So Says Shakespeare

Benefits of Reading the Bard

The fourth quarter at Integritas Academy is dedicated to Shakespeare’s plays. In Lit & Comp 1 we read Macbeth, and in Lit & Comp 2, we study As You Like it.  Our middle school course enjoys The Tempest, and in Lit & Comp 3/AP next year we will do an in-depth critical study of Hamlet.

Here are a few of the many wonderful reasons to study Shakespeare:

  • master the rhythm of the language (including the iambic pentameter poetic sections)
  • unpack the rich themes and humor as you gain understanding of the texts, written at the height of the English language
  • expand your knowledge of history and England.

Tips for Reading the Plays
It’s important for students to read the original language, but there is nothing wrong with their following along with an updated version as they read the original, as long as the update is not just a summary. There are quite a few of these now, but the version online, “No Fear Shakespeare,” is a solid one. It also helps to read confusing sections out loud.

Students should try to get the “official” class version so we can “be on the same page” during our readings and discussions. There are various “folios” of the plays, so the line numbers are not always the same in different editions.

Getting to know The Bard is a great way to spend spring! If fact, he calls us to join him at this time of year:                                                                               

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.
(Sonnet 98, 1-2)

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Analytical Angst: Writing for Independent Thought

I teach writing according to the Jane Schaffer writing method, used by high achieving schools in their honors and AP programs. The Schaffer pedagogy meets the definition of “classical” because it leads students into developing critical thinking skills at an early age. Schaffer is qualitatively different from other popular “classical” writing methods, because Schaffer teaches them how to analyze, peninterpret, and assess ideas. Put another way: students’ minds are engaged in such a manner that they are inspired to develop independent thought. This is because students are led to ponder what a character’s (or historical figure’s) motivations are, or what the consequences of his or her actions or words are, within the context of the theme and diction of the story.Schaffer is simply a codification of how analytical writing was taught traditionally. As I often tell students, they are like Sherlock Holmes walking onto a crime scene. They must look at the situation presented, as a whole, and from that assess what the important “evidences” are. The Schaffer method calls these “concrete details” (CDs). From there, students use the context of these facts to determine the theme(s) of the text. Why did the author use those facts at that point? Students also bring their own knowledge of life and universal truths to bear on the situation: What wingsis the point of the passage? What does it reveal about the character, or what message is the author communicating to the reader?

When students begin to think analytically, they begin to think independently. Of course, this is the goal of a classical education, not the memorization of a bucketful of facts or texts. The necessity of having such skills before entering the halls of higher education cannot be overemphasized. The Jane Schaffer approach takes time to learn in the beginning–students are building up their “deductive” muscles. But with guidance and practice, they become independent thinkers.

The “method” is a proven way to bringing students’ minds to bear, in order to train them to focus so that they successfully learn the process of analytical reasoning.  As students begin to incorporate the techniques so that they think and write inferentially, they no longer need the Schaffer steps, as they have begun the process of independent thinking–the ultimate goal of our educational efforts.

©Cindy C. Lange, MA

old books and pen

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