Recently, we sat down with ASC's Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris to talk about her work on the newly designed and improved Study Guides which have increased the breadth and depth of a classroom approach to Shakespeare, allowing teachers to get students on their feet, experiencing Shakespeare's plays as active performers rather than passive readers -
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the Academic Resources Manager in the ASC's Education Department, and I have been in that position for a little over two years. I received my MLitt in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin College and my BA in English and History at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA. I am also a native of the Shenandoah Valley.
2. What is your primary goal when designing a study guide?
I want it to be accessible for teachers but still contain challenging materials for students. Each activity provides start-to-finish instructions for the classroom, but I also include suggestions for further exploration or follow-up activities, for those classes who would like to go even deeper into a particular topic. I strive to create a balance between different types of activities -- some that might be more language or research based; some that are more physical; some that might draw on students' other talents such as music, art, or science. I also hope to find ways to reach all different kinds of learners -- auditory, visual, kinetic, etc -- so that these activities will involve a whole class, not just one type of student.
|"EXCELLENT teacher resource!! Compared to others I've used, yours is the best! You present the techniques used at ASC in a usable form for teachers and students.” - Sarah Dixon, York Co. School of the Arts|
3. What is your favorite part of the study guides?
I love working on the Perspectives sections, which draw links between the world of the play, Shakespeare's world, and the students' world. This section lets me unleash my inner historian (who is never very well chained to begin with), but it also lets me address some of the serious social and emotional issues that high school students grapple with all the time.
We look at race relations in Othello and The Merchant of Venice; at personal betrayals and friendships gone sour in Much Ado about Nothing and The Two Gentlemen of Verona; at gender and attraction in As You Like It and Twelfth Night; at politics and leadership skills in Julius Caesar, Henry V, and Macbeth -- and these are all things that are important to teenagers, both in their immediate lives and as they continue to grow. I like demonstrating that Shakespeare can speak to them on those levels, and hopefully it's a connection they will take with them through future phases of their lives.
I've also really come to enjoy doing the Basics markup for the first 100 lines of each play. It's amazing what Shakespeare reveals -- or sometimes withholds -- in the first five minutes of stage time. It is always a revelation for me to look at the scansion, paraphrasing, rhetoric, embedded stage directions, and opportunities for audience contact in those first one hundred lines.
4. How do ASC Study Guides differ from other guides you've seen?
Our guides, like our entire educational philosophy, treat the plays as plays rather than as novels, which is not something that all instructional materials do. We're always thinking about the staging potential -- what does this discovery or that realization do for an actor? For an audience? What alternate possibilities are there for each moment? We show a variety of potential interpretations within each work, rather than prescribing one idea about the text and "what it means." I think we also get further away from "gimmick" materials and empty filler than some other guides do -- you're not going to find crossword puzzles and word-finds in ASC Study Guides, nor are you going to get activities that have only a tangential and thematic relationship to the play.
5. What do you hope that students will get from ASC's Study Guides?
I hope students come away from these activities with an awareness of how much both the text and the physicalization of that text can teach them. The combination of language-based tablework and then putting that language into their mouths and their bodies reveals so much - not just about Shakespeare's wordcraft and stagecraft, but also, I think, about the students -- about what stories they want to tell, what they feel strongly about, how they interact and communicate with others, how they make decisions. Shakespeare should be a tool for learning not just about language and history but also about life.
|"I have used many of the activities over and over...You seem to have an unlimited supply of both information and good ideas, and I feel lucky to have access to it." -- Katrien Vance, North Branch School|
6. What do you hope that teachers will get from ASC's Study Guides?
Confidence. A lot of teachers feel nervous about getting their students up on their feet to explore the play in the classroom -- they know they want to do this, but they aren't sure how to manage the bodies once they're up there nor how to engage with the text-as-staging in meaningful ways.
ASC Study Guides aim to give teachers the tools to make these exercises enjoyable and energetic rather than a trial. To that end, we provide educators both with extensive notes on the language and with "think like a director" notes on where to stop a scene to point something out to students, to suggest an alternative interpretations, and to ask questions that will help the students make decisions about how to stage a scene and what story that scene will tell.
If the teacher fears the text, that only reinforces the students' ideas that it will be too hard for them, so I hope to get teachers to a place where they feel secure and undaunted in their exploration of the plays.
7. What is the connection between ASC Study Guides and ASC Teacher Seminars?
Educators who attend our Teacher Seminars receive copies of ASC Study Guides as part of their registration, and many of the activities we cover in those workshops come straight out of the Study Guides. In many ways, a Teacher Seminar is a something of a practicum in using the Study Guides. We always get at least one activity out of the Basics up on its feet, such as scansion or audience contact, and then we pair play-specific activities from the guides with other enrichment in the form of guest lecturers or workshop time with ASC actors.
8. How do ASC Study Guides work with the Standards of Learning system?
All of the activities link to both Virginia SOLs and the US Core Curriculum Standards, and we include a detailed listing of which activities fulfill which requirements at the back of each guide.
9. What has been the teacher response to the redesigned guides?
Very positive. We provide a lot of detailed information, but in ways that educators have told us they find practical and applicable. Teachers love both the breadth and depth of the materials we provide them.
10. Anything else we should know?
If you're thinking about buying a Study Guide, you can view a preview of each one on Lulu.com -- or shoot me an email or give me a call at 540.885.5588 ext. 21. I'm always happy to answer any questions you might have.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream
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