When I was a middle school teacher I was inspired to create an end of the year Shakespeare film project for my gifted language arts classes. For the film project, the students read a middle school version of one of Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Othello or Hamlet). Students then brainstorm ideas to put a modern twist on the play, while incorporating key plot elements, themes and characters. The students hire for film jobs and the class is run like a movie set. I serve as the executive producer (facilitating) as students write, direct and edit their own Shakespeare short film.
I serve as the executive producer (facilitating)
When I started the project more than 10 years ago, I was filming my students re-enactments of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a point and shoot Kodak camera. Eventually, I received a Donors Choose grant for a small HD video camera. In 2013, I was fortunate to receive the Atlanta Families Award for Excellence in Education (AFAEE) grant to outfit my classroom like a movie studio with all the equipment students would need to create their short films.
My students began using a professional video camera. We incorporated green screen technology so our film settings would only be limited by the students’ imagination. We began using professional software (Adobe Premiere Pro) to edit the films. My goal is to provide a real-world experience, where students serve as directors, directors of photography, writers, actors, film crew and editors.
Why not Shakespeare! As an English Education major, I remember the daunting task of reading and understanding Shakespeare. I have worked with struggling students in remedial reading classes as well as gifted learners. I want to provide students an opportunity to challenge themselves and experience success.
My goal is to expose students to Shakespeare in middle school, so when they get to high school and are required to read the full text of Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet, they will have some prior experience. With background knowledge they will feel less intimidated and successfully engage with the complex text. Creating the end of the year films has become my passion project.
The Project Expands
When I started in my current role as an Educational Technology Specialist, I hoped to continue working with students to make films. Providing students the opportunity to work collaboratively, communicate appropriately, use critical thinking and demonstrate creativity are essential real-world and career skills.
In the four years since I left the classroom, I have worked with students from Brown, Young, Bunche, King and Inman middle schools to create Shakespeare inspired films. At the end of the year, I hold a Shakespeare Fest and the students watch their own film as well as the films from the other schools. They complete an evaluation for each film, critiquing the storyline, video quality, acting and editing, The Film Fest provides the students the opportunity to be critical viewers.
Providing students the opportunity to work collaboratively, communicate appropriately, use critical thinking and demonstrate creativity are essential real-world and career skills.
Years ago, when we started reading the plays I was focused on building literacy skills. My language arts class was unit/project-based. I initially created my “Salute to Shakespeare” unit which over time morphed into the "Lights, Camera, Action!" Film Project. My idea for students creating their own film was to provide them a real-world learning opportunity. Having students take a test or write a paper doesn't foster deep learning and appreciation for a topic or literature. Having them read, analyze and then adapt and create fosters essential skills like creativity.
I guess the best reason for having students create films is that it brings Shakespeare to life in a new an interesting way.
I would love to have all middle schools participate in the "Lights, Camera, Action! Shakespeare Film Project". This year I shared project resources with interested teachers at two more schools in addition to working with Brown, Bunche, King and Inman. Using G-Suite resources I am able to share lesson presentations, planning documents, project checklists and resources with teachers interested in participating in the project. Google Docs allows students to collaborate on planning and writing, and I am able to monitor projects at multiple schools. Furthermore, I am working with teachers for a second or third year and I they are taking ownership of the process and project.
I am fortunate to work with middle and high school teachers from around the district. In addition to the Shakespeare project, this year I collaborated with several language arts teachers and classes to create short films based on novels including The Crucible, The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird and Beowulf.
Please check out this year's Shakespeare films as well as previous years' films on my "Lights, Camera, Action!" page.
If you have any questions about the project please feel free to contact me.
Jennifer Hall is an Educational Technology Specialist for Atlanta Public Schools.