Shakespeare’s work is a tricky thing to teach to high school students. The main barrier is the difficult language. If you can get them past that, or used to that, or to understand that, or to accept that–you’ve made quite an accomplishment.
When I was in high school, Shakespeare really wasn’t even on my radar (for the aforementioned reasons paired with my inherently distracted nature). In college, I TRIED to understand Shakespeare and had moments of clarity, but still … not much sank in for me. In my younger years of teaching *I* didn’t even *LIKE* Shakespeare’s work, which made it really hard to teach effectively. After nearly a decade and a half of teaching Shakespeare’s plays (Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth) I have grown to LOVE his work — FOR the LANGUAGE, no less (!!!), for the genius characterization, for the uncanny (and timeless) portrayal of human nature and universal themes, and for its amazing relevance TODAY. Right here. Right now.
But the language …
… it’s sooooooo harrrrrd.
We make baby steps. If you can get the kids to playyyy with the language, they begin to build confidence in it. If you can show them that it–STILL, to this very day, after 14 years of teaching, two college degrees and the purchase of your very own bust of Shakespeare, YOU have trouble with it sometimes, YOU have to look up the meaning of a word or stare blankly into the abyss sometimes, or ponder the word order of a sentence sometimes–they feel less fear towards it. If you give them access to silly wigs and costumes and beg them to use zany accents (relevant OR irrelevant OR reverent OR irreverent to the original play itself) they can have fun (even just a little … they MIGHT even admit to said fun–GASP!) with the universality of it all.
Very recently, I was turned on to an app called Vine, which is a simple iPhone video capturing service (which links and embeds nicely with Twitter) that also is compatible with the iPad. It features a “hold and shoot” style video camera that maxes out at seven seconds, which (obviously) limits what you can fit into a clip. When you are trying to build students’ confidence in Shakespeare, this is a welcome limitation. If you ask a student who is hesitant to read Shakespeare to make a five-minute video portraying an scene, that might overwhelm him or her. Methinks pretty much anyone can handle 7 seconds of Shakespeare. The “hold and shoot” feature also allows for easy “special effects”. It’s hard to explain, but you will see what I mean when I show you a handful of example videos.
The assignment was as follows.
1. Pick your favorite character from Macbeth thus far. (We had read through Act III at the time of the assignment.)
2. Pick your favorite line that character has delivered thus far.
3. Think of how that character would deliver that line.
4. Try to “become” that character. (Costumes were available in the classroom. I am the drama teacher, after all.)
5. Using Vine, have a classmate capture you delivering that line.
6. Tweet me your vine, including my Twitter handle (@morgetron), the class hashtag (#phsWORlit), the character you chose, and let everyone know it’s from Macbeth. If you don’t tweet, send me the video via email and I will tweet it on your behalf. If you don’t want your video posted on the web, say so in your email. (I HAVE to respect my students’ desires to stay off the web and some parents are not crazy about their kids online either, which is understandable.)
Now those were the instructions I gave, but, as most plans do, these plans changed, particularly when we got to numbers 5 and 6. Number 5 became an issue for students who either didn’t want to or couldn’t download another app on their machine for whatever reason or students. Vine crashed on 2 of the 23 students involved during the process. This issue was easily solved by reverting to the built-in iPad camera and then students just emailed me their videos. The only challenge with that was that the students had to make sure that they remained under 7 seconds.
Once students realized that in order to tweet me their vine link, their video would be showing up in their own Twitter feeds, some were reluctant to tweet. This is where we hit the first snag with number 6. One student even said, “If I send this to you, YOU can post it, but I don’t want to post it to my followers.” In response, I offered the email option to ALL students, even Vine users. (If you allow Vine access to your photos, it will store all of your Vine videos in your iPad’s camera roll.) A secondary snag for number 6 came into play when I realized I could no longer embed the students’ videos into a tweet as a vine, so I had to upload the emailed vines to another video sharing service. (It would be nice if Vine added an email option.) I chose Vimeo.
Once the videos processed, I tweeted the links to them, tagging each tweet with our classroom hashtag. (This makes it easier when I send information to parents who want to see what’s going on in class.) The problem with this, I found out after I had posted a handful of tweets with Vimeo links is that even though they appear to embed within the tweet, unless you are a paid Vimeo Plus member, they do not embed. This is annoying because, as I previously mentioned, they APPEARED to embed and they showed up on my profile with a thumbnail view of each video, but when one clicks on the tweet itself, a message appears stating, “Sorry. The creator of this video has not given you permission to embed it on this domain. This is a Vimeo Plus feature.” If I had known this prior to going through the process of uploading a slew of videos to Vimeo, I would’ve gone the Youtube route. LESSON LEARNED. This was only a minor annoyance though. People who find themselves staring at my tweets promoting my students’ work can still click on the link itself and will be redirected to the Vimeo site where they can watch the video hassle-free. No bigs.
Since Vine was a new app to most of the students, some of our time was spent exploring Vine’s offerings, which includes looking through the videos housed in Vine’s collection. (It is a video sharing service, so there are countless videos available for perusal. Some redirecting was necessary. The “hold and shoot” feature is different than the usual “click and record” function of the iPad camera, so this took some getting used to as well. To some, this might feel like time wasted, but I view it as “frontloading”. What I mean by that is, it’s time spent wearing the newness off the app in addition to learning how to use it. In the long run, it’ll actually save us time because I won’t have to deal with (as much) covert video-watching, or (as much) explanation of the app’s features.
The resulting videos were overall fun and demonstrated a playful attitude towards Shakespeare’s difficult language. What follows are a couple of examples.
This one is posted on Vine, while the other ones are posted on Vimeo.