Archives For Paul Giamatti

In the spirit of all end of the year reviews, I have condensed the year 2013 by offering month by month posts from this blog that illustrated the best student (and subsequently, teacher) learning:

January 2013: A Freshman’s Modern Odyssey in the Style of Homer

"Dawn spread her rosy fingers..."

“Dawn spread her rosy fingers…”

The Freshmen final project after reading The Odyssey is a narrative that students complete called “The Wamogossey: A Day in the Life of a Freshman at Wamogo High School.” Writing narratives are once again favored in  Common Core State Standards, and this post explained how students made their own attempt at an epic adventure.

February 2013:  Spilling Over the Corners of a Six Word Text

Short Story in 6 words

Short Story in 6 words

This exercise proves that keeping students “within the four corners of the text” is impossible, even when the text, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is only six words long. This post also serves as evidence that that admonitions on best practices should be limited to those with actual classroom experience, not to the “architects of the Common Core.”

March 2013 If You Want to Watch the Cow Give Birth

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Yes, “If you want to watch the cow give birth, turn on U-stream now!” was an announcement over the PA system. Normally, I am irritated by interruptions to class time, but this announcement cued students about opportunity watch the birth of a calf in the Agricultural Science wing of our high school. The combination of technology in broadcasting and recording the birth of the newest member of the agricultural program with old-fashioned “hands on” physical labor illustrates 21st Century authentic learning.

April 2013 You Never Forget Your First Hamlet

Members of the senior class were fortunate enough to see Paul Giamatti’s “Hamlet” at Yale Repertory Theatre. I’ll let their words speak for the experience:

The performance was a wonderful experience, especially since it was my first time to see Shakespeare.

I wouldn’t mind going to another because it was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realize the 4 hours passing by.

I like the way that a play has a certain kind of vibe. It’s like a live concert, where there’s a certain kind of energy.

It was like seeing a live performance of a film. I would especially like to see another Shakespeare because it is the way that he intended his works to be portrayed.

After seeing Hamlet so well done, it would definitely be worth going to see another one whether it be Shakespeare or a different kind of performance.

May 2013 Kinesthetic Greek and Latin Roots

Spelling "exo"=outside

Spelling “exo”=outside

Understanding Greek and Latin roots is critical to decoding vocabulary, so when the freshman had a long list of roots to memorize, we tried a kinesthetic approach. The students used their fingers to spell out Greek roots: ant (against), tech (skill), exo (outside).  They twisted their bodies into letters and spread out against the wall spelling out xen (foreign), phob (fear). They also scored very well on the quizzes as a result!

June 2013 Superteachers!

Superteacher!

Superteacher!

At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, teachers rose to a “friendship and respect” challenge to make a video. With a little help from a green screen, 27 members of the faculty representing a wide variety of disciplines jumped into the nearby closet wearing the big “W” (for Wamogo). Students in the video production class watched and filmed in amazement as, bearing some artifact from a particular subject area, each teacher donned a flowing red cape.

July 2013 Library Book Sales: Three Bags Full!

The original purpose of this blog was to show how I filled classroom libraries with gently used books. The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut, is one of the premier books sales in the state: well-organized tables filled with excellent quality used books, lots of attentive check-out staff, and great prices. This year, I added three large bags of books to our classroom libraries for $152.00, a discount of 90% off retail!

August 2013 Picture Books Are not for Kindergarten Any More!Cat in Hat book cover

At used book sales, I am always looking for picture books I can use in high school classrooms. For example, I use The Cat in the Hat to explain Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and Superego . Thing #1 and Thing #2 represent Id, and that righteous fish? The Superego. Yes, Dr. Seuss is great for psychological literary criticism, but he is not the only picture book in my repertoire of children’s literature used in high school. This post features a few of my favorite picture books to use and why.

September 2013 Close Reading with Saki and the Sophomores

Saki’s short stories open our World Literature course in which our students will be reading complex texts required by the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS). After a “close reading” the conversations in the room showed the text’s complexity. Saki’s The Interlopers has all the elements suggested by the CCSS:  figurative language, the ironic wish, and multiple meaning in the revenge sought by man versus the revenge exacted by Nature. Our close reading should have been “textbook”. The evidence proved the characters’ demise…or did it? The ensuing discussion forced the class to consider other positions.

October 2013 Close Reading Art

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire

After “close reading” short stories, the sophomores were asked to use the same skills to “close read” several paintings that thematically connected to the Industrial Revolution. They studied a Constable pastoral painting, before J.M.W. Turner’s famous painting, The Fighting Temeraire. While some called attention to the the dirty smoke stack, others saw the energetic paddling as a sign of progress. They noticed the ghost-like ship hovering in the background, the light created by the sunset which gave the painting “warmth”or “light extinguishing”. When they were asked to use these elements as evidence to determine the artist’s message, there were some succinct responses to the painting’s “text.”

