How should we study and teach Shakespeare's plays? From the earliest days of my career, this question has echoed in my mind. Yet despite my drama certification, I allowed myself to be influenced by prevailing pedagogy and for years eschewed what I knew in my heart, soul, and mind: Plays are meant to be performed. This is how actors study a play, by blocking and close oral reading of lines.
Not until I studied with the Folger Shakespeare library did I return to my roots. Thus, this unit showcases my pedagogical philosophy that performance pedagogy represents best practices for teaching Shakespeare in ELA classrooms.
Day 7 of The Taming of the Shrew
About the lesson:
I chose to teach this lesson because stereotype threat as a self-fulfilling prophecy informs my reading and understanding of The Taming of the Shrew. By the end of the unit, I want my students to see Kate as a woman greatly influenced by her environment, an environment the audience sees in a limited context.
By introducing stereotype threat to students and by having them discuss it, they are moving toward an understanding of Kathryn that is antithetical to many readings of the text, which often argue that Shakespeare wrote a sexist play in penning Shrew. This is the conclusion I had of the play prior to studying it under the tutelage of some eminent scholars at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Since, I have come to see Kate as a masked woman, one who embodies stereotype threat, one who can only be herself when she leaves the environment that both stereotypes her and threatens her true identity.
A note on the text: I use the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of The Taming of the Shrew; consequently, all textual references correspond to that text. It's available online as a digital edition (free) from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
To begin the lesson, I reviewed the definition of stereotype.
A student offered: "A category." Another offered, "A label."
Next I invited students to revisit the Act 1.2 tasks, looking at the section in which students label the characters. I gave students time to share and revise their initial responses. They gave the following responses:
Bianca: "The spoiled rich girl," and "a brat," "the girl all the boys want."
Baptista: "The father." They couldn't get past that label.
I told students they'll be listening to an NPR presentation about stereotyping in math and science and how that stereotyping affects women in those professions.
Begin playing the NPR program "How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science."
I told student they will need to take notes as they listen to the program and that they will need to consider the following questions, which I pose as listening cues rather than as questions to answer directly.
Since the questions are in the order in which the program addresses them, it's possible to have students answer them, but I worry that this will lead to a contrived follow-up discussion.
I played the program w/out pausing, but pausing is an option as it gives students time to take more thorough notes.
After listening to the NPR episode, I explained fishbowl discussion, which is designed to engage students in listening and speaking:
Many students volunteered, and our first group of talkers was comprised only of boys who were most interested in talking about their own perceptions of girls than about the NPR Program. This upset many of the girls who could barely contain themselves until the next round.
For the second round, we had three girls and one boy. This group, as the video shows, did address some of the ideas in the NPR program, but they also connected stereotyping to their own experiences and spent some time talking about how the high schools in our town get stereotyped:
After their discussion, we listened to the reports:
It's interesting to think about what the recorders actually record and what they leave out. This gives much insight into students' active listening.
Since I did not hear as much about how stereotyping in math and science influence women's decisions to leave and/or avoid those occupations, I spent some time reviewing the program, beginning with stereotype threat:
Stereotype threat happens when a woman is labeled and that stereotype leads to her behaving in such a way that the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that affects her professional and/or personal life.
Next, I asked students to think about how we stereotype boys and girls in school and then what happens:
Posing these questions resulted in much nodding of heads, and whispers of "yes," and other nonverbal cues that suggest students really were beginning to get the idea by the end of the period.
Finally, I asked students to think about how stereotypes could possibly account for both Kate's and Bianca's behavior in The Taming of the Shrew. I reminded them that we have already begun to see some changes in Bianca and in other characters for those who have read past Act 2. This will be the point of discussion in tomorrow's lesson.