Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

Category: Homeschooling High Schoolers

The End of an Era

Missed Deadline

As yesterday was coming to a close I realized I had missed my deadline – the deadline for this week’s blog post.

I won’t apologize. This was a deadline missed for good reasons – I was away for the previous four days with an amazing group of students, and frankly, writing was not high on my priority list.

But I am home, as they all are, and I will write the post today instead.

We’ve Come and Gone to Mock Trial

I also won’t apologize for the context of this post, a topic that I have addressed several times in the more or recent past, and that some of you may be tired of hearing.  But, if you have heard Mock Trial enough times from me to last you awhile, have no fear, it isn’t really the topic of this post, it is merely the context within which my post was born.

I spent this past weekend with twelve high school students, none of whom were biologically related to me (though one registered with my last name and I didn’t protest). I have known more than half of these students since before they were old enough to attend my Government Club or my classes, since they each had older siblings that were attending when they were still quite young. (And we’ve actually known several of these families since before those particular students were even born!) At the other end of the spectrum, I met one of the students less than three weeks ago, when she graciously agreed to fill our last spot for a competition that she knew little about.

Twenty-One Years as Government Club Advisor

This was my twenty-first year to be the advisor for the Way Home Christian School Government Club. It is also the last year I plan to coach Mock Trial (or Youth Judicial, as most others in Alabama refer to it). I knew that that day would come eventually, as my own children grew up, and as my life moved in other directions. But I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to give it up. I’ve taken more than forty teams to Montgomery during these last two decades, and somewhere between 100 and 200 students.  Some of those students came and went over a brief period of time, signing up for a team, spending their two weeks to two months practicing and then competing, and then disappearing again from my life, either of their own accord, or on a rare occasion, when I asked them not to return. (I can happily say that the latter was only the case in a handful of times.)

Most of the students I have taken to Montgomery over the years are now adults, many of them married, and some with children of their own, but the ones I took this weekend are not there yet. They ranged in age from 15 to 18, and from ninth grade to seniors.  I had gone into this fall knowing that I was passing the baton on after this year, and had prayed that God would give me “a good group of kids” for my last Mock Trial. He answered that prayer beyond what I could have even imagined.

Bringing Me to Tears

These kids brought me to tears (not a first for a Mock Trial weekend, sadly). But this was the first time that those were all tears of joy.  I cannot think of one time in the entire weekend that I was angry with any of them, or even slightly annoyed for that matter. In spite of room issues the first night, late nights all weekend, and last minute changes to their trial plans when both teams had their opening lawyers start a day not feeling well, they hung in there, worked together, and continued to do their best. One team even had to do more trials than they felt like they had agreed to (four is the promised number of trials, with some teams getting a fifth, and generally only the top two teams getting in a sixth trial). But this weekend they had the two expected trials on Saturday, followed by four in a row on Sunday (most likely a record!) They were tired, some of them were more than a little overwhelmed by the extra efforts required by the two extra trials, but they all gave it their best, complained very little, and kept going.

Mock Trial Craziness

This year’s twelve students included four who had never attended a Mock Trial competition (two of whom may never have even heard about it until less than a month ago!). But even the ones that have been several times often forget some of the craziness that goes on at these events. And in spite of all of our experience and efforts, there is always new craziness that we didn’t expect. (Wait, you want me to cross this over-the-top difficult witness, keep it under three minutes, and somehow not come across as “mean”? And you expect me to respond to an objection of “unfair impeachment” that I’ve never heard of, isn’t in our list of objections, and that opposing counsel can’t even tell me where came from? Sure, why not.)

Making Mistakes

Throughout our weeks of preparation I always encourage the students to do their best. But I also never wanted them to feel pushed too hard or stressed because of it. For us, this simply isn’t about winning, it’s about the joy of competing, learning something new, and hopefully growing in the process. I’ve never been angry with a witness who has forgotten their answers on the stand, even if it means an impeachment (or a series of leading questions), or a lawyer who missed an objection or made a bad one. We talk about the mistakes and hope they go into each consecutive trial feeling stronger and more prepared. And maybe that will show up on their score sheets. (But often not, through no fault of these students, but that’s an entirely different matter.)

Most Not Future Lawyers

Most of these students will never become lawyers. In fact, it is likely that many of them will never step into a court room again after these competitions. But they still gain so much from participating in this program. I’ve watched so many of them come of out their shells, honing their abilities to argue their points, and learning to think on their feet. And throughout it all I watch so many of them develop friendships that will move into their post-school years with them.  They often comfort others who have become overwhelmed or stressed, moving beyond just thinking about themselves.

An Enjoyable Weekend

I spent the weekend enjoying their company, enjoying their amazing performances, and being thankful, once again, that I had been granted the privilege of sharing this event with these and so many other students. As I pass the role of leading this group on to others, I have no regrets for all that doing this has cost me over the years, in lost sleep, time, or expenses. What more could a mother/coach/teacher/team mom want?

The Score Sheets Said What?

As we finished our final meal together for this event, picnicking at Peach Park, and going over the score sheets from our ten trials, complete with rounds of applause, mixed with hissing (at the judges who seemed to have slept through portions of the trials they were scoring), my heart was full of the joy of having watched these twelve students accomplish so much.

Saying Goodbye

And just as I thought we were going to load up the vehicles and continue our journey home, the students surprised me. They had other plans before we did that. One by one they took turns telling me how much they had enjoyed this experience (and the previous ones for the veterans on the team). They spoke of how much I meant to them, how much this club has meant to them, as well as the opportunities to do these things. I was crying before the first one had finished speaking, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t stop until after they were done.  As a coach for the past twenty-one years, I’ve spent lots of time with countless students. And there have certainly been the occasional thank you cards and gifts of thanks. But I don’t think anything has touched me the way those heartfelt words did yesterday.

