Shakespeare Camp and the New School Year

classroom view

It’s hard to believe a new school year is beginning once again. But what’s even harder to believe that this will be my 10th, yes you heard right, TENTH year teaching high school English. Over the past ten years I’ve had some amazing and humbling experiences. I’ve directed and produced three musicals, began a reading course for struggling students, moved to a new school district, participated in conferences that took me all over the country, won national English teaching awards, and became president of the PA Council for Teachers of English and Language Arts. I’ve gotten to know and collaborate with respected authors and educators from across the world. Most importantly, I’ve watched thousands of students move from 9th grade to college, growing academically and socially. I’ve seen non-readers become excited, avid, can’t-take-a-book-out-of-their-hand readers. I’ve had the awesome pleasure of witnessing students become excited about reading Shakespeare, scream with joy after receiving a book signed by an author (special thanks to Jay Asher, Steve Chbosky, and the late Walter Dean Myers) to students who were dealing with issues high schoolers should never have to deal with. I’ve been invited to former student college graduations, weddings, and sadly I’ve attended too many student funerals.

And through all of those memorable moments, there is another one that I have the pleasure of adding to my list. This life-changing experience occurred over the course of one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and it will make a lasting impact on my teaching (and writing, too). If you know me, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which I now like to refer it as Shakespeare Camp.

It’s been a month since Shakespeare Camp (which is so much easier to explain this week of Shakespeare awesomeness to my non-teaching friends and family) and I cannot stop thinking about it. As I sat through three days of valuable in-service sessions this past week (I got a lot out of a number of presentations) at my school district, I found myself thinking back to that week of awesomeness just a little over a month ago. Oh, how I wished I was sword fighting on the Folger’s lawn, listening to engaging lectures by the scholars and Folger text editors, performing on the United States’s only Elizabethan stage, and collaborating with 26 other like-minded, Shakespeare obsessed colleagues (many of whom I now call friends). As I think back on that experience, there are three things I want to take with me as I teach this year in order to keep the Folger memory alive and especially to create a memorable 9th grade year for my 100 plus students.

Shakes Center1. Relinquish control. If you’re a leader, teacher, boss, parent, you understand the difficulty in relinquishing control. But that’s one of the things that I want to work on this year. By relinquishing control (not total control, though), I am placing the learning into the hands of my students, in turn creating a memorable, authentic, and challenge-based learning environment. When I get to the acting of Romeo and Juliet, I know relinquishing control will be a struggle – but with my tools and tips from Shakespeare Camp, I know it can be done.

2. It’s all about the words. Sometimes we get so focused on teaching specific reading skills and strategies (thank you, standardized tests) we forget about the words. When students simply read words (often times through repetition), meaning begins to form organically.

3. Begin with performance. Thanks to an amazing blogpost by Debbie Gascon, I now have the confidence to begin my school year with performance. Although I will be discussing the general rules and procedures the very first day (remember, I do have 9th grade students! haha), on day 2 they’ll be up and out of their seats participating in the first performance-based activity of the year. Check back for an update on that! 🙂

Okay … okay … I know there is so much more more I will be using in my classroom, but I wanted to start with those three ideas. Thank you Folger Shakespeare Library for reinvigorating me for the start of my TENTH year!

Happy New Year! 🙂 Jennie @jenniekaywrites

About Jennie : Jennie K. Brown is an award-winning high school English teacher, freelance magazine writer, and author of children’s books. Her middle grade novel POPPY MAYBERRY, THE MONDAY will be published in April 2016 by month9books (Tantrum Books imprint), with a sequel to follow in December of that year. She currently serves as president of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) and is an active member of SCBWI, NCTE, and ALAN. She is a regular contributor to the SCBWI Eastern PA and PCTELA blogs. Jennie can be found on twitter, facebook, and her website


My Writing Space

Finding the “Write Space” part II

So, a few months back I blogged about revamping my home writing space. While I did get a fair amount of writing and revising done in that small corner of the one guest room, I realized that I was a bit cramped. At the beginning of June, I decided that it was time to once again “revise” my writing space. The first step was getting the spare queen-sized bed out of there (we already have a guest room across the hall, so there was no reason to have two!). After that, we moved my elliptical machine to another corner of the room, organized the closet so I have more room to store books/files/etc., and just reorganized the entire room in general. I threw out old files, donated books, and best of all – wrapping-papered the back of a $25 bookshelf I picked up at Wal-Mart. (pics are posted below).

Book Shelf Before:                                       Book Shelf After:

shelf before                      write space final   FullSizeRender-1

Room Before:                                                Room After: 

before                  IMG_3510  write space

This was a weekend project (taking pretty much all of Saturday and Sunday of last week), but in the end it was SOOOO worth it. I love my space, and I’ve already logged 3,000 more words to my mystery YA manuscript!

Happy Writing!

🙂 Jennie


Finding the “Write” Space

The Write Space


Today I want to talk about writing spaces. Many of my author friends have a favorite place where they get the majority of their writing done. Some travel to a favorite coffee shop, some set up shop in a hotel room while on a book tour, and others make a quaint little writing nook at home. I’m in the latter of this group. (But hopefully one day I’ll be on tour for my novels and have to make a writing space out of my hotel room!)

When my husband and I moved last February, I knew exactly where I wanted my writing space to be – in the front spare bedroom on our second floor. I envisioned myself sipping coffee from my favorite Shakespeare insult mug, typing away. Well, this didn’t happen for quite some time. Some days I wrote at the dining room table. Other days it was the kitchen island. A few evenings here and there would be spent on the couch with my laptop in … well … my lap. Some weekends I would get writing done at the Hershey Panera Bread. But I was finding that I did not accomplish much due to distractions in these locations. With an open floor plan, my son playing in the living room distracted me when I wrote in the kitchen, living room and dining room. The chatter and crowd at Panera Bread would cut my writing short. I needed a quiet writing zone. So when my latest Better Homes and Gardens arrived, and I saw the fun writing space on the cover, I became motivated to create the right space to WRITE!

    INSPIRATION:                                         BEFORE:                                                AFTER:

BHAG         IMG_0545             IMG_0553

And the best part – I created my space in under $25 dollars.

Lamp: $7.99 K-Mart

“B”: $5.99 TJ Maxx

Vase and Floral Arrangement: $7.00 Michaels

Sea foam – green Tray: 50 cents! Staples

Fabric for Inspiration Board: $1.25 Joann’s Fabrics

Although many people don’t need a set space to write, this works for me! And if you can get in the writing zone in a coffee shop, or need the solitude of a writing nook, whatever get you writing is your “write” space! Already, I’ve added 7,000 words to my WIP – the sequel to Poppy Mayberry, The Monday (Due to my publisher in March – yikes!) in my nook.

I’d love to see pictures of your writing space!

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

🙂 Jennie K. Brown @jenniekaywrites