I love teaching Shakespeare. I revel in it. It is honestly my absolute favourite part of my English courses. That is why what I did with my FFP class today was agony for me. We are starting Romeo and Juliet. Because it is something I could teach in my sleep I decided it was a good unit to hand over to the class to control.
I presented the kids with a set of learning goals for our Shakespeare unit, then we sat in a circle and they discussed how they wanted to learn the material and how they would demonstrate their achievement of the goals. They discussed their preferences, very much within the confines of how they have been taught before. I tried to stay out of it, jumping in only to tell them not to worry about marks and pushing them to explore more unconventional ideas. Once they wrapped their heads around these unexpected instructions, they agreed to focus on learning the play before they agonized too much over what they would produce. Quickly they suggested and agreed upon creating groups based on differentiated learning ( though they lack the terminology) and I think they were a little shocked when I agreed with the suggestion that we start with a film. They actually asked for as accurate a stage version as I could find, although Leonardo DiCaprio is apparently mandatory viewing as well. They began to consider ways to capture the essence of the issues in the play while applying them to a modern context. A few kids asked if it’s still okay to do an essay. I jokingly shouted “no essays for you!” as if I was denying them soup. Of course an essay is a fine choice.
Letting go of a unit so traditionally teacher centric is a challenge. I hope that they will indulge me now and then, allowing me to read to them and marvel at the language. I know some of my reluctance is ego. Students are easily impressed by the ease with which I spout off passages, no book in sight. That’s all the more reason for me to remove myself from the unit. I will offer myself as an expert on the text, but they are the experts on what aspects of the play will resonate in 2012. If I keep claiming year after year it is still relevant then I should have the faith to let them tell me how and why. If they can’t then I guess I’ve been wrong all along.
I have to reassure myself that this is still me teaching them R&J and hopefully it will still smell as sweet.