The Time I Almost Quit

Six years ago I had threatened to quit at the end of a very stressful mock trial weekend. And when I sat in my hotel room looking at the six or seven students who had caused me so much heartache that weekend, I told them that they would be responsible for the fact that their younger siblings would never have the amazing opportunities that they had had. Fortunately, I went home from that weekend and had time to line up all the negative things and all the positive things that these weekends had brought along. And I had to admit, that in spite of the problems, the positives were still outweighing the negatives. So here I sat, six years later, listening to at least one of those younger siblings thanking me for the opportunities I had given her.

Tears of Joy

As a teacher I have been fairly confident over the years that I have made at least a small difference in many of my student’s lives. Yesterday, twelve of those students made me cry tears of joy by sharing some of those specifics with me. I am confident that memory will stay with me for a long time to come.

Tearfully and Joyfully,

Cathy

 

More about Mock Trial

We won a top Lawyer and a top Witness award in TN

At the risk of writing a post that is only of potential interest to a small number of people, I wanted to discuss one of my favorite homeschool topics again – Mock Trial. I’m going to talk specifically about our upcoming experience here in Alabama’s Mock Trial competition, but Mock Trial is a program available for high school students across most of the United States. (We’ve actually competed in Texas and Tennessee, in addition to our more than twenty years here in Alabama.)

Six weeks ago I wrote a post about the enjoyment and value of Mock Trial, Making Meaningful Memories with Mock Trial. I spoke then about what Mock Trial has meant to my own family and to the dozens (maybe hundreds?) of students we’ve shared it with over the past two decades plus.

But, at this moment, as we work to put our teams together for what I expect to be my final stint at coaching Mock Trial I thought I would answer some of the questions about it that come up so often. (I have grown sons in the area who may take up the coaching responsibilities for our club in the nearish future, but after this year, it is time for me to retire.)

First, What is Mock Trial?

In Alabama it is actually called Youth Judicial, but we’ve always called it Mock Trial and that’s what it’s generally called elsewhere, so we’ll stick to that. Mock Trial is a state competition for high school students (generally from public and private schools, with a few homeschool teams sometimes sprinkled in for good measure). In most states Mock Trial is sponsored by the state bar association, but in Alabama it’s sponsored by the YMCA. In states with bigger programs, there are competitions where teams must qualify to go to the state event, but in Alabama we just have the one, large state-wide competition that happens each November in Montgomery.

What Happens at the Competition?

The coach in the middle (Me) flanked by two of my assistants.

We (my teams and related adults) drive together to Montgomery on Friday afternoon, so that we can get checked into our hotel rooms and prepare for the weekend’s events. More than 50 teams of six or more students compete that weekend, basically all day on Saturday and Sunday – generally in one of the courtrooms in the Federal Court House there in Montgomery. Teams usually have two or three trials on each of those days and then watch, as “jury members,” another two or three trials/day.

What Happens in a Trial?

Each trial is conducted like a smaller, more controlled, version of a real life trial. The courtroom is set up like in real life – complete with a judge and a bailiff (in Alabama those are also students), a jury, a Prosecution team and a Defense team.

After the judges give their introductory remarks, lawyers from each side give an Opening Statement of three minutes or less (Prosecution and then Defense). After Opening Statements have been given the Prosecution team calls each of its three witnesses, one at a time of course, directing each witness and then allowing the witness to be crossed.  Re-directs and re-crosses are allowed (and encouraged, at least by this coach!).

Then it’s time for Defense to tell their side of the story – calling up their three witnesses to each be directed and crossed.  During these directs and crosses lawyers are allowed to make objections if they so desire. (Hearsay and Relevance being two that we hear often down there.) Judges rule on each of the objections as they are made. (Often rather poorly in this coach’s perspective, but alas, they aren’t asking for my opinion on the matter!)

Once all six witnesses (three from each side) have had their turns on the witness stand, we hear Closing Arguments (each lasting 5 minutes or less) – first from Prosecution, then Defense, and then hopefully one last time from Prosecution. (Defense doesn’t get a chance at a rebuttal, just Prosecution.)

That’s the nuts and bolts of how the trials run.  After trials I like to go over my notes with my students, generally encouraging them, sometimes reminding them to “Speak up!” and occasionally pointing out small things they can work on for the next time.  We will have practiced many times before this, and this isn’t the time to make major changes to our process. They have it by then or they don’t. But sometimes there is a question about an unexpected objection, or a procedural difference that surprised us. I’m not a lawyer, so occasionally these questions stump me too, but generally my twenty plus years of Mock Trial experience will give me the information they are seeking.

What is the Commitment before the Competition?

We’ve met countless teams in Montgomery that have held tryouts for their teams and are going down with every intention of trying for the first place award. Many of them are serious to the point of obnoxiousness. We’ve never had anything against winning. (I lose track, but I think we’ve taken home nine first place awards in the twenty years we’ve done this, as well as numerous second and third places.) But I don’t go down there expecting or desiring that. I would rather take students who want to learn something, while having a reasonably good time at it. I’ve never gotten angry with a student who forgot the facts in their statement or who missed an objection. As long as my students are doing their best, and not cheating (something we see too much of in Montgomery), I am happy with them.

