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Posts Tagged "Lit"

I Love Reading Shakespeare

June 24, 2016
By Chelsea Carrier

5 Reasons I Love Reading Shakespeare with Middle School Students

Chelsea L. Carrier

 

When my 7th and 8th grade students first hear that we’re going to read Shakespeare, many slouch in their chairs, groan, gag, and roll their eyes. But each time we open A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, they find out how accessible and enjoyable the Bard can be, and I’m reminded of five reasons I love reading Shakespeare with my middle school students.

1. It’s accessible.

In honor of the Bard’s death on April 23rd, my students and I drank tea, ate donuts, and read a few sonnets. Then they had a challenge: write a sonnet in 10-15 minutes. The form might not have been as precise as the bard’s, but hopefully the resulting verses dedicated to potatoes and sushi not only helped them remember the rhyme scheme and standard lengths of a Shakespearean sonnet, but enabled them to recognize Shakespeare as something they could regard with a bit more familiarity than fear.

2. It’s challenging.

Language has changed dramatically over the past four-hundred years. Not only does Shakespeare's language include archaic words, but poetic devices. Add that to the fact that we are reading aloud, something not everyone enjoys. Both drama and Shakespeare require a level of vulnerability - everyone feels awkward and self-conscious, and sharing that draws us closer together. In fact, I probably hear more encouraging remarks among the students to each other during this time because for once, all of them are intimidated by the reading, and it brings them together.

3. It’s relational.

Since my students are encountering Shakespeare for the first time, we read the plays together in class. They love this, if for no other reason than they don’t have homework. As we read, I often stop them so we can discuss, and while many times the pauses enable us to clarify the basic plot or highlight a witty comment, we are also able to reflect and sympathize with the characters’ experiences, both tragic and comedic.  

4. It's physical.

Drama is the marriage of the abstract and the concrete, the literary example of the Word becoming flesh. Plays are meant to be performed, so when we read, we don’t simply sit around the room and read parts. We move the tables and chairs aside, do a few drama warm-ups (voice exercises, tongue twisters, and concentration games) and then we perform an informal dramatic reading. Sometimes I’ll stop the students in the middle of their reading, and we’ll discuss what the character would be doing in that moment, and then we back up and actually do it.

5. It’s enjoyable.

What? Yes, actually, during these weeks multiple students come in and ask, with anticipation in their voices, “Are we going to read Shakespeare today?

Why Broken Stories Matter

May 22, 2015
By Dane Bundy

Why Broken Stories Matter

 

     A few weeks ago, in rhetoric class, my students and I finished studying a number of short stories to look at persuasion’s role in fiction. Among the stories, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne evoked the most rewarding discussion (maybe the year’s best). At first it didn’t look like this would be the case. A number of students found the lead character wretched: a man who is obsessed with creating human perfection. His obsession ultimately produces a dark narrative that concludes with little redemption in sight. It is a broken story.

 

     Daniel Taylor in his work, Tell me a Story, places stories into three helpful categories: whole, broken, and bent. He defines a broken story as one in which good is portrayed as good and evil as evil, however, in the end, good is not victorious, but evil is.

 

     When I think of a broken story I first think of the book of Judges. At this period in biblical history, the Israelites have worked themselves into a downward spiral of rebellion. Though we see glimpses of redemption from time to time (Ruth comes to mind), the story of Judges ends with the haunting lines, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). Gulp.

 

     Over the last couple of years, I’ve thought a lot about the purpose and value of broken stories. Shouldn’t Christians feed themselves on what Taylor calls whole stories? He defines whole stories as tales in which redemption takes place and good (not evil) is victorious.  The Bible itself is a whole story. We may also include Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

 

     At Cornerstone, we don’t limit ourselves to whole stories. Actually, we read plenty of broken tales, ranging from the Greek or Shakespearean tragedies to the dystopian novels of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.

