Progression or Regression?

I fell asleep. I fell asleep and for a couple of months I have been lulled by the sound of waves, sun kissed. I fell asleep and fluttered every single day on leisure-land where a pleasant and reinvigorating breeze weakened any attempt of the few sensible thoughts left hidden somewhere in a synapse of my dormant brain to make me quit that state of bliss. I would have slept even longer, in fact, but for that annoying bell, a school bell, actually , which forcibly brought me back to the dullness of the real world and duty. Good-bye leisure-land, I must go, uncertain of my fate.

When you have to start afresh, it is advisable to begin with baby-steps, something effortless and pleasant, if possible, at the same time, to break the ice, otherwise one always tends to postpone the initial effort, which is usually perceived as huge. I thought that filing all the works, projects, power points I had left scattered on the computer the year before would have been a good start and so I did. While watching the screen, I couldn’t help but wonder how technology had actually helped me beat my natural disorganization ( and laziness); in fact , all the school years with papers, tests etc. . were there, beautifully ordered before me. It is memory. Whatever I needed , with a click it was at my disposal.

And I clicked. I don’t know whether it was an evil school-elf or just curiosity which induced me to do so, but I clicked on year 2015 first, 2010 then to get to the early twenties and then I stopped, a bit puzzled. Evoking memories, even working memories can be cruel sometimes.  What remained of that summer state of bliss and dizziness definitely faded away as the facts were plainly before me and needed to be assessed.    

What facts? To make myself clear let’s take a class as example: the third year of high school , average age 16 and let’s follow how learning and expectations have changed in these last 25 years. I have always enjoyed reading Romeo & Juliet at this stage, as the theme of love is captivating and it is a good starting point to get to know Shakespeare, but how has the way I do it changed in time and why?

LATE NINETIES: in those years I was a devout reader of the Arden Shakespeare editions with all those beautiful notes and explanations, hence, I wanted all my students to have one. Despite it was not so easy to find it as we are in Italy and there was no Amazon then, they found a way to get one eventually, all of them . As far as I can remember they enjoyed the accurate study of lines and sources of Romeo and Juliet. How do I know? Well, the following year they asked me for more, so I infer, they liked it. But, did it really matter in the late nineties whether students really enjoyed or not a lesson?

EARLY 2000s: all of a sudden it seemed  it had become quite hard to find the Arden edition anywhere, hence, I told them to buy whatever edition they could find, I would have provided them with the missing information . Of course,  there were always two or three students in the class  who managed to find the Arden edition, but the decline was now inevitable.

LATE 2000s: As in the last years I had found hard managing to read the entire play by the end of the school-year, I decided that they could have used a bilingual edition. We would have read and analysed the most important parts in class in English, while the rest could have been done even in Italian if they wanted, and they wanted .  After all, the knowledge of the main themes of the play was what really mattered I said to myself. It seemed a good compromise to me.

EARLY 2010s: These where the years when school started to be overloaded with projects of any kind, hence, as I was always running out time I decided that the reading of Romeo and Juliet would have been limited to the “Balcony scene” and the end of the play. I also made them watch the catchy “Romeo and Juliet version”  with Di Caprio. It seemed they truly enjoyed it. I was satisfied.

LATE 2010s: I thought it was I good idea to make them act  the “Balcony Scene” and shoot a video. I chose 6 couples e six directors, one for each couple, and gave them the lines. They shot from the balconies of their homes and eventually the films were assembled together with soundtrack, titles, backstage funny moments etc. . It was creative, it was fun. I was proud of them – and myself.

COVID YEARS: on-line learning has required a new way of communicating in order  to be effective. Words couldn’t but go hand in hand with images to be catchy. In this respect I have found useful GIMP,  a cross-platform image editor which I have adopted to embellish my power points. For Romeo and Juliet I decided to take and edit some shots from Di Caprio’s movie and create a sort of photo novel of the “the Balcony Scene” and make  William Shakespeare himself comment and explain the lines of the play:

It was fun, I have fun exploring the news frontiers of learning, I must admit it,  but looking back to what I used to do almost 30 years ago, I cannot help but wonder: what chances of success would my precious Arden edition of Romeo and Juliet have with today’s students? How should I consider all this process of continuous adaptation to new generations’ educational needs a progression or a regression in learning ? Are these needs real or I have simply surrendered, choosing the shortcut of light entertainment? Is it possible that eventually I am the one to be blamed?