Since we have two teams we practice together once a week (on Wednesday mornings), and then each team practices at least one other time each week. (This year my Prosecution team also meets on Monday afternoons, and my Defense team has practices on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.) Most of my students make it to each of their team’s allotted practice times, but I do have one student who calls in from his home in Tennessee each time instead of making the lengthy drive, and we have another student who will miss most of the practices because of her school schedule.  As long as students are willing to do the work at home and are putting in the necessary time, we can work with almost any homeschooled student who wants to participate. (To simplify things for me, the coach and the advisor, teams have always been made exclusively of students from homeschooled families. That doesn’t prevent all problems, sadly, but it at least cuts down on them.)

What Does It Require to Be a Witness?

Witnesses have to spend much time on their own reading and getting very comfortable with their own witness statements. They are responsible for knowing all the little and not so little facts that their statement presents. (And a few of the witnesses, in this case our doctors, have to be familiar with one or more of the relevant exhibits.) As much as is possible, we actually have witnesses write out their own Direct questions and answers. That makes it easier on them, since witnesses must memorize their answers to the Direct questions (or at least the related facts, so they can easily answer those questions) and know their statements well enough to answer most any Cross questions that might get thrown at them. (Witnesses have no notes to help them when they take their seat in the Witness Stand.)

What is Required to be a Lawyer?

Lawyers on the other hand, can use notes if they want to. (It may drop their score by a point, but that’s not a point worth stressing about.) Before the competition, each lawyer has to write a series of questions for whichever witness they are going to be crossing. They also need to have at least a passing knowledge of the most common objections, particularly the ones they are most likely to hear on their questions or that they will most likely want to make. (Something we try to work on each practice to make it easier. But again, not something I stress about.) Additionally, one lawyer from each team has to write the Opening Statement and another lawyer has to write the Closing Argument. Again, lawyers have the privilege of being able to memorize their questions and speeches, or to use notes, whichever they prefer.

How Much Does All This Cost?

Sadly, this is the difficult part of the equation. Competing in Alabama’s Mock Trial Competition is not cheap! The YMCA charges each student $275 – and that only covers some of our costs (two of our nights in the hotel, a couple of our meals, and a t-shirt they may or may not want). On top of that, our additional expenses have risen to $125 per student – by the time we pay for our additional hotel costs, the extra meals, and our transportation to and from Montgomery. (And this is with the coaches and any other parents that want to attend paying their own expenses.)

Is Mock Trial Worth all this Time and Money?

Obviously, each family has to decide that for themselves, but more than twenty years ago I made the decision that yes, this was something we would invest the time and money into. (Fortunately it didn’t cost quite this much back then. Costs seem to rise annually.) And believe me, we have – I’ve taken as many as three of my own children to this at one time – having to pay for each of them and myself as the coach. And I’ve paid for the privilege of taking other people’s children for the last several years, since my last child graduated from the program.  So, yes, I know the costs and have been willing to pay them.

From this program I have seen countless students polish their public speaking skills as well as their logic and thinking skills. Every student who has participated with us has learned something in the process and the vast majority have thoroughly enjoyed it. Full disclosure – I had one daughter who did it one time to help out in an usual situation. She did not love it, but that has seldom been the case. And I’m sure she learned much in the process, even if she won’t admit it!

If you are looking for a lively way to introduce your students to our judicial system while at the same time helping them to hone their speaking and thinking skills, I can’t think of a better way than Mock Trial.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Making Meaningful Memories with Mock Trial

Our Extracurricular Activities

My personal favorite sport is volleyball!

With twelve children, it should not be surprising that my family has been involved in a lot of different activities: from a variety of sports (everything from soccer to rugby, lacrosse, volleyball, and more), to Scouts, Drama, and even a brief stint of 4-H. But amongst all the other wonderful extra-curricular activities that various ones participated in throughout their school years, there is only one that they all did at least once, and some as many as five or six times: Mock Trial (or Youth Judicial, as it is called in the program here in Alabama).

Mock Trial Pioneers

My oldest kids were on one of the first ever homeschool teams in the state of Texas, and four years later one of my sons started the first ever homeschool team in the state of Alabama. And we continued the Mock Trial teams through our homeschool group long after that son graduated from high school, college, and law school. If you count the early years when I was more of an advisor than a coach (my son served as the real coach for the first few years in Alabama), this will be my 21st year coaching high school Mock Trial.

Coaching Mock Trial

Of all the things I’ve done in the homeschool community I don’t think anything has brought me more joy than coaching Mock Trial. (Though, of course, in 20 years of doing this, it’s brought me a few aggravations as well. But compared to the positives, the negatives have been few and far between.)

Not Just for Future Lawyers

I’m very happy that all of my children (as well as three of my nieces and dozens of other homeschooled students) have been able to partake of this amazing activity. For those who want to become lawyers, it is practically a must. But even for the more numerous students who have no interest in going into law, it is an amazing experience! It helps students work on their public speaking skills as well as their logic and quick thinking.  And it introduces them to how our judicial system should work.

Big Time Commitment

It’s not an easy extracurricular activity – it takes up several hours a week for about six weeks each fall. (At least in Alabama. In other states, the Mock Trial competition occurs later in the year.) We’ve gone up against teams that do tryouts for spots on their teams, but we’ve never felt the need to do that. In our twenty years of competing in Mock Trial in Alabama we only had try outs once – and that was when I had two students that both wanted to give the Opening Statement on their team. We had to settle that with a “write off.” But I’ve never had to turn down a high schooler who wanted to participate with us. (We’ve occasionally had to fill team spots with 7th or 8th graders, and I haven’t always had spots for younger siblings that have wanted to participate with us.)

