Friday, August 2, 2013

Summer ELL Mentoring and the Power of Discussion

Three weeks into Holyoke's innovative "Summer of Power" ELL program, students are taking classroom discussion to new levels -- in small, collaborative, more self-directed groups where the learning can follow the natural turns of conversation.

In a recent guest post on the Summer of Power blog, Thomas (a mentor and graduate student at UMass) discussed the conversation he and his students had after reading about the bloodstained conspirators' announcement of Caesar's death in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

“Ooh, they wash their hands in his blood!” The imagery excites Ferb, but the others wrinkle their noses.

“Yes,” I affirm. “So what does that mean?”

“It means they’re murderers,” Frances Bean says. “It’s, like, proof that they did it, that Caesar is dead.”

“And it’s what happened in Calpurnia’s dream, right?” I prompt. In Act 2, Scene 2, Caesar relates a dream that his wife had, in which “she saw [his] statue, / Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts, / Did run pure blood. And many lusty Romans / Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it” (76-79).

“So her dream came true,” Sjanira says. “Did she actually have that dream?”

“Well, we don’t really know,” I concede, “but there was a myth that she did, and Shakespeare borrowed from that myth.”

“Wait,” Sjanira stops me. “Shakespeare didn’t live when Caesar was around? Then how did he know this stuff?” As Thomas reflects on that discussion, he says, "Now that my students get what’s at stake in Caesar’s assassination -- power, love, betrayal, omens -- they’re interested, probably more than ever before, in a nexus of related subjects, such as history, religion, drama, and the literary tradition."

Big things are happening on the third floor at Holyoke High School.

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