot and Ariel was shapes of light on the ceiling.

I know that not everyone likes this idea. Some say that Shakespeare’s words must remain in their own context! Says who?

What I saw here were student actors connecting to the text and meaning what they said. I think everyone in the audience knew what was going on all the time. That’s more than I could say for some professional productions I’ve attended.

Seeing this got me thinking if there might be a place for these sort of performances to take place outside an educational environment. It’s not horribly uncommon to have a night a scenes as a fundraiser or showcase. Why not a little something different? Various actors creating a story with lines from a character in Shakespeare and sets and props to go with it. It could be fun to see. What say you?

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Was It Good For Me?

Not such a long time ago I asked you how your education on Shakespeare was/is. I also posted the results of the online survey I created. There seems to be a split of people who had a good Shakespearience in school, and many who didn’t. The consensus seems to be “it depends on the teacher.”

Now it’s time for my story. I don’t think it’s a horribly fascinating story. I didn’t grow up idolizing Shakespeare, it just kind of happened. Somehow I seem to have a lot to write. So if you have nothing else to do, click to read Continue reading

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Shakespeare Blog Carnival #1

Come see the monkeys and clowns, ride the rides, and get some cotton candy. April Fools! It’s actually the Shakespeare Blog Carnival making its debut here! Sorry, there are no rides to go on. Now I didn’t get many submissions, but that’s okay. It’s a new thing. In addition to the couple submissions I received I’m also including a few posts that I came across recently that I feel like sharing. For next time: Bloggers – sumbit some posts you wrote! Readers – submit some posts you read! And without further ado about nothing, some links for your edification.

Naomi Stevens submitted COMIC STRIP SHAKESPEARE posted at Diary From England. Makes you think about countless ways we’re trying to expose younger audiences. How much of it is working, I wonder.

Duane “Shakespeare Geek” Morin contributes Why Is Shakespeare So Hard? posted at his blog Shakespeare Geek. I think it’s a great post, and something you should have everyone you know read. Especially people who don’t like Shakespeare “because it’s hard.”

Scott Malia presents Kinder-Bard-en on enotes.com’s very own Shakespeare Blog. Some interesting questions are raised in response to a news article about a youth production of a musical Hamlet. With all the talk of Shakespeare in education, we must take time to ponder [in the words of our current president], “Is our children learning?”

Also at the Shakespeare Blog is a post from Jen, a drama teacher who is doing a bang-up job at getting her kids to enjoy Shakespeare and posts her progress on the blog. I’m featuring her post, Staging Shakespeare: Can pre-teens do Shakespeare? Heck yeah! Strongly recommended for teachers.

And the final post for this edition is from Alan Farrar with his post, Hack adaptor? from his blog Shakespeare Experience. I liked this because he brings up the point that Will Shakespeare may have had inspiration for some of his works from previous plays that he act, in fact, ACTED in. He was an actor after all. I think it’s important to keep that in mind!

That’s all folks! I hope to make this a monthly thing (or more often if the amount of submission increase a lot) in order to Share all the great work that bloggers are doing in the world of Shakespeare. I chose not to include one of my own posts. Not sure why… but since you’re here already you can check out the archives. For more info about the carnival, check out the page with info, or just submit a post for next edition!

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Was It Good For You?

I’ve been in a survey mood lately, so I’m going to ask more questions. I like hearing your responses. :)

A little over a week ago I found the website Ask500People, which gives you the chance to ask a question to whoever happens to stumble across that website, as well as visitors of your own site if you choose to put the poll on it. I asked the question, “Did you have a good experience studying Shakespeare in school?” You can click on that to vote and/or see the results.

As of now, when I am posting this I have 130 responses. 57% of the voters answered yes, 43% answered no. Out of 6 comments, 5 left responses saying they had a negative experience. Most the the responses I got were from North America, but a few from elsewhere.

With only 130 answers, this isn’t a great representation of the average school Shakesperience, but it was interesting to see these numbers. To be honest I was expecting more people to have answered No. Even so, that’s a lot of people who didn’t have fun with Shakespeare in school. With all this talk about Shakespeare in schools, especially with the RSC launching their Stand Up For Shakespeare program, I think it’s good to see where we’ve come from and where we want to be headed with Shakespeare in Education.

And now I invite you to leave a comment here about YOUR Shakespeare experiences in school. When were you first required to read one of his plays? Which play? Did you get to get up and perform at all? Whatever you want to share I’d like to hear. I’ll post my experiences soon, though I’m sure your story is more interesting than mine.

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Stand Up For Shakespeare

Shakespeare is required in many schools all over the world. In the UK it’s compulsory for almost all students. But trouble and Shakespeare in school seem to go hand in hand these days. Not all teachers know that much or even enjoy Shakespeare. How are the students going to get anything out of this kind of education? The Royal Shakespeare Company has an answer.

They’ve created a new program called Stand Up For Shakespeare whose purpose is to improve students experiences when learning about Shakespeare! An article in the Official London Theatre Guide can give you more of the story.

The RSC asks schools to have students get up and speak Shakespeare on their feet, see live performances of the plays, and introduce the subject to kids gently at a younger age before they’ve reached the point of hearing Shakespeare horror stories.

What a great idea! It makes me happy to see this happening and I really hope there is some success with this program. I can only wish the the US would follow suit, but I think it’ll take several more years. Maybe by then I’ll be in a place of power to make it happen! A guy can dream, can’t he?

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