Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fourth Grade Hamlet

This year in my fourth grade class, we've been reading Hamlet. We began reading as soon as we returned from spring break. We'll be done with the play in about a week, (this is Shakespeare's longest one) and then we'll watch one of the movie versions.

Hamlet is tough. It's long. It's kind of "talky" in some parts. I can't say that all of my students are enjoying it. I can say that some of them are. Our discussions are way more fun than talking about the stories in the reading book. Some students have read ahead. Others claim that they've already seen a Hamlet movie. And I believe them when they start telling me how Hamlet kills Claudius and then also dies. They haven't mentioned Ophelia though.

The writing assignments I've given on the play show that for the most part, they are (with a lot of help from their teacher) understanding what's going on. They're picking up on the characters' motivations, on plot devices and twists, and making logical (but not always accurate) predictions on the direction of the story.

Two of my students have gone to the library and checked out Hamlet in other editions than the one we are using. One is one of my top students. The other one has given up trying to do most of the work and has adopted the "get on the teacher's nerves" method of getting attention - except for Hamlet. He made me read a scene with him the other day. He got to be Hamlet. I was relegated to being Horatio. It's a good thing I know who's boss in my class.

I used to get my Hamlets from Scholastic. Their edition has gone out of print, so this year I had to pick up a few used odd-ball editions. I noticed Dover had their Hamlet Thrift Edition for $1.50. They also have a volume featuring Hamlet along with Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliette for $2.50. Five of my students gave me money to place an order for those books. I also ordered a few copies of Charles and Mary Lamb's Ten Tales from Shakespeare because I know that they will be read. (And I ordered a few things for myself.) Somehow, probably due to my amazing math skills, I ordered an extra copy of the four-play volume. (And yes, I think Big Bill Shakespeare would have approved of that bit of word play.) A few students offered to buy it from me.

Some high school drama students came and performed some scenes from Hamlet for my class. My kids loved it. And they asked (mostly) appropriate questions of the performers afterward. Some of my boys were acting a little too "hot to trot" over some of the female players, but things still worked out well.

One of the things I learn year after year, is that we can teach children great literature. Even though the skill level of students entering my class gets noticeably lower year after year, they can still appreciate Shakespeare. I can't say they appreciate him over Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but that's no reason to hold back.

We don't have to dumb things down to get students to learn. In fact, even though I'm not what you'd call an expert, I think I'm safe in saying that the dumbing down trend has had a negative effect; students are getting dumber, learning less, and in many cases losing the ability to learn as less is expected of them.

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At 10:07 AM, Blogger MightyMom said...

Hear! Hear!
Bravo. To. A. Great. Teacher.


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