“I’m so excited about our presentation today!”
I’ve never had a 10th grader say that to me…before today. What made today different? A real audience. My English 10 class was giving group presentations on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the other half of the 10th grade which has a different English teacher, meets the same period, and is studying a different Shakespeare play (many thanks to my colleague for providing us the stage!). The stars just aligned to make that happen, including me participating in a book discussion about project-based learning this spring, so it occurred me to stretch my thinking about my usual in-class presentation.
I love to answer student questions, rather than trying to get them to answer mine. The whole time we’ve been reading the play, students have known they need to understand it well enough and act skillfully enough to convey meaning and enjoyment to peers. The last several days of working on their presentation have driven them to question the text and their interpretation more attentively: “Mrs. Essenburg, how do I read this?” “Mrs. Essenburg, what am I saying here?”
The presentation incorporates one excerpt from the play (80-120 lines) as one piece of support (along with an additional quote from each of the 4 or 5 group members). The goal is for students to demonstrate the literary understanding of how a motif plays into a theme, to use support from the text, to grapple with difficult text, and to interpret the understanding of the text to an audience with all the tools available to an actor and presenter. And to be intrinsically motivated to do it.
There are many advantages to incorporating theater into language arts class. One is the opportunity for using the strengths of our kinesthetic learners. Another is natural formative assessment of reading comprehension--when a speaker is facing the wrong person, for instance, I can intervene with some text-based questions. Or misunderstanding punctuation (no, it's not "Stay sweet, Helena," it's "Stay, sweet Helena"). Or mispronouncing the myriad English vowel sounds ("jowl" rhymes with "owl"--it's not the vowel sound in "mow"). Finally, theater is made for authentic assessment--for an audience.
That’s short and sweet for this week, but just a note to self: authentic assessments drive student engagement with challenging content and skills. Even Shakespeare.
|Evolution of a scene: Discussing stage directions in class|
|The performance today|