 

     I admit, broken stories are dark and unnerving and difficult to navigate at times. Have you ever had a grand piano dropped on your chest? I have: the afternoon I finished 1984. I was hoping, and expecting, Orwell would use Winston to expose and topple Big Brother; instead our hero is consumed by it.  

 

     If you let them, broken stories will burden your soul.

 

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that broken stories may serve an important purpose: they affirm what it’s like to live in a fallen world. Often it is the righteous who suffer and the wicked who prosper, and some people never experience a happy ending.

 

    However, broken stories may stir significant questions.

 

  • Why did the villain win? What did the villain want? Is there hope the villain will ever find redemption?

Why is this character the villain?   

  • Why did the hero fail? What did the hero want? Is there hope the hero may conquer the villain?

Why is this character the hero?

 

     A couple of these questions led our rhetoric class to consider man’s pursuit of perfection. However, the bell rang and the students left with no answers, just a handful of questions, terribly applicable to their own lives.

 

     Why does man seek perfection? Will he ever attain perfection? Is anyone perfect?

 

     Good literature asks questions like these, questions that apply to my students, but also you and me, and, for that matter, all who are human. Storytellers have a high calling: to tell the truth. They turn their backs on their craft when they sugar-coat or misrepresent what takes place in the world. The author of Judges, and the author of every book in the Bible, fulfills this high calling. Because of this, when we read Scripture, we read about murder, rape, depression, persecution, and betrayal.

 

     The Bible does not sugar-coat, because God always tells the truth: our world is a broken one. If you are human, you are broken. If you are human, you will never attain perfection. Left alone, we will never muster a happy story. It’s true: evil will always win.

 

     My students must hear this. I must hear this.

 

     If I don’t listen, I will never understand what’s about to come next: God became man and carried our burden of brokenness. Indeed, it was so heavy, it broke the god-man in the most violent fashion. But, after three days, God delivered justice, destroying evil in blinding glory. God made it clear: the only way to wholeness is through the god-man. This is the good news.

 

     The broken stories of human existence matter because they can lead us to the whole story of the Gospel, and as a teacher at Cornerstone, I am called to help my students understand the road from broken story to whole story. What a privilege it is.

The Word Became Flesh

April 14, 2015
By Chelsea Carrier

The Word Became Flesh

A few weeks ago during dismissal, I sat at my desk for a moment and watched my students leave. Usually I join the students in putting up chairs and gathering my belongings before I grade papers, email parents, and discuss teaching strategies with colleagues. My eighth graders had started one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, and already several of the kids had come to me saying how much they liked it and how far ahead they were. But something didn’t seem right, and as I watched my my students leave, I wondered, How many of them actually get it? I wasn’t so much concerned with whether they grasped who wrote what book or why a character made a certain decision or what a hyperbole is, but who Christ is, what the gospel is and means. After the last student shut the door, I couldn’t help crying, which (at least this time) turned to praying. I opened my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and flipped through the chapters we were reading about Scout’s first day of school battles with the new teacher, Miss Caroline:

Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he contemplated his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.

     “First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”

     “Sir?”

     “—until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” (39)

Since my first time reading Mockingbird, I have appreciated Atticus’s simplicity and wisdom, but as I read these lines again, I realized I had a new opportunity to share the gospel with my students.

The next day, I had my students write journal entries (funny or personal—their choice) based on the following prompt:

            I just wish (insert a person here) would understand…

When they finished, I told them we would be rewriting the entries from the other person’s point of view. Then I shared Atticus’s words with them, along with the following verses:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

I then asked them, “Who climbed in our skin and walked around in it?”

We talked for a few minutes about how the God of the universe, who wasn’t under obligation to create us, much less understand us, came down and climbed into our skin, walked around in it, and then died for each person in the room. With that grace and knowledge, we ought to walk around in other people’s skin because Christ chose to do the same for us. Climbing in someone’s skin can be:

  • as simple as imagining you are the person and reflecting on the situation,
  • as convicting and compassionate as prayer,
  • or as practical as physically doing whatever it is the person does--whether it be washing the dishes, watching the kids, or helping with homework.