How Badly Do We Want to Win?

We certainly don’t mind winning, and have accomplished seven first places in our twenty years, along with a reasonable number of second and third places. But we don’t go down to Montgomery determined to win at all costs. In fact, I’ve told my students I would rather them forget their facts on the witness stand, or miss an objection as a lawyer than to pull some of the cheap shots that we’ve seen some other teams pull.  Many years ago we had a trial that was so bad that I had to write a small booklet about the experience to help us all get through the emotional trauma. That booklet, A Trial of a Trial, now available on both Amazon and CurrClick, has since become a useful teaching tool for our new students and other new students in our area. But again, the good news is that experiences like that are rare.

A Great High School Experience to Try

If you have a chance to try Mock Trial or Youth Judicial with your students, I would strongly recommend it! I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Helping Students Enjoy Shakespeare

Where to Begin?

The neat thing about sharing Shakespeare with students is that there are so many ways to do it.  My favorite method is still to read an entire play aloud as a group, and as often as possible to combine that with watching a live performance of the play. Which is why I’ve finally decided to start this school year with The Taming of the Shrew: American Shakespeare Center’s traveling troupe will be performing it in our area in early February, so reading it this fall will make for a fuller experience for all of us. (By the way, the feature image for this post, as well as all of the other images except the last, are different scenes from The Taming of the Shrew.)

More Exciting Ideas

But after attending two different teacher/adult events in Staunton, Virginia (home of the American Shakespeare Center) I’m working on how to add a little variety to our readings.  Here are some of the ideas from their recent teachers seminar that I am considering adding to this fall’s lesson plans:

Walk Throughs

Read-Around

  • I’ve traditionally passed out specific parts to students, so that they can “own” a character throughout the play, but this year I’ll probably be trying the “read-around” method for at least some portions of the play. With that, one student just starts reading the first line in a scene and reads until they get to a stopping point – a period, semi-colon, colon, or question mark. Then the next student reads a line, and so forth. We tried it at the teachers seminar I was just at and I could see advantages to reading that way for some portions of a play – for example, when a character has a particularly long set of lines to read. I still plan to have characters assigned for much of our reading, but we can vary it this fall and see how it goes.

Embedded Stage Directions/Props

  • Embedded stage directions/props are interesting to pay attention to: Shakespeare gave very few actual stage directions in his plays. (“They fight” being one of his most popular.) But oftentimes directions are embedded into the lines of other characters – for instance, when one character tells another character to stand up. Or a prop might be mentioned when one character discusses the letter they are holding. Shakespeare didn’t need to write separate directions for those, he just included them within the lines of his characters. And often a single word tells us much: we can deduce that “this fellow” is closer to the speaker than “that fellow.”
  • At other times actors have decisions to make: When, in the first scene of Taming of the Shrew, does the Hostess leave, when her line is “I must go fetch the head-borough.”? Does she leave as she’s saying the line, or directly after saying it? And right after that, when the directions say that the Beggar “Falls asleep” – did he sit or lay down at some point before the next line is spoken? Again, interesting questions for students to consider.

Different Ways to Read a Line

  • It could also be helpful to have students slow down while reading certain portions and try various ways to say the same line. For instance, what different ways could Katherine say “Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun.” in Act 4, Scene 6 of The Taming of the Shrew?

Who Are Lines Directed at?

  • And in other places students can consider who the actor would be addressing with his lines. Lines weren’t always directed at another actor; sometimes they were directed at various audience members. That is something that American Shakespeare Center actors do particularly well. If you have the privilege of seeing them with students, it could be fun to have the students watch for that. (As I mentioned, I look forward to watching them perform in Huntsville, Alabama in early February 2018, as they do each year.)

Prose versus Verse

  • Another exercise would be to have students determine whether a particular portion of a play is written in prose or verse. When each line starts with a capital letter, it is generally verse. Prose is written like you would expect to see regular sentences. With prose it can be helpful for students to see whether a character speaks in short sentences or run on sentences, and whether there are unfinished thoughts or questions are being asked. (If so, did anyone else complete the thought or answer the question?).
  • There was another exciting lesson on iambic pentameter at the seminar – but I’m going to have to see if I can explain it well enough to my students before I try explaining it here! Suffice it to say for now, that Shakespeare wrote his lines in a variety of different ways. 

What Would You Cut?

  • I also saw an interesting concept in the study guide about having students determine how they would make choices about cutting out some of Shakespeare’s lines in order to make the play fit into a set amount of time. (Something directors have to do regularly.) For instance, if they were all tasked with removing 10% of the lines from a scene, which ones would they individually want to remove, and what might they agree on as a group?

Choose Somewhere to Start

And those are just some of the exciting ways we learned to make experiencing Shakespeare with students even more exciting than I’ve already found it to be. The wonderful thing about these ideas and the ones I’ve shared in previous posts is that sharing Shakespeare doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

And while I still have a personal preference of having students experience plays all the way through from beginning to end, I know that doesn’t work into everyone’s schedules. My plan for the fall is to work many of these different ideas in as we read through our next play, but I can also see how some of them would be useful even if you just had the time to do a scene or two with students.  With Shakespeare, I may believe that more is generally better, but sometimes you just need a good place to start.

The Play’s the Thing

For more details on these and many other great activities, I can highly recommend the American Shakespeare Center’s Study Guides.

