In the last couple of days I have been wrapping up a Shakespeare experience of Romeo & Juliet with my ninth grade students. In an effort to keep things light and entertaining when introducing students to Shakespeare, I use a host of video clips from both stage and cinematic productions that present the play in a variety of styles, as well as reading and enacting bits and pieces. Adding this video clip was an easy fit.
Since we had just finished the story, I thought an interesting and fun summative task would be to ask the students about the shape of the play. Plus, I wondered what they might think of Vonnegut’s idea about the shape of stories.
I wasn’t sure if a bunch of fifteen year-olds would like Vonnegut’s presentation or not, but figured I would try it out on one of my best sections. Almost no one in the room had ever even heard of Kurt Vonnegut, so I gave them a one minute introduction. Then somewhat surprisingly they seemed to enjoy it. Vonnegut’s initial “man in a hole” shape triggered some idle chuckling. “Boy Meets Girl” almost slipped past them without much reaction, but by the end they were all whispering “Cinderella, Cinderella” and laughed, along with the audience, in the video as he mapped out that story’s shape.
Afterwards, I asked them how we might find the shape of Romeo & Juliet. Immediately, hands rose and before you knew it we had list of over twenty key turning points in the play.
From our list, I asked them to coach me as I graphed the story across the Vonnegut’s Good/Ill Fortune and Beginning/Ending axes. It was actually great fun, as they cried out why say the balcony scene couldn’t rise higher than their wedding night together or how banishment had to dive far deeper even than Tybalt’s death. It was a low stakes way to see just how well they understood the play and some of its nuance. We even had a brief but very interesting discussion about just how high the final moment should be on the Fortune axis.
Yet the best aspect of the exercise of all were the handful of observations made after we mapped out the story’s shape. One student shrewdly said it looked like a heart monitor, another emphasized just how extreme the highs and the lows were. All of that discussion proved a great way to discuss why that was the case and how the play worked on a dramatic level. Even a colleague who teaches history walked into the room, saw the graph, and asked about it. It promoted a short chat about the benefits of info graphics as a learning tool and representation of understanding.
While a slightly different application of the assignment, it was pretty effective and successful.
As if the last day of summer rang a bell for the seasons, New England is already beginning to show its fall colors. The leaves are just now visibly changing, speckling the green with red, yellow, and orange. We have had a couple of sharp, biting cool nights which usually helps make for a beautiful autumn.
Of course autumn signals the start of football season, and the indoctrination process has long since begun. Of course soccer has started across Europe too. Plus, more games than ever are now on ESPN. I am loving it.
School has gotten off to a good start this year, at least more noticeably than the typical first month. The only real trouble is that our computer network has rendered the internet almost unusable, which significantly impacts the day. Yet, I have been able to work round this for the most part. It is just mighty inconvenient, especially now that three out of the five classes I am teaching rely heavily on regular internet components, one is exclusively online, one is half online, and the other will spend half this term involved in a project that is almost exclusively online. Despite all of this, I am very much enjoying the classes and it looks to be a good year.
On the soccer front, my team of freshmen girls look like they are about to start really making progress and getting results. It is still a bit early to tell for sure, but the early indications are good. Their last game was the best they’ve played yet.
Ali continues to be a remarkable mother of our beautiful children. Fritz is really starting to reveal his personality now that he is smiling and cooing. He definitely has quite the expressive little face, in spite of his Chuchillesque cheeks. His expressiveness seems to be focused in the brow and mouth, as opposed to the eyes like his sister. Sadly, the photographs don’t quite capture this as well as video. As for Hadley, she continues to talk away with enthusiasm. If only she would do more of it when prompted by the phone. Then everyone could hear her little chipmunk voice cuteness.
Hopefully, the videos reveal a bit more about each of them that a simple photograph can’t quite capture.