Bringing Moments of Joy to High School English
Students gain a great learning experience when they experience a ‘passion for learning.’ It would always be more gratifying for a teacher if pupils were motivated and ready to learn: when teachers saw engaged students, they became more interested in teaching themselves.
I wasn’t expecting my seniors to claim their favorite part of the semester was Hamlet. Their passionate involvement and careful writing exhibited care and concentration, especially given that we visited the tragedy over Zoom in December, the final month of what was for most of them the most difficult year of their lives.
Of course, Hamlet was not superior to Zoom a result of Zoom. Because I didn’t make students dissect Hamlet’s conversation for every allusion, Hamlet was better. I didn’t assign them the task of researching women’s rights in Shakespeare’s period.
I didn’t get bogged down in standards or see test prep as a cure for “learning loss.” I knew it wasn’t what my kids needed even more than usual.
My pupils required a supportive environment that prioritized health and happiness.
Even while they did projects that required critical thinking, writing, and public speaking, they wanted to feel cared for and have room to express that they cared for one another.
They needed opportunities to express themselves and grapple with what they’d been through, both publicly and privately: sickness, financial insecurity, injustice, political turbulence, a lost year, and isolation from friends, teammates, and familiar routines.
For the foreseeable future, high school English teachers should prioritize these objectives in their classes—for the rest of this year, next year, and any year, for that matter.
A Classic Receives New Importance
Last semester, I presented Hamlet as a book that was both contemporary and escapist, a depiction of a young person racked by melancholy, looking for meaning, weighing opposing allegiances.
How can a young person deal with situations that are out of their control? That question appeared in other, more recent writings of the term, such as There There, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and others. Students might reflect on their existential difficulties and opposing allegiances, as well as how the epidemic has thwarted their goals and dreams.
Hamlet is always a good choice for seniors graduating from high school, but this year they answer the central question collectively. Regardless of how they’ve been affected geographically, racially, or socioeconomically, they’re all coping with a once-in-a-century disturbance of life that might leave them scarred for life. The prince, Hamlet, was once set to inherit a kingdom, yet even such an enticing fate may restrict a brilliant and curious individual. Teenagers who feel threatened by the fates they created for themselves often connect more than normal due to their loneliness, dissatisfaction, and dread.
Despite the weight on the plate, I’ve learned to make more room for humor this year. To see whimsy and lightness as important schoolwork. Even in Hamlet’s case.
This is part of the prescription, which may be found in anything from class procedures to project design. I’ve given pupils more creative writing assignments than normal so that they may securely express their true sentiments through fictional characters. I want them to play around with world-building, to be fun and uninhibited. I use class time to do one-on-one meetings with students regarding job schedules, weekend hikes, and essay corrections.
Aside from Hamlet, I’ve overhauled my reading choice, favoring works that combine descriptions of hardship with comedy, beauty, love, and adventure, such as Allison Mills’ “If a Bird Can Be a Ghost.”
Class is presented as a magazine. I have kids write open letters, fiction based on historical events they have researched, ghost stories, and articles for teen health panel presentations.
Beyond the “classroom” walls, all labor has a genuine purpose. Flipgrid “mixtapes” of speeches are created. I make digital magazines out of students’ writing assignments, allowing them to use pseudonyms if they want to. Almost everything I do is shared with the rest of the school. The public work is high-stakes and targeted to kids’ needs to encourage buy-in.
The Transformation Of A Play-By-Play Moment Into A Playful Learning Moment
While I fantasize about removing Zoom from the classroom, my Hamlet experience demonstrates how technology may strengthen the classroom community.
I decided to live-chat the play as it streamed from my computer, first to interpret problematic portions and then to answer student queries in real-time. The well-known “group chat” structure promoted a rebellious attitude.
Students amazed me and each other with their inventive use of emojis: a torrent of snakes when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern betray Hamlet, black hearts, and vomiting expressions in response to Hamlet’s nasty digs at Ophelia. Students regarded the play as an ancient forerunner to the HBO adolescent soap Euphoria—a text both scandalous and moving—with my support.
We repurposed the teenage addiction to multitasking for the advantage of the classroom, an issue exacerbated by remote learning, which makes gaming in class exceedingly simple. Their Hamlet response essays were finally better than I imagined, but more significantly, despite our distance, we all felt linked, as if we were a vibrant community. It was precisely what they — and I — required.
This method will assist next year’s kids even as our country recovers from its epidemic problem. They will bear the scars of the past year and a half, losses that will last longer than a drop in grades. I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who feels that responding to kids’ emotional, social, and civic needs in the classroom may be therapeutic. Academic rigor is not avoided; rather, it is refocused.
If avoiding shock and terror was the goal last year, and grappling with grief and rallying around hope was the goal this year, next year will be about healing.
Many journalists, parents, and government officials are suddenly concerned about educational injustice and teen depression, both of which are not new issues. It’s better to start now rather than later, as long as enthusiasm doesn’t wane as the demand for remote or hybrid learning grows. Similarly, I hope that literary professors see the necessity for a long-term change. My long-held belief that literature class is where students must work on themselves and develop healthy responses to relationships and the problems of a tumultuous world has been verified by online learning. Some of today’s teenagers are afraid of what awaits them in maturity, so they want even more seclusion. We can remind kids that they don’t have to with every unit, assignment, and tactic.
This isn’t a reaction to the current situation. This is the turning point that reveals what we should have done all along.
About the article
Students gain a great learning experience when they experience a ‘passion for learning.’ It would always be more gratifying for a teacher if pupils were motivated and ready to learn: when teachers saw engaged students, they became more interested in teaching themselves. In this article, we discussed the ways of bringing moments of joy to high school English.
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