I plan to report back later this fall after we’ve tried out some of these activities in class. Regardless of what we think of each one, I’m confident we’ll still agree with Hamlet that “The play’s the thing.” (Even if he was talking about catching the conscience of a king with it and we’re “merely” trying to immerse students in the wonderful world of Shakespeare!)

Hamlet

Happy learning!

Cathy

Even More Shakespeare Fun

Okay, so this wasn’t quite the type of camp we had.

In last week’s posts (here and on CatherineJaime.com) I mentioned two of the many ways we experienced Shakespeare at the No Kidding Shakespeare camp I recently attended. A camp for adults, who knew?

My Methods for Sharing

Today I will share several others. But first, I want to reiterate a couple of things from my first post on Sharing Shakespeare: in the twenty years that I’ve taught Shakespeare I’ve settled into a fairly simple way of sharing Shakespeare with my students – passing out characters in order to read the plays aloud together, and watching the plays (live and on video). There are distinct advantages to both the reading and the watching, and over the years I’ve done both, sometimes starting with one and sometimes starting with the other. (Though last year I had an unusual group of students – they didn’t want to spend any of our class time watching plays – they were enjoying the reading too much! Since this group included a couple of young men with no prior experience reading Shakespeare, I was not going to argue!)

To Read Them All or Not To Read Them All

Enough Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories to last a LONG time!

Overall, I have found that method to be very successful – I have introduced countless students to the wonderful words of the Bard that way. And I certainly won’t be making any major changes this year. (The one year I tried a major shift got off to a really bad start, until I went back to the tried and true.) But what I do plan to do is work in a few of the activities we did at camp around our reading – starting or ending several class periods with an activity that relates to that week’s class. That will mean spending more time on one play, but I have no problem with that. Years ago we had a three and a half year push to read every one of Shakespeare’s plays aloud in class, but since then we’ve settled for making our way slowly through some of the best. (Reading each play was a great accomplishment, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart!)

Dramatic Activities with Shakespeare

But, with no further ado, here are some of the other neat activities we did at camp that I’m hoping to incorporate this fall:

Speaking Sculptures

For this activity we each received a line from a play and then had to walk around the stage reciting the line as we followed different instructions we were being given – walk faster, walk slower, speak the line faster, speak louder, those types of things. I think the idea there was for us to become comfortable with our line, and to experience it in different ways.

A scene from Much Ado

Then we paired off with the person closest to us. We were to instruct our partner to stand in a pose that somehow went with our line. The challenge was that we were not supposed to talk to our partners, nor touch them – we were supposed to get them into position with merely the suggestion of our hands. And I’m sure my students will give me the same blank looks that you’re trying to give me right about now. (It’s definitely something that’s easier to explain through showing than through words, so you’ll just have to take my word for this portion.) Once each partner was in position they were given the other’s line to speak. As half of the group stood as” speaking sculptures,” the other half wandered around and looked and listened. Then we swapped places and repeated the process.

“Forming” the sculpture was indeed a challenge. But it was interesting to wander around and listen to the different lines. I hadn’t recognized my own line or my partner’s line, but as I moved from sculpture to sculpture I did recognize some of the others as being from Much Ado About Nothing. It turned out all of them were from Much Ado. 

Introducing a Play?

A rendition of Taming of the Shrew

I’m thinking that might be a fun way to introduce whatever play we’re starting with this fall. (Sadly, I’m still deciding which one we’re going to do first – so many good ones to choose from – so I can’t start getting lines prepared for this quite yet.) One of the plays the American Shakespeare Center folks will be bringing to Huntsville in February is Taming of the Shrew, so it’s at least in the running for our first play of the semester, depending on how long ago we last read it.

Once I have our first play chosen, I can pick lines for the students to practice speaking and sculpting. I wonder if they’ll be able to figure out which play it is any faster than I did.  Time will tell!

Snapshots of a Scene

For another one of our activities we were broken into small groups, each with a portion of a different scene. Each group had the same number of people as their scene had characters.  As a group we had to choose five places from our scene that we could take “snapshots” of  – where we could  quickly “act” them out (more of a posed three-dimensional picture for each place.) The idea was to visually represent the highlights of our little scene.

I’ve never considered myself much of a drama person (I know, I know, I teach Shakespeare, but that’s different!). But I really enjoyed the various activities we did like this one.

Varying the Tempo

Another time we were in similar small groups with a different short passage. We were instructed to start by reading aloud our passage (adding limited movements if we wanted). Then  we had to read it again several times, varying the tempo and emphasis of individual portions as we read. We could see (or actually, hear) what the small changes we made to our reading did for the overall feeling of our section.

Using These in Class

I don’t want to turn my Shakespeare classes into acting classes – plenty of others already offer those. I want to keep my emphasis on reading and enjoying Shakespeare. But I can see how these types of activities, sprinkled sporadically amongst our readings could add a new dimension to our Shakespeare understanding and enjoyment.

More to Come

I’m not sure if I’ve shared about all of the great activities we did at camp yet. (I still haven’t gotten home, unpacked from that trip, and relocated my notes!) But either way I should have more to share within a week or two. I’m planning to go back to Staunton to attend their Teacher Seminar. in early August. Hey, we’re on a roll here! Maybe by then I can nail down which play(s) we’ll be tackling this fall and start figuring out where to work in these various, fun activities.

Actors before Hamlet

In the meantime, if you are already planning to share Shakespeare with your (older) students next year, I hope these different ideas are helpful. And if you’re aren’t, maybe you could reconsider. Overall, I’m a big fan of middle school and high school students spending lots of time with Shakespeare, but not so keen on younger students being exposed to his work. Adult themes permeate these plays, and I don’t see the benefit of sharing those with our youngsters quite yet, but maybe that’s just me. Some of my students have enjoyed Shakespeare with me for as many as four or five years. (What can I say, I don’t think they can get too much Shakespeare!)

