Guest Post: Ashleigh Cavalin – Practical Reading Strategies for Romeo & Juliet

Now that Practical Reading Strategies has been out in the wild for a few months, I’ve started to receive feedback from teachers around how they’re using the book in their classrooms.

This post is courtesy of Ashleigh Cavalin at Kilvington Grammar School. Ashleigh has taken PRS and adapted the activities to target her audience of young male readers, boosting their engagement with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Ashleigh told me that her Y9 boys were “enthralled” with the text as they used the Strategies, so I asked her if she’d write a guest post.

Here is Ashleigh’s piece about how she’s used PRS!

Practical Reading Strategies: A Year 9 Perspective

Working in co-ed government and independent schools for the past 10 years, this was my first time teaching an all-boys class at my current school: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. When beginning to plan my upcoming unit, I was concerned my students wouldn’t have interest in the language, that they may struggle with their independent literacy skills post-remote learning, and in addition that they may have pre-conceived ideas of Romeo and Juliet being a love story. In response to these budding concerns, I went in search of some professional development around reading and engagement.

After reading Leon Furze’s Practical Reading Strategies I knew I had the tools to keep these students engaged and set about completely transforming my old, tried, and tested Romeo and Juliet resources into something new for the modern reader.

My first decision was A) I would not be reading the entire play aloud with my students. This was quickly followed by my second decision that B) There will be no comprehension questions in this unit. Every task needed to build towards thinking about the context, character development, thematic ideas and deconstructing the language. The end goal was to write an essay-style passage analysis on an unsighted scene from the play and with these objectives in mind the key teaching and learning moments had to be targeted to thematic thinking and independent reading.

The students read or viewed the play through a variety of differentiated methods. Students would read parts of the text at home, had access to detailed summary notes, a film adaptation of the text and extracts from a graphic novel. Many of the students chose a combination of these methods to engage in the play’s plot and in class we instead turned our focus to using the Practical Reading Strategies to delve deeper into reading selected passages that highlighted the ideas and language of the text. Just a few of the activities included:

  • After a short research task, we completed a text interrogation map as a class
  • A whole class analysis of the Prince’s warning to the families by annotating text connections (Where does this scenario fit in with our own experiences, other texts?) Followed by a discussion about why we may still study this play in 2022.
  • An individual student analysis of the key passages involving Tybalt in Act 1. Here we annotated text connections individually and looked at the theme of hatred and where students have seen this in modern texts or the media. We did several more like this focusing on other characters and themes.
  • A visualisation of Act 2, Scene 6 where students in pairs dissected the language in line by line images to better understand Friar Laurence’s statements and the intended foreshadowing. We repeated this for other selected scenes where there was considerable figurative language used by Shakespeare.
  • Students completed a Why, Why, Why analysis of Mercutio’s death scene, considering the statement ‘Mercutio is critical of both the Montague’s and the Capulet’s.’

The result was outstanding engagement from the boys. Their ability to discuss the era and its impact on the text values was far beyond any other class I had taught this text to. They could recall the plot and quotes as well as any class I’d read the entire play aloud to, yet they far surpassed previous classes with their ability to read the language independently and discuss the central themes of the play.

I look forward to seeing them reap the rewards and use these skills in 2023 when they tackle Macbeth and hope they continue to see these as above all life-long reading skills.

Examples of student work

I love getting feedback from teachers who have used PRS in their classes, especially when the activities have been adapted and extended into new ways like Ashleigh’s Romeo and Juliet unit, designed specifically to engage young male readers. If you’re interested in reading more about how PRS is being used out in the wild, join the mailing list to stay up to date!

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