Don't underestimate the appeal to visual learners
If you're not up to the challenge of ordering Oxford's graphic novel versions of Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet for fear of your colleagues' admonishing stares, consider the wealth of YouTube clips from Shakespeare, the Animated Tales. This series covers some of the most beloved of Shakespeare's plays and is an excellent way to help students improve their understanding of the Bard and his work.
The series ran on BBC 2 from 1992 to 1994 and consists of twelve half-hour long programs. The series even inspired the Shakespeare Schools Festival, an annual event in which students perform half-hour long versions of Shakespeare's plays. If you're interested in the series, it can be ordered online. Here are the plays that are featured:
What younger students will enjoy about the series are the different approaches to animation in each of the videos--approaches that attempt to match well with the play in question (you can see this just by looking at the still frames above).
And heck, whose to say that some of our older students couldn't benefit from having a look at Shakespeare, the Animated Tales?
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There are so many great videos out there just waiting for you to share them with your students. The trick, sometimes, is finding them. While I enjoy sifting through countless videos on YouTube that are student reenactments of great works of literature, I would prefer to know what's out there in advance. What follows in the coming blog posts is a collection of great YouTube videos that are either animated or focus on visual narrative in some way. They can really help you make successful curriculum connections with your students and help foster engagement. We'll start with the one below by Lynn Tomlinson.
So begins Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz -- when I died --," a chilling poem that focuses on one of her favourite themes: Death. Even more chilling, perhaps, is this 1989 adaptation of the poem by Lynn Tomlinson. Here, the incessant buzzing and shifting, animated canvas seem spot on with Dickinson's own sensibilities.
When I teach this poem to my IB English students, I find Tomlinson's video to be eminently helpful. Above and beyond generating great discussions about the mood that it establishes, the video also shows students that the poem really works best when it's subject to a very matter-of-fact reading. So much of Dickinson's poetry is like this in fact. I really love the way the poem is delivered, especially when the fly appears on the scene. It takes students no time at all to realize that the windows failing are the speaker's eyes, and then they soon discover that nearly every time Dickinson makes reference to windows, our ocular faculties are in play. Soon after, they make the connection between "Eye" and "I" that pervades so much of Dickinson's writing.
Some educators would argue that the video serves to interpret the poem for students--that they have less of an opportunity to think or to imagine by virtue of watching it. This, however, is a red herring, because young learners profit far more from listening to a solid reading of the poem first and seeing it in some sort of context. We don't go to a performance of Hamlet and come away complaining that the director ruined Shakespeare's text by interpreting it (unless, I suppose, the interpretation is dreadful). We don't fret about the sanctity of a screenplay for a film when we go and see the film at the theatre.
As educators, we need to get away from handing out the poem to students, asking Sally to read it (because Sally likes reading out loud) and then asking the class what the poem means. That stopped being cool last century.
Note that this post and others in the "Visual Narrative and YouTube" series will become permanent fixtures of the website under the "Classroom" and "Curriculum Connections" tabs.
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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