Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Freshmen and Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet has been a part of the freshman English curriculum since... well, forever. I remember studying it when I was a freshman 15 years ago. Wow. I was a freshman in high school when my current freshmen were born.  I remember wondering why we were reading this super old play that took forever to translate into a language that we could understand. The answer I gave over the last few years is the same answer I was given when I sat in my literature teacher's class: It's a classic, and it lends itself to the standards that we must teach. 

I'm not sure why I thought that was an okay answer to give my students. It definitely wasn't a good response for me when I entered high school and was trying to figure out who I was. This year, my English 09A professional learning community (PLC) took on the task of giving the students a better answer. A real answer.

The first part of our mission was to re-read the play.  The first night I began to re-read, my husband couldn't figure out why I was reading it again.  I should know the play cover to cover since I have taught it so many times. My response was that this time, I am reading for a different purpose. I'm looking for the relevance for today's teens.  I had a pretty good idea what I was going to find and a roundabout idea where to find it, but I needed the textual evidence to back it up.  The second night, he came up with ideas that he remembered that would help me out.

Here are some of the issues/topics that we came up with: anger management, teen violence, instigators, concern for/worrying about others, young love, wanting what you can't have, literacy, vanity, depression, tolerance, revenge, bullying, overbearing parents, forbidden friends, teen suicide, and teen sex.

Do teens deal with any of these issues? Yep! Did we find the relevance in Romeo and Juliet? Yep!

The last month has been kind of eye opening.  As we read this text that is over 400 years old, we stopped periodically to talk about the issues that the characters deal with. Almost every student contributed to the discussion.  Almost every student volunteered to read.

At the end of the play, I had a young woman livid because of the ending! Never mind the prologue gave away the ending and there was foreshadowing all over the place.

The students are now building websites about a topic of their choosing from the play. The students are using textual evidence and research to help other teens see that the issues they are facing today aren't new issue. Teens have been dealing with these same things fro hundreds of years and they've all made it through.

Our students get it. Don't get me wrong, they're complaining about the amount of work they are putting in to this project.  However, they understand WHY we read the play.  They enjoyed reading it. They get it.

Mind: blown.

When the sites are published I will share them in the comments section.

Your mission: find the relevance!

Christina Bartley


  1. I remember my Shakespeare professor screaming at a kid in my class when the kid mentioned R&J as the greatest love story of all time. She said something like, "Really! Falling in love in 1 days time, married the next day, and killing yourself by the weekend--sounds like adolescence to me!" That stuck with me, and now I try to see high school relationships through R&Js eyes. They are killers, and when a kid's whole world is caving in because of a breakup--it probably is.

  2. Finding applicable aspects from Shakespeare's plays seems daunting at any level of education. Prior to taking my college Comedies and Romances course, I personally had no interest in any romances involving anyone but myself or comedies that didn't involve someone who has been dead for longer than I had been living. Thankfully, though, my professor did a splendid job of analyzing and engaging both me and other students within the class. Yes, he analyzed us. How else would he know how to teach? I, along with my fellow 'Shake-mates' "speared" our way through play after play full of language we eventually came to not only understand, but appreciate. Could this all be simply because our professor was a more animated and friendly educator than others at the post-secondary level? Nay. The proof is in the pudding, though; not only did I receive an A in the class, but I continue to search for and appreciate Shakespearean references on a virtually daily basis.

    I'm looking for the link to the websites! I would love to see some student work.