November 2013 Thanks for the NCTE Conference

Five members of the English Department attended the conference and selected from over 700 sessions at the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on English Leadership.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated. We are also grateful that four of our proposals were chosen to share as presentations for other educators. The explanations of our presentations with links to these presentations are included in this post.

December 2013 Drama Class Holiday Miracle

Cast photo!

Cast photo!

An ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise their performances of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at three local elementary schools.

Their “dress rehearsal” was a disaster, but, as the adage says, “The show must go on!” and once they arrived at the elementary schools, the students were anxious to do well. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor, the Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger, and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not. I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, with congratulatory e-mails from the principals that offered praise.

End of the year note:

I am grateful to be an educator and to have the privilege to work with students that I learn from everyday. In this retrospective, I can state unequivocally that 2013 was a memorable year… as you can see from many of the reasons listed above.

Welcome to 2014! May this coming year be even more productive!

60 of my students met their first Hamlet on stage at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, this past week. Their Hamlet was the actor Paul Giamatti, who after speaking 40% of the play’s 4,042 lines (roughly 1,440), came out onto the stage for an audience talkback to speak a few more words to them.paul giamatti

“He looks tired,” on student remarked to me. The play had begun at 10:15 AM, and we were still sitting three and a half hours later as the actors and crew began to respond to questions.

If we thought they looked tired, the actors seemed surprised to see us still sitting there.
“Wow!” Polonius (Gerry Bamman) said as he sat, “You stayed!”

Students were curious about how the sets moved (“The stage has a large fly space.“). Students wondered how long the cast had rehearsed (“Eight weeks, a real luxury…”). Students wondered who was most like his or her character (“I understand Gertrude much more since I have a son”). Students asked about the creation of set pieces including a large portrait (“That’s an oil painting from a  photograph”).

Of course, there was no stopping the students from calling attention to Giamatti’s role in Big Fat Liar, a film from their youthOne student stood to ask, “Did Hamlet remind you of Marty Wolf?” Giamatti laughed in response, “Well, maybe,…a little… except for the blue crap!”

Hamlet is a 12th grade text, and I asked students to take a survey after they returned to the school to see what they thought of this production. While the survey indicated that the teachers in our English department had done their job, the students indicated that seeing the play performed was very different that studying the play in class:

Shakespeare was meant to be live. Although the “perfection” of a movie is enhancing to the performance, it is unrealistic. I believe that watching a play live is important to seeing the different styles and methods possible.

It was fun and a lot better than just reading it in class, it made it come alive.

I did not think it was going to be as entertaining as it was. I also did not think I would find parts humorous, but I did.

This Hamlet was part of the WILLPOWER! series (funded by the National Endowment of the Arts). The website states:

WILL POWER! is Yale Repertory Theatre’s annual educational initiative in conjunction with one of its productions and features specially-priced tickets and early school-time matinees for middle and high school student groups. The program also includes free professional development for educators, study guides and post-performance discussions with members of the company.

One of the objectives of the WILLPOWER! series is to create new audiences, specifically younger audiences, for Shakespeare. Students who have attended a Shakespeare play may be more willing to attend another play when they are older; in other words, a favorable dramatic experience will yield future audiences for Yale Drama School graduates!

Seniors at intermission watching Hamlet at Yale Rep

Seniors at intermission watching Hamlet at Yale Rep

The survey indicated that this goal is being met with the WILLPOWER! series; my students are certainly willing to try another play:

The performance was a wonderful experience, especially since it was my first time to see Shakespeare.

I wouldnt mind going to another because it was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realize the 4 hours passing by.

I like the way that a play has a certain kind of vibe. It’s like a live concert, where there’s a certain kind of energy. It was like seeing a live performance of a film. I would especially like to see another Shakespeare because it is the way that he intended his works to be portrayed.

After seeing Hamlet so well done, it would definitely be worth going to see another one whether it be Shakespeare or a different kind of performance.

Perhaps the most satisfying moments of the actor’s talkback for teachers is hearing the actors say things that we wish our students would pay attention to in class. When Giammati was asked about how he felt about memorizing all those lines, he explained that he enjoyed learning the lines and playing on the open space of the stage.

When one student asked, “What part of the play did you like best?” Giamatti responded, “I enjoy the end, when Hamlet returns to the graveyard, until the end.” Then, thoughtfully, he added, “Shakespeare’s words begin to come through you if you let them.” (Honestly…you could hear the teachers in the audience swoon!)

But nothing was better than hearing the young Remsen Welsh (Player Prologue) explain how the director, James Bundy, had prepared her for her role. “It’s simple,” the actress gestured enthusiastically from the front of the stage. Facing the crowd of students twice her age, she cheerfully acknowledged, “He told me, ‘Suit the action to the word, the word to the action..’ and I did!”

Exactly.

A first Hamlet they will remember.