 

As I read the student’s journals, the ones where they had to write from a different point of view, I noticed that most of these entries sounded more like letters. Some of the letters had to be hard to write, as they were from the perspective of someone who had offended or hurt the writer in some way. The beauty came from the students’ insight and compassion. The letters were characterized by an ability to give any offending parties the benefit of the doubt, not excuses, but a realization that we are humans broken by sin.

Scout never could understand Miss Caroline or the Cunninghams.

I may not understand a student’s inattention.

You may not understand your son or daughter’s mood swings.

And we won’t understand until we imitate Christ and climb in each other’s skin. Whether we remember, forget, or even fail, we can rest in the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

 

Works Cited

The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1982. Print.

Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary fiction)

November 20, 2014
By Faith Acker
  • Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary teen fiction)

 

 

As I write this post, my ninth-grade English students are reading about the homecoming of weary Odysseus, whose hostility towards the son of Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) has caused numerous complications and frustrations to delay our unhappy hero.

 

Our journey through the book is not without its own delays and frustrations.

 

“Why is Odysseus so mean to the Cyclops?” one student asked.

“I didn’t understand anything that happened on page 326,” another student journaled.

“Why does he have to sneak around in disguise?” my students demanded on several differing occasions.

 

 

Reading The Odyssey is, for many students, an odyssey in its own right. We read it for the better part of a school quarter, and it is one of the most detailed and dense books on the Cornerstone curriculum. Some students struggle with the line breaks and the elaborate poetical language; others are frustrated by the lack of proper nouns. A large percentage of them would prefer to read Divergent and The Hunger Games, with whose main characters they identify more strongly.

 

However, The Odyssey has one significant benefit: it provides a safe arena in which students can evaluate and critique the actions of other human beings.

 

In many first-person present-tense teen novels of today, the stream-of-consciousness monologues of the protagonist-narrators leave readers little room for literary interpretation. Towards the end of The Hunger Games, protagonist and narrator Katniss says,

 

“I can’t get caught out here. . . . Not only will I face death, it’s sure to be a long and painful one. . . . The thought of [my sister] having to watch . . . keeps me doggedly inching my way towards the hideout” (223).

 

  • Collins’ readers can have no doubts about Katniss’ motivations; she wants to protect her sister from any harm or suffering. Her explanation isn’t wrong, but it means that discussions of the book focus predominantly on facts and personal reactions. Readers are not encouraged to discuss and analyze Katniss’ motivations, because the author has already revealed the answers.

 

In contrast, consider The Odyssey:

 

“They sent their ravishing voices out across the air

and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer.

I signaled the crew with frowns to set me free--

they flung themselves at the oars and rowed on harder . . .

But once we’d left the Sirens fading in our wake,

once we could hear the song no more, their urgent call--

my steadfast crew was quick to remove the wax I’d used

to seal their ears and loosed the bonds that lashed me” (277).

 

Like Katniss, Odysseus is in great peril and great agony. Although his statements, like those of Katniss, are in the first person, my students were quick to query:

 

“Why does he want to listen?”

“Why do only the sailors seal their ears?”

“Why is he so desperate to get free?”

 

Both The Odyssey and The Hunger Games can be used to answer important and meaningful questions, and many of the same questions can be applied to both. For instance:

 

How does this book present a hero, or a savior?

What is the source of the protagonist’s strength?

What does this book teach about friendship, loyalty, or truth?

 

When the discussions have faded, however, uncertainty about The Odyssey remains. We could discuss and debate The Odyssey for an entire year, or read it once every year, and at the end of that year, there would be more to discover and debate. For a few, the same could be true of the newest teen novel; for thousands, this has already been true of The Odyssey.

 

Citations:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2009 (2008).

Homer. The Odyssey. transl. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1997 (1996).

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