Remember, as Hamlet said so many years ago, “The play’s the thing.”

Happy reading!

Cathy

More Fun with Shakespeare

Learning to Love Shakespeare

How many characters do you recognize from Sir John Gilbert’s painting, “The Plays of Shakespeare”?

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I have grown to love Shakespeare over the last two decades. Teaching it, reading it, watching it, or even just listening to it, can all make me extremely happy. And as a teacher who started teaching Shakespeare with a very sad amount of prior experience, I have spent much time researching the subject as well.  I’ve listened to lectures from the Great Courses on Shakespeare and collected and read a fair amount of books as well.

Shakespeare Experience for Adults

But until last week there was something I had never done connected to Shakespeare – I had never been to any type of teachers’ workshop or other such event with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s kind of sad to think that for more than a decade I’ve been attending teachers’ workshops on other topics of interest to me (the U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights, and Economics to name just a few), but had never managed to attend one on Shakespeare.

Okay, so even adults can have fun!

And now that I’ve attended my first, I hope there will be many more to come! My first in-person event  wasn’t technically a teachers’ workshop, and didn’t include only teachers – it was a camp for adults – the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp put on by the American Shakespeare Center, to be exact. But much of what we did there will be very useful for those of us who do teach Shakespeare.

Fun with Shakespeare

Earlier in the week I mentioned some of the fun things we did at camp in a post entitled Creativity Comes in Many Forms (on www.CatherineJaime.com). But in that post I didn’t go into most of the actual Shakespeare-related activities we did – several of which I’m hoping to incorporate into this year’s Shakespeare classes. (Yes, I know, I’ve officially retired from homeschooling after 35 years and from running a homeschool center after almost 14 years. But that doesn’t mean I’m quite ready to give up teaching Shakespeare. We’re returning to where we started – classes in my living room.)

Boydell Shakespeare Prints

Our first activity of the week involved pictures – black and white engravings of paintings from different Shakespeare plays. Several years ago I had put together one of my art appreciation books on Shakespeare – and had actually used a few of these prints, but I hadn’t realized how many of them there were in this magnificent collection, painted for the Boydell Shakespare Gallery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Pictures/Scenes from Shakespeare

A Boydell print – do you recognize this play? Answers at the bottom of the post.

It was a fun activity, if a bit overwhelming at first. We had 27 prints on the walls and tables of the room, numbered, 1 -27 (of course). And then we had 27 short passages from different plays printed on several sheets. They were lettered A to Z, plus an AA. We were tasked with identifying which scenes went with which pictures. Extra points if we could identify which plays they were from. Some members of our group even managed Act and Scene numbers – way beyond my Shakespeare knowledge there! But I did go in on the scene sheets and identify almost every play the scenes were from. (I think I was missing 3 names out of the 27.) And I could probably have told you on most of them whether they were from the first half of the play or the second half – but beyond that, not a chance.

My first mistake was not transferring the names of the plays right to our answer sheet. Instead I started trying to identify the pictures, and only wrote the names down as I was putting the letters with the right numbers. Consequently, I only got 32 of the total 54 points possible. (Putting me about 4th in a group of almost 20. Not too shabby for someone with no formal training in the subject.) Had I written in all the play names I knew (and not mixed up As You Like It with All’s Well that Ends Well – something I’m forever doing for some odd reason – though probably not after this!) I would have ended up with more like 40 or more points. Oh well, it was still fun to do.

I think many of my students would recognize the play this picture represents.

Our Variation of the Activity

In fact, the activity was so much fun, I think I’ll start this fall’s Shakespeare classes with a variation of it. I think trying to match scenes, names, and paintings all at the same time would be too much for most of my students, and I find, at least with the students I’ve had in recent years, that they do better with group activities than individual ones.

Identifying Scenes

For my students I plan to divide them into groups (probably of 4 or 5 students in each group, depending on this year’s class size). I will try to make sure my groups contain a mixture of Shakespeare newbies and Shakespeare veterans.

I like to give each group a small white board and a dry erase marker to put their answers on. I’ll have the small scenes typed up and distributed in a package to each group. I’m going to have them take turns reading the scenes aloud. After a scene has been read, they can decide as a group if they know which play it’s from.

After each group has had sufficient time to consider and write their answer down, I’ll have each group read the answers out loud. I’ll keep score of team points on a separate white board. (I’ve used this format often in my classes, and find it works well. We’ve made it into a game of sorts, with just a slight edge of competitiveness. And this way, no one feels singled out if they don’t know many of the answers.) As each scene is identified, the groups will have a place to record the play name, to assist them with the next step.

Identifying Pictures

I considered using this print – most of my students would  definitely recognize the thumb biting insult.

After we go through all the scenes I’ll pull out the different paintings/engravings for them to look at. Each picture will match up with a different scene; basically like we did in our activity here in Staunton – the big difference being that the scenes will already have been identified.

I had planned to print copies of each of the pictures, but I’ve been putting them into PowerPoint, and I think it will be easier to just show the slides one at a time from the laptop. So we’ll probably do this like the first portion – with their small white boards for writing answers on.

My class periods are an hour and a half, and I can see this activity and related discussions spreading into most of that first period. But I think it will be a great way to start the semester – reviewing plays that many of them will already be familiar with, and introducing many others.

