Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Introducing Macbeth: Common Core-Style

Which of the following do you believe is the most creative interpretation for the opening scene from Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth?

  • Three old hags burying items on a lonely beach.
  • Witches, dressed as Catholic school girls, destroying a cemetery.
  • The witches disguised as nurses in Nazi Germany ripping the heart out of a soldier on a gurney.

With the new Common Core State Standards assessment looming on the horizon, teachers across the country are looking for ways to modify what they are doing in order to fit the increased rigor that the standards demand.

Previously, I wrote about how I changed my approach to teaching Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Instead of listening to and reading the entire play, I broke it down and did a close reading and analysis of specific speeches from the play.

When I used to teach Macbeth, I would just read the first scene, discuss it briefly, and move on. This year, I wanted to change my "old" way of teaching Macbeth by first looking at how different filmmakers directed their versions of the Scottish Play.

I found the following clip online already edited together featuring the opening scene from the following directors: Roman Polanski (1971), Geoffrey Wright (2006) and Rupert Goold (2010):

I posed the following question to my students:
"Which filmmaker's version is the most creative in terms of ______________________?"

The blank space should be one aspect of each version. As a class, we brainstormed aspects such as: costumes, setting, casting, props, music, sound effects, and camera work. Students were to pick one aspect, and collect evidence from each version using the following graphic organizer from all three versions.

View the graphic organizer here.

After taking notes, students developed an argument in answer to the question above. We used the following template from They Say, I Say in order to introduce an ongoing debate, and culminate with the student's main claim, or thesis statement:

Template for introducing ongoing discussion:
In discussions of _____, one controversial issues has been _________________. On the one hand, ____________ argues _________________. On the other hand, _____________ contends ______________. Others even maintain ________________. My own view is _________________.

First, I wrote in front of my students. I chose to do an unrelated topic, but one that I hold dear to my heart: Star Wars. In about five minutes, I used the template above to create an opening paragraph and thesis statement:

In discussions of the Star Wars films, one controversial issue has been the introduction of new characters to the film's universe. On the one hand, some critics argue that the Ewoks are essential because they ultimately helped destroy the Death Star. On the other hand, some people contend that Darth Maul was a ferocious Sith, and the only highlight in The Phantom Menace. Others even maintain that Boba Fett's introduction  (and subsequent death) added a bit of mystery to the series. My own view is that Yoda was, in fact, the most essential introduction to the Star Wars universe because he ultimately trained Luke Skywalker, and guided his development as a Jedi Knight.

Then, it was their turn to write. They went back to their notes, and reflected on each director's version, and chose which version was the most creative in one specific aspect. The template above served as a guide to get the students writing. Here is an example from one student:

In discussions of the various film versions of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, one controversial issue has been the costumes of the witches. Shakespeare purists favor Roman Polanski's traditional portrayal of witches that are frumpy older ladies with long noses. Others prefer Rupert Goold's ironic portrayal of the witches with a very eerie demeanor and a nurse facade. I prefer Geoffrey Wright's witches who are contemporary teenagers in schoolgirl uniforms, but still have an apparent edge to their character.

After this initial paragraph, students developed the rest of their argument using the argument writing models discussed in Kelly Gallagher's book Write Like This. They were required to pull in evidence from all three versions to support their claim: both as examples and evidence that addressed the opposition.

This lesson moved far beyond my standard way of teaching the opening scene: listening to a CD and briefly discussing what the witches are saying and doing. Now, students were forced to analyze the director's decisions in dramatizing the play for film. It went into much deeper analysis than I ever had asked students to do before with the play.

What are some ways you are making Shakespeare fit the new demands of the Common Core State Standards?

1 comment:

  1. This lesson is awesome! I am going to teach Macbeth for the first time in a few weeks, and I am definitely going to do this. Thanks for the great idea!