Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Bard V Dangerous minds

So, after a minor digression, I'm back to the Bard.  This is thanks to @hgaldinoshea who has shared a previous blog entry with colleagues and @Xris32 who somehow has managed to do a blog entry every week since term began. As you can see from the date of entry....I haven't! 

Why 'The Bard V Dangerous Minds'? 

Well, a few years ago whilst teaching in an inner city school in Coventry, I was given a Year 11 set 5 class, very much like the situation I am in now.  The group had virtually no GCSE English coursework to speak of, and a range of social, emotional, cultural and EAL issues that would make your toes curl in on themselves.  

The class were mostly boys with only one other female present in the room...another pupil.  The boys were full of testosterone, anxiety, and fairly disaffected, much like the class Michelle Pfeiffer has in 'Dangerous Minds', although I am no Michelle Pfeiffer; I am not, and never have been, trained by the Marines, I'm not a petite size 8 or stunningly beautiful. Nor do I own a nicely fitted leather jacket. I very much felt I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  

To begin at the beginning

I began, rightly or wrongly, with their Shakespeare text as it is the 'big one' in many senses and I had chosen 'Romeo and Juliet'. Partly because I had taught it for many years and partly because I felt at least secure in my knowledge of the text. Additionally, I'd hoped they would be able to grasp the whole 'gang rivalry' thing as some of them, in all likelyhood, were actually in one.  

Now, I can't say we began terribly well, I can't recollect precisely how I began with them. It could have been so disastrous that my brain has blanked it out, but what I can remember is a moment where things started to work...or feel less like Armageddon. 

We were looking at Act 1 Scene 1, so I am presented with the dilemmas: 
'How do I win them over?' 
'How do I make it relevant to them?' 
'How do they get the humour when initially it seems so unfunny to them?'.  

Easy, I take a leaf out of Mrs. O'Driscoll's (see post on Shakespeare Insults) tried and tested teaching book and concentrate on the rudeness. 


    True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, 
    are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push 
    Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids 
    to the wall. 

So, ask them to underline the word 'thrust'....can you see where I am going here? Point out that a sword is something that you have to thrust...but what else? What is suggestive about this? Here, be prepared for some surprising and funny answers...and a possible side-track into PHSE territory. 

Double-entendre time

Here, you do need to tell them, or give clues as to what a 'maidenhead' is all about...and let the penny drop. You could introduce the idea of double-entendre here, and then move onto the Shakespeare's text. It is important to ask them WHY Shakespeare is getting these characters to be so suggestive and refer to sex so much in the opening? What is the purpose? What are they trying to prove? How will the audience react? What type of play do the audience think they are currently watching? 


    'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I 
    have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the 
    maids, and cut off their heads. 

Desperate times call for props and thinking on the hoof

Now, here we move onto a moment of improvised use of props and without it, I could have been flogging this particular dead fish for hours.


    'Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou 
    hadst been poor John. Draw thy tool! here comes 
    two of the house of the Montagues. 

The reference to 'fish' is to do with virility and the, erm, erectness of the member. Whereas 'poor John' refers to a dead or flaccid fish.  Here, dear reader, is my 'Dangerous Minds' moment of on the hoof thinking.

'What is a live fish like'? I ask the class. 

I can't remember the exact responses but they did grasp the idea of the animal's liveliness and strength, of it being full of life and hard to control (I could go one here, but think it moot not to).  

While we were discussing this I held in my hand my whiteboard pen.  My whiteboard pen was held aloft and very vertical, erect if you will. (I'm blushing a bit as I write this) and I do point this out to them. 

'What is a dead fish like?' I ask the class.

They are a bit baffled still, I think I am losing my grasp of the lesson, Armageddon looms large before me. 

'Look at my pen,' I tell them as I slowly move the whiteboard pen from the vertical, erect position, to loose and dangling in my hands. 

I repeat the question, 'What is a dead fish like?'
'Floppy miss!' a pupil cries. 
For the hell of it, I introduce the word 'flaccid' to them and ask some more questions:
'What is Gregory teasing Sampson about if he calls his 'parts' a dead fish?'
'Why are the men teasing each other about their masculinity?'
'What kind of atmosphere does this create in the theatre?'
'Have you seen men behave like this before?' 

If my memory serves me well, the point was deftly grasped even if the language used was less polite and formal than would normally be desired in a lesson. 

Fortunately, @Xris32 has written about the use of props in a lesson far more deftly than me; however, your props may have to be what is nearby, what you can literally put your hands on, and sometimes, you just have to improvise.  There's nothing quite like the thrill of flying by the seat of your pants, and not having an unfortunate accident.  If you have ever been skiing (don't I sound well to do? However, I've only ever been on a school trip), it is very much like the first time you ski down a mountain without falling over. 

The 'focus on the rude bits' tac-tics worked and Armageddon was halted. The class got their coursework done, by hook or by crook, and when they left, we parted on good terms.  All thanks to my humble whiteboard pen that was not used as a whiteboard pen. 

1 comment:

  1. I've done almost exactly this! You can't beat a bit of dirty Shakespeare. Phwoar!