And if that sounds fun, but too much work to put together, have no fear – I’ve done all the pre-work for you. You can see the set, Shakespeare Activity: Matching Scenes and Pictures,  here on CurrClick.

More Activities to Come

I had planned to share about some of the other fun activities that we did last week at camp, but I can see that I will need to spread this over more than one blog post.

Happy learning! And remember, as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.”

Cathy

*Prints here are from the Tempest,  Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. (Too many characters to identify in the color painting at the top, sorry. )

Sharing Shakespeare with Students

Almost twenty years ago I started a literary journey of discovery that I may never turn back from. Sad to say, at that point in my middle-aged life, I had never read an entire Shakespeare play. In 7th grade we had studied portions of Macbeth, but I’m fairly sure that was the sum total of my previous Shakespeare (reading)  experience.  I’m not sure how I managed to graduate from high school (as valedictorian, no less) with no other encounters with Shakespeare. But I don’t know which frustrates me more – that fact, or the fact that I actually took a Shakespeare class while I was a student at M.I.T. – and we never read a total play there either!

Enjoying Shakespeare

Yes, there are lots of ways to enjoy Shakespeare – watching his plays on the stage or on a screen certainly aid in that process. I even wrote a guest blog post for Folger about  “Three Ways to Have Fun with Shakespeare,” so I’m clearly not against those types of activities either.

Reading Shakespeare

But playing with or watching Shakespeare should come with reading Shakespeare, not take its place.  And I’m not talking about reading about Shakespeare – I’m talking about reading Shakespeare. Yes, the plot development and characters in Shakespeare are pretty amazing – but It’s his words that rise to the top when I ponder why students need to become better acquainted with the Bard. And there’s no better way to make that acquaintance than by reading his plays – from start to finish.

Another way to read Shakespeare.

My First Classes

When I started this journey it was at the request of one of my older sons. He had been reading Shakespeare on his own (having fairly well exhausted the literature in the family’s extensive library). But he was tired of reading the plays alone. The conversation went something like this: “Mom, you should teach a Shakespeare class. I want to read these plays aloud with others.” Me: “Of course.” (As I’m wondering how I’m going to teach about something I know so little about.)

But as happened so often in the thirty-five years that I homeschooled, not knowing something didn’t get in my way. I was going to make this work – and learn Shakespeare along the way, right alongside my students. The first year I “taught” Shakespeare we invited one other family (so between us we had eight readers). In order to have a good balance of plays, we started with Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Henry V, giving us a taste of his comedies, tragedies, and histories. Those three plays had the added advantage of being easily available in video format. (Though I found out the hard way that the version of Hamlet we rented needed to be screened.)

Sadly, I can’t remember now whether we watched the video versions and then read the plays, or did it the other way around (and over the years of teaching since then I’ve done it both ways). But either way, when it came to reading the plays, we passed out characters amongst each of our readers, and then read each play, from the first scene to the last one.

Characters and Lines

It didn’t take me long to run across the first problem – trying to determine which characters had the most lines.  With students of a variety of reading levels (from elementary age through high school), it was crucial to have an idea which characters spoke most often and with the greater number of lines. After a great deal of searching I gave up and took care of the problem myself – creating a character-line chart for each play we were preparing to read. (How many lines does Hamlet have? Or Ophelia? Or the King? I could soon answer all of those questions and then some!)

After one year with just one other family I was branching out and inviting other high school students I knew.  Pretty soon I was teaching a bona fide high school Shakespeare class of sixteen students. We mostly read Shakespeare, occasionally watched Shakespeare, and sometimes we even discussed Shakespeare.

Other Resources

While I was teaching, I continued to learn about Shakespeare – reading a number of other books along the way. (A couple of my favorite books included Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Shakespeare for Dummies.) As I taught and studied I fell further and further in love with Shakespeare.

Recently I’ve also discovered several Audible books related to Shakespeare that I’ve also enjoyed, including Shakespeare Saved My Life and several Great Courses lecture series – Shakespeare: The Word and the Action; William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies and How to Read and Understand Shakespeare.

None of the above are absolutely critical for starting to teach or learn about Shakespeare, but any of them will help add to your understanding if you are interested.

Sharing Shakespeare

And I can safely say that I have now shared my love of Shakespeare with dozens of students directly over the last two decades, and through other teachers that I taught, probably hundreds more. Many of them benefited from the guide I wrote during my first three and a half years of teaching every Shakespeare play – Sharing Shakespeare with Students.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Concerns about Homeschooling through High School

Our High School at Home Adventures

When my family started homeschooling more than three decades ago, we weren’t committing to homeschooling all the way through high school; at the beginning the idea was to take it one year at a time. It wasn’t until our older students were teenagers that we finally decided we could indeed homeschool through high school.

From then on, the decision was basically made – to homeschool all twelve of our children all the way through to graduation. That didn’t mean that high school looked the same for all twelve of them, or that we didn’t make changes along the way. But we had at least made that initial decision about high school.

As with all other aspects of homeschooling, there isn’t one right way to homeschool the high school years. And while our family decided, for the most part, to homeschool straight through to the end, that isn’t necessarily the decision that all homeschool families will make.

But regardless of different family decisions about how long to homeschool, or how to homeschool, one thing we all have in common is that we want what’s best for our children!  Because of that, we want to be the ones to direct their education – whatever direction(s) that education may take.

And yet, in spite of those desires, many homeschooling parents fear the high school years.  Every stage brings unique challenges and unique pleasures. But, in my experience, there is something really special about the teenage years. The “difficult” tasks (like potty training, learning to read, etc.) are done by then. (Okay – teaching them to drive is not a piece of cake either.  But we survived that twelve times, so I’m guessing you can too.)

