What is the Folger Method?
Imagine a classroom where:
- The place is buzzing with the energy of student-driven learning.
- Students shout, whisper, and play with lines from Shakespeare and other authors.
- Small groups discuss, with textual evidence and passion, which parts of a text are the most compelling and how to perform them effectively.
- All students bring their identities and customs, their whole selves, to fresh performances of juicy scenes and passages.
- Every student experiences firsthand that literary language is their language, demanding to be interpreted and re-interpreted, questioned and yes, even resisted sometimes.
- Joy and rigor work hand in hand.
- Where every student realizes they can do hard things on their own.
This is a real place. This is your classroom when using the Folger Method.
Why wait? Dive in! You’ve got this!
8 Foundational principles
The following 8 principles form the foundation of the Folger Method approach to literature.
- Shakespeare’s language is not a barrier but a portal.
The language is what enables students to discover amazing things in the texts, the world, and themselves.
- All students and teachers deserve the real thing.
The original language of complex texts, archival materials, truthful and complete history, and honest conversations about hard questions raised in literature.
- The Folger Method is a radical engine for equity.
Every single student can learn this way, and every teacher can teach this way. Use our tools to help all students read closely, interrogate actively, and make meaning from texts.
- Give up Shakespeare worship.
If your Shakespeare lives on a pedestal, take him down and move him to a space where he can talk to everyday people…and other great writers like Toni Morrison and Julia Alvarez, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Azar Nafisi, James Baldwin and Homer, Frederick Douglass and Joy Harjo, Jane Austen and Pablo Neruda, Amy Tan and George Moses Horton.
- Throw out themes, tidy explanations, the idea of a single right interpretation.
Together with your students, embrace the questions.
- The teacher is not the connector or explainer but rather the architect.
Set up the interactions through which your students and Shakespeare discover each other.
- Amplify the voice of every single student.
Shakespeare has something to say to everybody, and everybody has something to say back to Shakespeare. The future of the humanities – and our world – depends on the insights and contributions of all our students.
- Set students on fire with excitement about literature. When students learn this way, these things improve: their ability to read closely, their ability to cite evidence from the text, and their confidence in tackling the next challenge.
The arc of learning
Students progress through an arc that reflects the architecture of a play. Right from the start, students are doing things directly with the original language. No teacher modeling. The learning is scaffolded by increasing the length and complexity of the language, by following this arc:
9 Essential practices
The Folger Method involves nine essential learning activities that get students connecting directly and deeply with literary language. These are student-centered, language-focused protocols that work with a wide range of texts and units of study. Below are simply the names of the essential practices.
- Tone & Stress
- Tossing Words and Lines
- Two-line Scenes
- 20-Minute Plays
- Choral Reading
- 3-D Shakespeare/3-D Literature
- Cutting a Text
- Group Scenes
Touchstone questions for teachers
As teachers, we use these questions to guide our planning, teaching, and reflection:
- Are Shakespeare’s words in ALL students’ mouths?
- Are ALL students collaborating with each other and Shakespeare?
- Has the voice of every student been included, honored, and amplified?
- Have students bravely and respectfully confronted the tough issues (identity, difference, power) raised by the text?
- Did I, the teacher, get out of the way?
What teachers say about the Folger Method
“The Folger Method has changed how I teach not just Shakespeare but everything. It has transformed my classroom, my students, and me.” – High school English teacher, Iowa
“With this method, my students are reading more deeply than they ever have before. They are breaking down language and really understanding it.” – High school English teacher, Washington, DC
“I am equipped and empowered to take risks as a teacher and let my students own their learning.” – High school English teacher, New York
“Students complain when it’s time to [leave]. I have gleefully stepped back so they can create scenes, shout [lines], toss words and lines, and cut speeches. They volunteer to read aloud even when reading aloud is hard for them. We dive in and focus on the words. It’s working.” – Middle school English and drama teacher, Maryland
“I now have my tools to get students inside any text.” – High School English teacher, Georgia
“Our English department has ‘Folger-ized’ practically everything we do, and students are so much more engaged, excited, and challenged!” – High school English teacher, California
“Connecting with the words this way empowers [students] to become stronger, more confident and enthusiastic readers and communicators.” – Community college English instructor, Massachusetts