Well, it’s been another long stretch since I posted anything in this space. It’s not for lack of thoughts of desire. I just need to make time for it again. I did write a personal essay for a journal that was based, in part, on my work in this space. Maybe if the feedback on that is positive it will motivate me.
In the meantime…
Following up on my last post, I’m back to part-time homeschooling with my daughter, who was the initial inspiration for this blog six years ago. Cora just turned 8 and is a second grader at Red Oak Community School the days we aren’t together. This fall we’ve been spending time with William Shakespeare. This was largely inspired by her first trip experience with Shakespeare in the Park late this summer. The magic of sitting outside as the sun went down and actors ran around (on and off) the stage at an Actor’s Theater of Columbus presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream captivated her immediately.
Cora talked about the performance for days following. This coincided with my reviewing notes for second grade homeschooling in A Well-Trained Mind (AWTM), one of the tools I use to help determine what to focus on during our homeschool days. This year’s social studies (see Story of the World: Volume II) and literature curricula include Shakespeare, though not until the end of the year. Since I’m the teacher, striving to embrace a a student-driven learning pedagogy, I decided to follow Cora’s interest. I used the resource guide in AWTM to identify materials for kids about Shakespeare including the amazing series Shakespeare Can Be Fun by Lois Burdett. While I take issue with the series title – why imply Shakespeare isn’t fun?! – the content is amazing.
Burdett wrote the series while teaching elementary school in Canada. There is surprising little about her or this work online, though it is clear she gave it her heart and soul. The books are layered with content starting with Burdett’s abbreviated versions of The Bard’s plays written in language kids can understand more easily than the originals, but retains his poetic voice. I believe she used these with her students to stage performances which are documented in photographs at the front and back of the books. Cora and I have been working together to interpret the meaning behind some of the lines like this one from Hamlet, “You don’t know how I feel. My pain these mourning clothes conceal.”
In addition to Burdett’s versions of the stories, each page includes drawings by her students (ages 7-10) and their own writings in response to the story. These include cleverly composed diary entires and letters written in the voices of the characters. There is a list of recommendations for these and other extension activities in the back of each book. The homeschooler in me is a little jealous of how well the kids seem to write for their age. But, I also noticed the handwriting looks pretty similar across student authors and I’m wondering if that was something the publisher had a (heavy) hand in…? Or is this just the result of lots of practice?
The drawings demonstrate close study and understanding of period dress and settings. The art educator in me would like to know more about her process for guiding drawing assignments. I’m sure the kids were using reference images in some way, which I am not at all against. Though I curious how she introduced this strategy, how she fit it into her curriculum overall, and how she guided the kids through multiple drafts of their work. I think I’m going to send her an email and see if she can share more information on this and the project in general.
Cora has been making some of her own drawings while we read (see below). They aren’t nearly as detailed as Burdett’s students but represent her way of making sense of and representing the texts visually. We might try looking up some fashion history as inspiration. If we do, I’ll try to report how it goes.
Of course we started our deep dive into the works of William Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After that we moved onto Shakespeare Retold (Nesbit and Caparo, 2016) which offers short, narrative versions of 7 plays. We have a short stack of Burdett books we look forward to working through and Cora is starting to talk about whom among her friends might be good acting partners. It’s been a good start to the year.