BOX 2.4 TeachingHamlet

Two new English teachers, Jake and Steven, with similar subject-matter backgrounds from elite private universities, set out to teach Hamlet in high school (Grossman, 1990).

In his teaching, Jake spent 7 weeks leading his students through a word-by-word explication du texte, focusing on notions of “linguistic reflexivity,” and issues of modernism. His assignments included in-depth analyses of soliloquies, memorization of long passages, and a final paper on the importance of language in Hamlet. Jake’s model for this instruction was his own undergraduate coursework; there was little transformation of his knowledge, except to parcel it out in chunks that fit into the 50-minute containers of the school day. Jake’s image for how students would respond was his own responses as a student who loved Shakespeare and delighted in close textual analysis. Consequently, when students responded in less than enthusiastic ways, Jake was ill-equipped to understand their confusion: “The biggest problem I have with teaching by far is trying to get into the mind-set of a ninth grader…”

Steven began his unit on Hamlet without ever mentioning the name of the play. To help his students grasp the initial outline of the themes and issues of the play, he asked them to imagine that their parents had recently divorced and that their mothers had taken up with a new man. This new man had replaced their father at work, and “there’s some talk that he had something to do with the ousting of your dad” (Grossman, 1990:24). Steven then asked students to think about the circumstances that might drive them so mad that they would contemplate murdering another human being. Only then, after students had contemplated these issues and done some writing on them, did Steven introduce the play they would be reading.

tion (usually through computers). Artisan experts seek to identify the functions that their clients want automated; they tend to accept the problem and its limits as stated by the clients. They approach new problems as opportunities to use their existing expertise to do familiar tasks more efficiently. It is important to emphasize that artisans’ skills are often extensive and should not be underestimated. In contrast, however, the virtuoso experts treat the client’s statement of the problem with respect, but consider it “a point for departure and exploration” (Miller, 1978). They view assignments as opportunities to explore and expand their current levels of expertise. Miller also observes that, in his experience, virtuosos exhibit their positive characteristics despite their training, which is usually restricted solely to technical skills.



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