Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welcome to Shakescenter: My First Green Screen Lesson

I survived my first quarter as a high school English teacher! I've been meaning to write a post for weeks, but it seems like weeks are flying by at an alarming rate these days. I realized this week that I only have six and a half more weeks with these students. That's crazy! 

The past few weeks have been full of learning experiences as I continue to navigate my way through this new position, the new planning, and the new age group. One of my biggest goals in this new position was to find ways to make complex, challenging literature more accessible to my students, who often find themselves asking, "Why are you making me read this?" 

Shakespeare is no exception. I was excited to teach Hamlet this quarter, but I was also nervous. The language is beautiful, but it can also be daunting for students who are already struggling readers. I wanted to find a way to help my students gain confidence with this difficult text, and I wanted them to walk away with a true understanding of the play's plot and the interactions among the characters. When I was in high school, I loved English class, but I hated writing commentaries. I find that many of my students have a similar aversion to analytical writing. They can talk about the text and always have insightful comments in class discussion, but when I ask them to write, that somehow goes out the window. 

Therefore, I decided that we were going to create video commentaries of Shakespeare. I also decided that we were going to model them after Sportscenter. I give you, Shakescenter!
You can view the student handout here. After reviewing some basics about Shakespeare's life and work, I showed the Folger Shakespeare Library's Insider's guide video on Hamlet. We also discussed the connections between the main characters since there are a lot of important characters that are interconnected in this play. Then, I asked students to select a partner with which to complete a scene analysis and commentary video. I assigned each group a different, critical scene from the play. Students followed this process: 
  • Read the scene with a partner. 
  • Compare the original language to a modern adaptation to ensure comprehension and understanding. 
  • Identify the 2-3 most critical moments in the scene.
Once students had completed this work, I asked them to write a script for their episode of Shakescenter. The script had to include an introduction, analysis and commentary of the 2-3 critical moments on which they chose to focus, and a sign-off.  I used an episode of Sportscenter from YouTube to model what I was wanting students to do. On Sportscenter, you don't watch a whole game or a whole press conference; you only get the highlights. I wanted students to identify the "highlights" of Hamlet and explain their significance to the class.

After students composed and practiced their scripts, they were asked to create a storyboard of the scenes they would include in their Shakescenter episode. At this time, with the help of Dr. Michael Mills at UCA, I also gave students access to movie clips of the play that coincided with their assigned scenes. In order to ensure that students were still having to analyze and create, we gave students big chunks of the film, so they had to identify the 15-20 second "highlights" they had chosen and edit down their pieces of film to only include the most critical moments. This challenged them to analyze the film version in addition to the text version

Finally, after my students had done all this writing, planning, and practicing, we were ready to film. Dr. Mills came and joined us for class, and it was awesome to be able to co-teach this lesson, especially since it was my first time using a green screen. 
We used Green Screen by Do Ink for the green screen portions of the video, and it worked perfectly. Once they had filmed the scripted pieces of their work, they used iMovie to cut and edit their clips from Hamlet and to piece their work together into a finished product. Once each group was finished editing, they turned the finished product in to me through Google Classroom. We watched each episode of Shakescenter: Hamlet Edition in order, and we discussed whether the class thought each group had truly chosen the most critical pieces of the scene. Students also noted the growing tension in each scene as the play progresses toward the demise of all the main characters in the final fight scene. 

This project held a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time to teach Shakespeare, and it was my first time to green screen in the classroom (or anywhere for that matter). It was also the first time I've ever "flipped" the study of a major literary work in my classroom and given students this much creative license. I loved all of these firsts so much. My kids were truly engaged in this work. They knew their scenes well and understood how the scenes of the play were connected and moved the action forward. They decoded language with their peers and drew connections to song lyrics and modern-day situations. Were there some snags and some things that I'll do better next time? Absolutely. But overall, I feel like it was a success because my kids were so excited about Shakespeare. They couldn't wait to share their videos with the class. 

You can view some of their work here.