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Re-Imagining Romeo and Juliet: Providing Students with Strategies to Help them make Better Choices and Live Healthy Lives

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

“It’s about two teens who fall in love and kill themselves in the end.”

When my 9th graders learned that we would be reading Romeo and Juliet, this was the first reaction I heard in every class.

Once my planning began for this whole-class text, I knew I wanted to do some re-imagining. How could I make this play more relevant for my students? How could I leave them with knowledge that would help them? I vowed to myself that by the time my classes finished reading Romeo and Juliet they would take away more than a sad love story of two star-crossed lovers.

In class we watched and read selected scenes from Stratford Festival‘s pre-recorded play. A colleague of mine recommended the resource–it is amazing! For homework, students were invited to either watch the scenes or read the summaries we were not looking at as a whole class.

Students also read articles that addressed issues present throughout the play and relevant in today’s world. I split the articles and topics into separate days. Students chose at least one article to read, analyze, connect to, write about, and discuss. Day 1 focused on topics related to the first half of the play. The following week, after finishing Romeo and Juliet, students completed similar work for a new set of articles listed under Day 2. I encouraged students to select a topic and article that spoke to them or they found most interesting.

  • Day 1
  • Conflict resolution
  • Peer mediation
  • Ways to control/work through anger
  • Negative peer pressure
  • Mob mentality
  • Day 2
  • Problem solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Brain development
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Strategies to clam down
  • How to manage stress
  • Mental health resources

The connections students made included text-text, text-self, and text-world. I asked them to consider how the information in these articles would have helped Romeo and Juliet had they had the resources and how these resources might help teens today.

Also, we read the article, “How to Help a Friend” from the National Alliance on Mental Health as a class. I reached out to my guidance counselor who recommended it.

In thinking about our world today and the struggles that many of my students experience, I wanted to provide resources for the issues that come up in the play. My hope for the unit was to help my students move beyond their initial ideas of Romeo and Juliet, make better choices, and live healthy lives.

A few weeks after the unit, I was speaking with one of my student’s parents who thanked me for the way I approached the content of the play and the resources I had provided. In the end, I am glad I re-considered how to teach Romeo and Juliet.

Consider the Summer Institute

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Do you want to have a unique experience with a graduate course that will change your life as a teacher? One that will change your students’ lives as writers?  An experience that will help you imagine the possibilities? The annual writing institute brings new teacher leaders into our large K – university network of educators who have something in common – they want to learn and grow as teachers of writers.

This year, the summer community begins with virtual Saturdays in spring followed by two weeks in July and a final celebration in fall (Contact or if you want more details).  It offers six graduate credits for a total of 14 dates!  The teachers-teaching-teachers model is the heart of the Project’s foundation.

The writing institute offers lifelong friendships. I have often asked for guidance from the friends I’ve met through myriad opportunities that PAWLP has offered its fellows. Many of us have become graduate course facilitators or teachers for our Young Writers & Readers summer programs. We’ve posted on PAWLP’s blog – write.share.connect – and contributed to our literary magazine, Around the Table. Some of us take on weeks of tweets for the Project, lead Continuity sessions, or are active members of our writing group or social justice group. We often submit proposals to NWP and PCTELA as a group and enjoy the conference together. As you can see, we stay connected throughout the year.

The writing institute gave me confidence to take risks and try new things in my classroom. I explored writing portfolios during my summer institute and read extensively about their use. When I returned to the classroom in September, I was energized to try to use portfolios as a way my students could document their writing skills and growth. I saw portfolios as a way to unlock possibilities for student-driven personalized learning. My institute members all found areas to explore.  Joe hoped to discover an effective management system to hold writing conferences on a regular basis for his high school students; Linda wanted to use poetry writing throughout her social studies curriculum. Jane was eager to fully implement a workshop approach with her fourth graders. Pam, a kindergarten teacher, focused on invented spelling — kids trying to spell words based on what they know about letter sounds —as productive practice with their decoding skills and as a way the teacher and the author could read the stories during a conference or share time.

A transformative experience, teachers who had not linked the teaching of writing with being a writer took on teacher as writer as their mantra. Teachers of writers need to be part of their community by modeling with their own writing and sharing bits and pieces from their writer’s notebook.  Writing institute participants often come to this brave space to turn down the outside noise and tune in to the amplified voices of the writing institute community. They embrace their fears and begin to work together to write, read, share, and grow.

My summer institute ran like an efficient writing workshop, promoting small and whole-group discussion, offering opportunities to confer and receive feedback, providing large chunks of time to write and share each day, and building in time to reflect on our goals and literacy practices.  Today’s writing institute helps teachers promote engagement and a strong sense of community through the workshop method.  With time to reflect upon, describe, and document our teaching philosophy, goals, and achievements, we can prioritize student voice and participation. The writing institute is a place where educators not only gain knowledge but also discover who they are and who they want to be as teachers of writers.

Application forms are now available through the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. Deadline is extended to April 17th.

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow.