As part of my MA in Applied Theatre, I created a portfolio of my session plans, lesson materials, and reflections on my experience as a Drama Specialist for 6 weeks at a school in London. On this page, I have displayed a single session plan from this portfolio, including the reflection on how the session went and a video of the results. The full session plans, as well as all the materials needed to complete these sessions, are available for download in the links below. All photos, videos, and names are used with permission from the students involved.
Copyright Katie Speed, 2013
This unit was a 6-week curriculum at the Whitefield School in Brent Cross, London. The students I was working with were year 9 students [age 12-13], for whom drama is mandatory and who have been taking drama lessons for the last 3 years. The students are mixed race with a few students who speak little to no English. I worked with two separate classes who have different teachers on the same curriculum. 9E is typically taught by Alev Jemal, and 9C is typically taught by Sarah Bowers. The classes meet once a week and are on a rotating schedule. On Week A, I met with 9C 9am-10am and 9E 10am-11am on Wednesdays. On Week B, I met with 9E on Monday from 11:30am-12:30pm and 9C on Friday from 2pm-3pm.
My goal for this project was to give the students a better understanding of Shakespeare through discussion and exploration of the play Hamlet. None of the students have ever done Shakespeare in drama before, and I hoped that by the end of the project, they would have new techniques to approach Shakespearean text that can be applied within an English classroom, a drama classroom, preparing for an audition, or even a performance. The following pieces of evidence have been selected to show the journey as it specifically related to approaching text, as opposed to simply the project as a whole.
Week 4 - Reflection
This was a difficult day for me. By the time 9E came in, I had been in that stifling room for an hour at least (I don't know how Alev and Sarah do it all day!) and had come in contact with a decent amount of opposition from 9C. Perhaps I was already a bit up in arms without realizing it; overall the session turned out okay, but it certainly could have been better.
This session, the goal was for the students to gain a deeper understanding of some of the characters that hadn't been discussed as much - specifically, Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, and Laertes. Of course, the students knew a lot about Hamlet, but it seemed that on these characters, we'd barely scratched the surface. I had gathered from previous sessions that there was some confusion regarding various characters' motivations and arcs, some of which was justified and some of which was clearly due to a lack of knowledge. My objective for the lesson was for the students to recognize that a character's traits or motivations could be ambiguous, and that's part of what makes theatre so great - the opportunity for an actor to re-interpret a character that has been interpreted a thousand times and still come up with a different portrayal. I also, on a more practical level, hoped to have the students be able to use bits of text and the context of that text to determine these possible traits and motivations, achieving the dual goal of analyzing text once again and strengthening their knowledge of the characters.
The group discussions based on the bits of text I had specifically chosen for each character yielded some really interesting thoughts. Specifically, Gertrude turned on an interesting debate. The group who was working with the Gertrude quotes defined her at one point as "weak." They justified this by saying that she married a man she didn't love - Claudius - just because she needed a husband. Then another person chimed in that they thought that marrying a man she didn't love made her strong rather than weak. I realized that both groups of students had agreed on the idea that Gertrude wasn't in love with Claudius, which I also found interesting, so I asked the rest of the class what they thought, and again, the group was split. The debate perfectly fed into my point about different interpretations of the text leading to different portrayals of the characters.
I was simultaneously impressed with their ability to determine character traits from the bits of text. Unlike last session, where the text was accompanied by a "translation" on the other side, in this session I only provided the context of who said the quote, whom they spoke it to, and what had just happened/was happening at the time. I noted that at first they were daunted by the task - it took all four groups a while to get going - but eventually, after chatting with them and giving them some suggestions, they moved along pretty quickly and came up with some intuitive answers.
The rest of the class was where things fell apart a bit. After our discussion, I asked them to get into pairs for a hot-seating exercise. Their ability to choose their own groups is one of their weakest points. Every time they are offered the opportunity to choose their own groups, they either sit there and do nothing, hoping a group will find them, or take forever to decide, even when given a countdown ("Find a partner in 5...4...3...2...1!"). Some of them seemed to be coming up with very insightful answers to the hot-seating questions, devising background stories for characters that didn't already exist (I overheard one Claudius telling his hot-seater about his best friend whom he met while fighting one of the great wars), but others simply used the opportunity to chat. Some even failed to get into pairs.
Here I find is the difficult balance in teaching, especially as an outside facilitator: you don't want to turn into the "bad guy" who constantly chooses groups for them, especially since that takes up a lot of time, but letting them choose their own groups inevitably means a good chunk of them will goof around instead of completing the task. I think in this instance this was particularly true because they knew that they wouldn't be presenting any of the task to anyone else, and thus there was no accountability. I can only be in one place at once, thus I can't have my eyes and ears on every pair in the room, and they know that. Again, the heat came up as a complaint. When I do this activity with the 9C students, perhaps I'll have them "Turn to the person next to you" rather than choosing their own groups or counting them off, which takes forever.
Finally, I asked them to write a short monologue (3-10 lines) based on their answers to the hot-seating task. This was where I struggled the most. Many of the students kept chatting, despite the fact that this was an individual activity and no discussion was necessary. I gave them 10 minutes to write their monologues, which should have been plenty of time, but a couple of the boys had nothing written down by the end of the task. I also told them that they were more than welcome to write in their first language, since English is an additional language for many of the students. One student who performed his monologue (we only had two) performed in his original language, and he kept interacting with another girl in the class who was laughing. Since this student can sometimes be a bit of a joker, I wondered whether his monologue actually was about Hamlet or whether he was possibly saying rude things in a language I didn't understand. Ultimately, though, I think that most of the class found that option liberating, so if one student possibly abused the privilege, it outweighs the positivity that gave to the rest of the class. One student consented to have his monologue videoed, and the video is displayed below.
By the end of today, I was exhausted. Much of the class was spent managing behaviour and trying to avoid having to become the "bad guy" (Alev spent a lot of this lesson out of the room, which meant I was the only teacher present as well and didn't have her to fall back on). But in the end I think I achieved all the goals I set out for the lesson. Next week we'll see how much of the play they really understand, but considering the brevity of the workshop series as a whole, I think they'll be pretty well-prepared.