Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare This Semester Step by Step: Prep

So a lot of my academic friends returned to classes this week, and my feed has been full of first day tips, and ways to make that first day/week of class work.
One thing I noticed with most of these posts/articles is that I finished reading them, and then thought, yeah, and? As a high school teacher for twelve years, with a Master's in education, another in English literature, and in the last semester of my PhD, a lot of the common sense, or familiar, tactics I see about teaching seem, well, obvious.
But I realized last year when I was helping with the incoming TAs, and organizing and running professional development for them, that it wasn't obvious. It was one of the reasons why I created (and have continued to update) the resource manual. It was meant to be a "use right out of the box" manual to introduce TAs who had never taught to the basics, and to give veteran TAs choices.

This semester I am teaching an online section of about 75 students on Early/Elizabethan Shakespeare.

This got me thinking. What would it look like if I blogged every week on the decisions I made, how the class was designed, the Web 2.0 tools I used, the techniques, etc.

So, since the class runs along a strict schedule/pattern, I grade and lesson plan on Saturdays, so on those days I'll also blog about the upcoming week.

Therefore this week's blog post will focus on the prep for the course. While I started prepping this course months ago when I first asked, I'll condense my thoughts here.
Here is my syllabus.

I started with figuring out what assignments I wanted to do.
  • I knew I wanted to start with a close reading paper. My teaching is very focused on the text- where is that found? Where do you read that? So I think it's important to start with this very tight, focused assignment. It teaches the students to tie everything back to textual evidence. I also think the abbreviated assignment (it's only a couple of pages) is a good introduction to the class.
  • Last semester, in my Survey of Early English I gave students a choice of having their final assignment being either a paper or project. They liked this, and it allowed them to play to their strengths. I also encouraged them, no matter which they chose, to build on previously explored topics.
  • So that was my beginning and end. What other skills did I want? Well, my classes are always centered around student choice, allowing them to explore things that interest them, and bring new texts or ideas to the class. So I added a presentation on a topic or theme. I don't provide a lot of guidelines here because I want students to critically think about what fulfills the requirement. I do encourage them to talk through their ideas with me.
  • The other major assignment comes after the close reading but before the final paper/project and is a thematic paper. This ideally builds on the close reading, and helps them see themes they might want to look at again for their final paper/project. It comes later in the course because we need to have read several plays for them to see the themes.
  • In my Survey last semester, students gave me input that the reading quizzes were not helpful but sharing their notes (taking pictures of them and uploading to the discussion board) were helpful. Since this is an online course, I kept that type of skill building in mind when building my discussion boards (which are 15% of their grade). Rather than vague postings, students create concrete artifacts to post. Also, they receive a 77 for posting their post, 85 for that plus responding to one classmate's post, and a 100 for their post plus responding to two classmates' posts. 
    • Students who take online classes do so for a variety of reasons. Many work, juggle childcare, home responsibilities. They are busy. This grading system lets students earn a passing grade just for their post, but if they need to prioritize their work load, they know they can stop there.
  • The final set of assignments are the critical reading responses. Each week I've chosen scholarly articles related to themes or big ideas/known concepts of the play. Some weeks have several articles, some just a couple. I try to show students a range. They have to choose five throughout the semester. The responses are easy- one paragraph that sums it up, one where they tell me what they thought about the article and three questions they had. The purpose is to first get students used to reading scholarly articles. The second is to provide them sources they can potentially use for their thematic and final papers. And finally, I want them to get used to identifying and summarizing other people's arguments and identify their own.
  • I also level up the assignments. I understand that students will improve and build their skills throughout the course. So the close reading paper is 10% and the thematic paper, final paper/project and critical reading responses are each 20%.

This is an early Shakespeare course, so that limited the texts to choose, but as a working class/poor  student myself, costs of classes are a big deal to me.
I chose five plays, roughly three weeks per play.
Next I put in the syllabus that students could use copies they had, digital copies, or buy new ones. I recommended the Dover editions for two reasons. One, as someone with a theatre background, and a teacher, I do not like editions that provide forty gazillion footnotes that explain everything and take away the whole part where students have to ask questions. The second is, because I like students to learn how to annotate plays I suggest hard copies (although I also teach them how to annotate digital versions). Dover editions are pulled from the Oxford World versions, so I don't have issues with that. So my class with five plays costs students less than $30. I feel good about that. Students can choose economic choices that fit their lives and not be punished.
I started with A Midsummer Night's Dream because many students will be familiar with it from high school, if not, the ideas are in popular culture, so it'll be familiar.
I end with Titus Andronicus, not only because it's a hard play but because it's a brutal play, and we need to work up to it.
Our middle plays then are
  • Twelfth Night
  • Hamlet
  • Merchant of Venice