I personally like to teach teens. They can generally listen well, read well, and argue well. Call it “discuss well” if it makes you feel better, but with teens the two are basically synonymous. At this stage, our students are well on their way to becoming independent adults, one of our primary goals for homeschooling (or, at least in my humble opinion, it should be!).

Concerns about Homeschooling through High School

So, why are home schoolers so often intimidated by the thought of teaching their own teens?  The answers I usually hear include:

  • Concern over classes (especially “difficult” ones like foreign languages and higher math)
  • Concern over credits and transcripts
  • Concern about getting into college (I covered that question fairly extensively in the Homeschooling Questions and Answers blog post, so we’ll just look at the first two concerns in this post.)

Our first (of 7 and counting) College Graduate with his youngest sister.

Let’s start with the first of those specific concerns:

High School Level Classes

The idea of home schooling through high school causes unnecessary stress in many families.  How to handle higher level math classes, science labs, and foreign languages rank at the head of most lists of potential problems.  But why?  It shouldn’t be, for several reasons:

  1.  First of all, most homeschooling parents can personally handle teaching more of those classes than they give themselves credit for. (I had never read a Shakespeare play all the way through when I started teaching my first Shakespeare classes. And I certainly knew very little about teaching Government when I started that – but with may topics we can learn as we go, right alongside our students.)
  2. High schoolers can handle much more of the load themselves than we give them credit for. (And there are a growing number of online resources, such as Kahn Academy, where they can do upper level work on their own.) But, remember, though, even when they can be self-taught, they are not necessarily self-motivated! Your job at that point may become more of a director than an actual teacher.
  3. Nowadays, homeschooling mothers and fathers (as well as others in the community) are offering many of these subjects as classes. (And again, online options are multiplying!)
  4. Correspondence schools are another option that we’ve tried for high school classes.  It wasn’t one of our favorites – but it did work. (My oldest got her high school diploma through The American School.)  For some families it may be just the answer to these concerns.
  5. And last, but certainly not least, local colleges can fill in just about any other gaps in higher level high school classes.  When my fourth child got to the Saxon Calculus book the summer before his senior year, he decided that while he could do it on his own, he didn’t want to, so he went to the local university and jumped through the hoops to enroll in their Dual Enrollment program. Since then I’ve had several children who did Dual Enrollment and/or Early Enrollment while in high school.  It isn’t the answer for every student, but it certainly adds to a family’s options.

I can’t leave the topic of college without addressing one of my personal concerns after so many years of homeschooling. One of the growing trends seems to be for homeschoolers to rush their kids through their schooling and graduate them early. But I have to ask, why do we want to be in such a big hurry to graduate our students?

They certainly aren’t lacking for subjects that they can study at home. What do we gain and what do they gain by rushing the process, versus what is lost – more time with their family; more time to mature; more time to pursue special interests?  There are exceptions, of course, but I think home schoolers would do well to rethink this trend.

So, as you look forward (or at least ahead) to the high school years, please remember that home education equals parent-directed education.  Helping find the right places for them to study the subjects that they need is an important part of our everchanging role in their lives, even when we are phasing out of being their primary instructors. (When and how that happens will vary between families, and often between students within a family.) We should be anticipating the time that they graduate and move on to their own lives, and we can start that process slowly, rather than the day they are handed their diplomas.

High School Credits

How to award credits for high school classes is another big, but mostly needless, concern.  I know of two accepted standards for awarding a credit.

  1. Starting and completing a high school level textbook. (Or mostly completing one, since in reality, classroom teachers aren’t completing most of them anyway.)
  2. Logging approximately 120 – 150 hours in a specific subject – reading, discussing, listening to lectures, writing about it, and watching related videos all count towards the necessary time.  I found the book Design-Form-U-La to be very helpful when we started keeping these kinds of records, though sadly that book seems to be harder and harder to find.

Our family granted most credits based on the “hours logged” in a subject, rather than through textbook completion, since we used so few textbooks, even in high school.  Textbooks are not totally bad – but they are so two-dimensional! I cover more about that in my blog post, Homeschooling through Topical Studies.

Learning can and should be three-dimensional. In addition to the standard academic classes, high school (even at home) can include:

  • Athletics
  • Drama
  • Essay & speech contests like those sponsored by  the Optimist Club as well as a growing number of homeschool debate clubs
  • Real life political events such as God & Country rallies and election involvement
  • Youth in Government programs

All of my children did Mock Trial one or more years!

And students can receive high school credit for work done before high school, in seventh or eighth grade, if it’s high school level work.

High School Transcripts

Transcripts also intimidate many folks – but they’re really easy to do.  The standard way is to break courses up by school year, one section for the freshman year, one for the sophomore year, etc. But in our family, we preferred to show them by subjects instead, with all the English classes listed together, and then the math, and then the science, etc.  Like so much else, it’s easy to find samples to look at with an online search.

Transcripts need to include the student’s name, date of birth, and school years covered.  Each class listed should include the general subject it was in (such as science), followed by the specific Course title (such as Biology), a grade, and a credit (usually ½ or 1).  Not too complicated.

I hope this has helped you feel a little less intimidated by homeschooling through high school. This is an exciting time to be sharing that time with your children who are on their way to becoming adults.

In my book, Teaching Teens, I go into these and other related topics a bit more, as well as give example forms for counting credits, tracking grades, and making transcripts.

Happy Learning!

Cathy

Top