#Shakespeare400: Quilting Shakespeare in the Park

Some of my favorite Shakespeare memories have included the Shakespeare productions at the Delacourt Theatre in Central Park.

I have been fortunate to secure tickets to see Shakespeare plays produced by the Public Theatre during the seasonable summer months either by waiting in line or through the new digital lottery system.

Of the two, my preference is for the digital lottery…enter your name in the morning, find out if you won by 1:00. Then, make a mad dash into the city to retrieve tickets by 6pm.

The waiting on line is by far the more difficult commitment. Depending on the day of the week and the play being performed, the line can begin snaking back to Central Park’s Great Lawn as early as 4 A.M.

Remaining on line for several hours means being prepared-hauling in chairs, blankets- to protect your bottom from the cold ground. Which is maybe where the genius idea of creating a quilt titled “Shakespeare in the Park”  found its genesis.


“Shakespeare in the Park” design.

The quilt designed by Judy Martin captures the magic of spending an evening under the stars. The design mimics the complex connections of characters and the whirl of action in each of Shakespeare’s plays.

Making this quilt could be an activity that could be done while waiting on a line in Central Park for a Shakespeare show …a productive activity that could be done waiting on line between the wee hours of dawn and 1pm.

The finished quilt could be used as a cushion while waiting, however, I think it is too beautiful to sit on. The complex mix of stars and swirls would need protection using a tarp or blanket beneath.

“Shakespeare in the Park” quilt design has a beauty that complements the beauty in Shakespeare’s language.





#Shakespeare400: Six Sloppy Signatures

Penmanship or the art of handwriting, is not being taught in most schools today. As a result, when the students do have to sign their names to documents (like the SAT or ACT), they scribble, they scrawl, or they scratch. Their longhand is illegible, a quality they may not know that they share with famed poet William Shakespeare.

Just how bad was Shakespeare’s signature? There are only six surviving signatures of Shakespeare that have been authenticated, all of them on legal documents: a deposition, a house purchase, mortgage, and his Last Will and Testament (3 times).

What is interesting about these signatures is that each one is spelled differently:Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.27.04 PM

  • Willm Shakp
  • William Shakspēr
  • Wm Shakspē
  • William Shakspere
  • Willm Shakspere
  • By me William Shakspeare

Bad handwriting? Bad spelling? Looks like Shakespeare has more in common with today’s high school student than simply being the topic of an assigned essay.

“The First Draft of Anything is…..”

This morning I met with a teacher who is frustrated with the writing of his students. He has been working very hard. He has provided graphic organizers. He has them write drafts. He has put notes on their papers to help them with revisions.

I tried to explain how difficult writing is…but maybe I could have shared a statement a famous writer has already made about writing. The statement is concise, but a bit vulgar.

I could have shared what Ernest Hemingway once said:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”Hemingway

How accurate is this quote? The website Quote Investigator traced the context for Hemingway’s statement to the reporter Arnold Samuelson in his book A Year in Key West and Cuba

According to Samuelson, Hemingway explained the frustrations of writing this way:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

It’s good to hear how Hemingway’s advice…albeit with colorful commentary….confirms the difficulty of the writing process.

Hawthorne Story Fragment For Use

The New York Public Library (NYPL) just announced a “digital dump” of high resolution, primary source material for the public to use. The announcement states:

Today we are proud to announce that out-of-copyright materials in NYPL Digital Collections are now available as high-resolution downloads. No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!

Taking their directive, I found some fragments of stories penned by the literary genius Nathaniel Hawthorne. The collection of his materials is described as follows:

This is a synthetic collection that consists of manuscripts and a typescript, correspondence, diaries for 1829 and 1859, seventeen journals kept from 1829 to 1869, notebooks, commonplace books, financial documents, and pictorial works.

One fragment caught my interest:


Biographical stories for children. Holograph fragment. Unsigned, undated.

“Hardly was the story concluded when George hastily arose, and Edward likewise, stretching forth his hand into the darkness that surrounded him, to find his brother. Both accused themselves of unkindness; each besought the other’s forgiveness; and having done so, the trouble of their hearts vanished away like a dream.”

It is not surprising that Hawthorne, an author, would have believed that a story would have been capable of bringing two brothers together in forgiveness; that there was a story written so  convincingly that it was “hardly concluded” when one of the brothers moved “hastily” reaching for the other. Hawthorne believed in the power of language, that words could ease the “trouble of their hearts.”

But, what was that story?

Maybe that is what the NYPL wants someone to write.

Let’s Hear from Algernon

There was a storytelling convergence. The students had just finished reading Daniel Keyes’s  novel, Flowers for Algernon, and the first quarter summative assessment was to have students write a narrative. So, why not have students use the journal format used by the main character, Charlie? Why not have students tell the same story from a different point of view? Why not have students write as Alice Kinnian, the teacher? Why not have students write from Dr. Strauss’s point of view? or maybe write as Professor Nemur’s point of view?

In fact, why not tell the story from Algernon’s point of view?

“No,” said some teachers, “not from Algernon’s point of view…Algernon is a mouse. A mouse would not keep a journal.”

