Checking in on the Homeschool: Tenth Grade

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You know things are either going well or extremely badly when a month goes by and no blogging happens. While we have been busy, it has been a good sort of busy for the most part. Here’s a snapshot of tenth grade in the homeschool:

  • Shakespeare. We are pursuing a year of studying the Bard at home. So far, we have read Twelfth Night. Next up: As You Like It.
  • U.S. History. We are following a plan I blogged about before. Olivia has chosen to make weekly videos exploring one of the topics we touched on during the week. Here’s an example.
  • Precalculus. Olivia is soldiering along in an in-person class with a local instructor. Math will never be her favorite, but she is reaching out for help as needed. So far, so good.
  • German. Olivia is taking an online course in German 1 with the Well Trained Mind Academy (WTMA). She already had German last year, but she’s keeping up her practice with the hope of enrolling in a community college German 2 class in the spring.
  • Chemistry. Another online course through WTMA.
  • AP Computer Science. It’s a good thing Olivia has friends who code, because I will never be able to help her with this class. This one is through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers.
  • Co-op classes. Olivia is taking Photography, Shakespeare Uncovered, and The Power of Myth at our local co-op.

Of all the things we’re doing, I feel the best about the way we’ve approached Shakespeare so far this year. With the help of the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free, we have read the play Twelfth Night in a way that doesn’t allow for drudgery to set in. Buy the guide if you’d like detailed plans, but here are some ways you can get Shakespeare “on its feet” and alive in your house today:

  1. Read the scenes aloud, many times. Try reading one line per person, switching back and forth. Read in a strange voice or portraying a certain emotion while you read. Read chorally, all together. However you do it, let the language come alive by reading the scenes over and over. There isn’t much need to dig into difficult language, but you can if you’d like. I do, but that’s because I can’t stand missing a joke. Olivia does it less.
  2. Act out the scene, complete with stage directions. Don’t settle for standing up and gesturing a bit as you read with feeling. Decide what the props are, and place them in the right spot. Figure out how the characters will enter. Print out a copy of the scene and make notes about how characters will move in each part of the scene. Get suggestions from your onlookers (younger kids make great directors, you know). Try the scene a couple of different ways to see which way you like best. Exaggerate the comedy and the emotion to see how it impacts the scene.
  3. Try out some modern-day skits. Read over a scene and try to find some modern-day equivalents to act out as skits. We played with the relationships of the characters by having Maria and Malvolio go to the food market; Orsino and Viola taking refuge from a rainstorm in a small cave; and Toby coming in late to church after a night of drinking, only to find Malvolio is the preacher. (Ideas from Shakespeare Set Free). Kids will demonstrate a deeper understanding of the conflicts happening in the Shakespeare scenes with some role play in advance of or after a reading.
  4. Cut a scene down. I was surprised how hard it was to take a scene and cut it down to a more manageable size. Deep understanding of the lines and their importance is necessary as you decide which lines are superfluous or confusing in the modern day. Print out a scene and grab your red pens!
  5. Profile a character. Olivia had fun making a poster for Viola, complete with her picture and details about her likes/dislikes, personality, and ambitions. When profiling a character, make a list of imagined favorite bands, songs, movies, books, and ice cream flavors. It’s fun to go beyond the book to give these characters a more modern feel based on what we know about them from the story.
  6. Do the fight scenes. Find a book on stage combat as a resource and teach your kids some fighting skills. Take a fight scene from the play and plan it out, blow by blow. Use your younger sibling directors to give you some guidance to know what looks good and what looks fake. When our local Shakespeare actors rehearse before a show, they do a “fight call” where actors must run the fight scenes in slow motion before they run them at full speed. Try this out. It’s fun to run a fight in slow motion. Make sure to get your camera ready to record it!
  7. Compare scenes from filmed versions. We had a blast planning the scene where Malvolio finds a letter supposedly from his mistress Olivia. We acted it out, planning where Sir Toby and his crew would hide, how Malvolio would react when he saw the letter, and so on, through the whole scene. Then we pulled up two different versions of the scene from movies and made notes about how each production interpreted the scene. We noted what worked well and what fell flat. We felt like theater critics. Fun!

I hope these ideas will spark an interest in your house to get a Shakespeare play “on its feet.” Shakespeare isn’t intended to be dry and boring. When you find interest flagging, it’s time to get up and plan a scene!

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