17 thoughts on “Progression or Regression?

  1. I think you you are the reed bent by the winds of demanding educational theories—better that than the oak uprooted and tossed aside to be chopped up later. We seem to have evolved into homo sapiens with ten-second concentration spans, ever searching for the next stimulus.

    • I can see myself in that reed, but the point is that in a way I like those winds and I feel guilty for that. On one side I am fine with being “entertaining” but on the other I doubt it will be effective eventually. We used to find our stimuli in boredom and slow time, but now it is quite the opposite. The result? Lack of concentration, superficial and quick approach, cultural impoverishment. It is an unstoppable landslide, Chris.

  2. You know my hobbyhorse, so it won’t be hard for you to imagine me revising and rewriting my answer for this post. I feel deeply involved in the question, but I’m no longer used to writing in English…When I was that Juliet in the picture, it was easier but, today as then, writing here is my duty and pleasure. I won’t go straight to the point (my forever bad habit!), but I’ll confess you a few things. Yeah, it was creative, and funny, and we learned those “soft skills” everyone talks about. We fell in love and we laughed with our friends, but another truth is that I still know by heart: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” I don’t know what could be the best way to teach and to learn, but I can assure you that I don’t remember a single line of many other subjects I have studied (the honor is all yours). I never thought I could know it by heart, and I don’t remember it just like a singsong. I remember it because of the facial expressions I should do, and the several tones of voice I had to replicate. We have learned a lot. While Ferrari was shooting the scenes on that rooftop, he learned a lot, and I bet that Hamlet is still in the actors’ memories. I hope I’m making myself clear, so I can stop talking about all that romantic and tragic stuff we have studied, and I can start discussing serious matters: I can’t wait to see you and get us something to eat! I could update you on gossip. You already know that our years have been great, but maybe you don’t know that we really remember English literature, and probably I couldn’t have learned from the Arden edition as much as I have learned from the script of the balcony scene. And maybe you don’t know how much I miss those TV series, and challenges, and that time I forgot the paradigm of “to teach”. Maybe I forgot it because I haven’t understood yet what it means, to be a teacher. I don’t know if you meant to be “more than a teacher”, but I think you are, and I’m so glad to be in your memories..and if I become who I would, you’ll be part of that front page. And I’m sure we all miss our super fashionable teacher. Love, XO XO

    • After reading these words, what can I say? I am ready for retirement. This is the top of my teching career, what could I hope for more in the future? Inesorable decline awaits me after that. : D By the way, thank you for your passionate comment. I consider it a precious gift. See you soon then. Looking forward to the latest gossips!

  3. Of course, there is no blame for any issues! Hence, Your work as a teacher is unique. Shakespeare’s works are timeless and knowledgeable. Though (I may be too old-fashioned), I would prefer to choose the movie from 1968, by Franco Zeffirelli. It is not because I don’t like Di Caprio! It is only because that is a Masterwork. Stay safe and be well, my lovely teacher. 💖🤗😘

    • I am not a Zeffirelli’s fan. Whatever he directs, I find it always a bit too cheesy. Di Caprio was born “Romeo”, and he is the closest to my idea of Romeo. By the way, if the genius says I am not to be blamed, well, so let it be. ! 😀

  4. I’m full of respect for your teaching the full text, using the Arden edition, to your students… I think it would be very rare indeed to find the converse in an English school. We don’t seem to do foreign languages here any more. But so much to explore in Romeo & Juliet, always my favourite with 15-16 year olds… and though it took me a couple of years to appreciate the Baz Luhrman version, I came to think it was the best.

    • The “Arden ” age was many many years ago, today it wouldn’t have a chance with any high school student. I have never heard about the Baz Luhrman version, I have to get one. Thank you.

  5. It’s interesting to see how you’ve adapted over the years, especially during covid, which I think was a year we shouldn’t analyze since it was so bizarre as far as education goes (and everything else). I love that you had the students act out and film a scene. It forces students to make the language their own and internalize the emotional content. That’s where the true beauty is realized. I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare and wish we taught it more than we do. Good for you for being so creative!

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