Once my syllabus is crafted, I then started building my online course shell.
Each play got a module and each module follows the exact same pattern. This enables students to know what to expect once they learn the pattern.
  • Each module starts with the student learning objectives. I was taught to phrase these as SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To). This lets students know what we're doing.
  • Then I use a Web 2.0 tool (I really like Voki which allows you to choose an avatar and then type/voice an intro) to introduce the module, lay out what we'll do.
  • Next we have a starter discussion board. This gets them thinking about the play, and asks for text to text, text to world, text to self connections. We'll build on these ideas later in more analytical ways.
  • I divide work into weeks, so they know when they need to work on things, although I tell them that if they know they have busy days/weeks they can work ahead within a module.
    • They cannot race through though. The first couple of modules are date locked, so they can't work through the whole course.
  • I recorded several lectures to introduce plays and topics using Moviemaker that I then uploaded to YouTube. 
    • As we work through the course and I see places where students need more help I'll  either record more that fill these needs or use BlackBoard Collaborate to fill these needs.

  •  I used the same icons throughout the course so students can "see" and recognize what certain ones mean. So the blackboard divides the work weeks, the Wordle below marks resources.

  • Notice that the Mechanicals Play Response provides a version of the scene for students who may be having a hard time at first just reading the play.
  • I also introduce them to modes of responding to plays by providing models like the dialectical journal.
  • Again, notice that the analysis of Puck's speech uses multimedia, this time one of my favorite scenes in a movie, from Dead Poet's Society.
  • This is the tail end of the first unit, so it also reminds them to sign up for their presentations, reminds them of the critical reading responses that they can use for this module, and provides a summary as it's the first full module.




Other than the pattern of each module being the same, I also suggest a work schedule on the syllabus. Some students won't need the help to stay organized. Some will, so I provide it.
While this is an asynchronous class, meaning we’re not all on at the same time, we will follow a regular schedule. I encourage you to choose days you’ll regularly work on it, just like a TR or MWF class. While we are asynchronous, this is not a class where you can log in and work only once a week
We will spend two weeks on each play, so perhaps your schedule would look like this:
1st Week:
  • Monday: Background/Opening, discussion board (1st impressions of the play, scene response)
  • Wednesday: Questions/Office Hours
  • Friday: Revisit discussion board to respond to classmates
2nd Week:
  • Monday: discussion board (scholarship, close reading)
  • Wednesday: Questions/Office Hours
  • Friday: Revisit discussion board to respond to classmates

So that's the building of the syllabus an course.
Yesterday I emailed everyone in the course, welcoming them, and providing the link to the syllabus, mainly to answer questions about texts to get.
I'm also starting new this semester, trying out Skype as an option, I'll log in when working at home on dissertation revisions, and they can use that to contact me if they like in addition to texting and email (all laid out in syllabus). I'm also encouraging but not requiring Twitter as a backchannel for class. I'm checking periodically all of these this week in case students have questions before class starts.

Since I'll do my lesson planning and grading Saturday, I'll post a video introducing myself on the introduction discussion board. I choose video so students can put a face to the name, and I'll share some personal information so they don't think I'm just a talking head. In such a large online course it's important that they still see me as a teacher they can talk to and use as a resource.
I also use Nehi as a great tool to personalize myself to students. In online classes I think it's really important students realize it's a person on the other end, both to ensure a good tone, but also to realize it's a person, a teacher, there to help.
Every week I post a weekly assignment, reminders of upcoming work, videos or memes or gifs and resources that are tailored based on questions/concerns the students have had the week before. While I built this course for UNM to use, and will export/archive at the end for future use, I also will track my announcements in a Google Doc because it allows me to mark things I want to be sure to include, like the events in February over the First Folio being in Santa Fe.

Because of the size of this class, I also have a TA, an early modern Master's student who has never taught online. So I'm training them the same way I was trained as an online teacher, the first few weeks they will just observe, ask questions about how and why I chose to do things. I'll grade the close reading paper myself, using examples to norm with them. After that we'll start dividing the discussion boards and other assignments.

This post was lengthy because I wanted to lay everything out, I think the other weekly posts will probably be less, depending on the week. I plan on focusing more on tips and techniques, things that other teachers could use.
So that's the prep, next post will be the first week...

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