So, the instructions went out. The choices of the narrative were clearly posted on the assignment sheet:

You may choose to write your journal narrative as Alice Kinnian, Dr. Strauss, Professor Nemur, or another important character in the novel.

mouseAnother important character? I bet there will be at least one student who writes as Algernon. There will be a student who imagines that a mouse can keep a journal.

That student can tell a story.

Day #82 Vetoing the Chocolate Milk Debate

It’s official.

The chocolate milk debate  as a test writing prompt is dead in Connecticut to all grade levels.choclate-milk

Yes, that old stalwart, “Should there be chocolate milk in schools?” offered to students as a standardized writing prompt was made null and void with one stroke from Governor Malloy’s pen. According to Hartford Courant, (6/12/14) Malloy Veto Keeps Chocolate Milk On School Lunch Menus,

“to the vast relief of school kids, nutritionists, milk producers and lawmakers, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used his veto power Thursday to kill a bill that would have banned chocolate milk sales in Connecticut schools.” 

Apparently, the same nutritional charts, editorials, and endorsements from dairy groups organized in packets and given to students from grades 3-11 to teach how to incorporate evidence in a fake persuasive argument under testing conditions was convincing enough to have real CT residents make a persuasive argument for legislators. As a result, Governor Malloy quaffed down a container of chocolate milk just before vetoing a bill that would have banned the sale of chocolate milk in schools. His official statement (below) on the reason for the veto illustrates a kind of capitulation as he countermanded efforts to prohibit drinks with more than 4 grams of sugar an ounce and no artificial sweeteners:

 “Ideally, students will choose to drink unflavored, nonfat milk. Chocolate milk contains unnecessary calories, sugar, as well as sodium….Research shows, however, that when chocolate milk is removed as an option, total milk consumption goes down and milk waste increases, presumably because students who do not like the taste of unflavored milk throw it away..” (Malloy)

The surrender in this skirmish against the battle of obesity or our governor’s admission of the incredible wastefulness of Connecticut students are not the only casualties of this veto.  The chocolate milk debate was a “one-size-fits-all” writing prompt suitable for grades 3-11 complete with grade appropriate evidence and a plethora of  writing exemplars created by students at each grade level to ensure calibrated grading. This prompt will be hard to replace.

But let us not lose hope. If chocolate milk has been authorized by the Constitution State based on those repeated arguments made by schoolchildren, maybe other prompts could be developed in order to train future residents and provide them with evidence to make persuasive arguments to tackle more serious problems plaguing the state. Every writing prompt could be used as for “crowd-sourcing” solutions, and there could be language for both the elementary school and high school writers.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • There could be a writing prompt  directed towards the disparity in per pupil spending in the state titled, “What My School Needs to Help Me Learn” (elementary)  or “Should We Compete with Money Spent on Education in the Town Next Door?” (high school);
  • There could be a writing prompt incorporating information  to building a job force for graduates titled,  “What Jobs Would I Like When I Grow Up in CT?” (elementary) or “How Can Industries and Jobs Be Sought and Brought to CT?”  (for high school);
  • There could be a writing prompt to address the increase of time spent in standardized testing itself, a minimum of seven to eight hours of instructional time annually at each grade level, titled, “What I Know that a Test Does Not Ask Me” (elementary) or “Should the Only Measure of a CT Education be a Standardized  Test?” (high school)

The debate that led to the veto of a chocolate milk  ban pales in comparison with some of the critical issues in public education that CT legislators should be tackling. Maybe, having students research how to address real CT problems in order to make authentic arguments may contribute to legislation that will prove helpful to the future of the state. The writing prompt to “write to your state senator or congressional legislator” could be delivered for “authentic” learning.

Of course, legislators may find many of those persuasive arguments made by students harder to swallow than chocolate milk..


Day #51 Words in Letters of Note

Jane  is working on her Wuthering Heights unit for the Honors Sophomore class. She is always building on new lessons, so she sent me a quick e-mail with the tagline, “adorable letter.” She was looking to prepare students for an epistolary novel, and she had visited  the Letters of Note website. We have located letters in the past to share with our students based on the following categories suggested on the website:download

1. Browse by correspondence type;
2. Browse by writing method:handwritten, typewritten
3. Browse by date of correspondence: 1600-present
4. Browse the following categories of correspondence:
Advice; Anger; Animation; Apology; Art; Authors; Cinema; Coded Correspondence; Comics; Complaint; Controversial; Crime; Death; Disney;Fan Letters; Form Letters; Humorous; Illustrated Letters; Kids; Love; Music;Politics; Racism; Religion; Request; Sad; Science; Sexism; Sport; Star Trek; Suicide; Superman; Technology; Thank You; War
5. Browse correspondence written by, to, or about, the following notable people (listed alphabetically, by first name):
6. Browse a list of all letters published so far.

 Jane was particularly taken with one letter to share with her students. She provided the link to a letter from 1934 by Robert Pirosh, a screenwriter. The letter begins:

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde.. (continued)

Robert Pirosh

What a great start to a letter to share with students, and how fortunate  are teachers that Letters of Note has organized this letter and 899 other gems to share!