Infusing the Arts and History into ELA — Experiencing Shakespeare’s Quill

A finished quill that students can use to complete their own Shakespeare project.

A finished quill that students can use to complete their own Shakespeare project.

Mrs. Safley teaching a small group the fletching process.

Mrs. Safley teaching a small group the fletching process.

One thing that I absolutely love being a part of is witnessing other teacher’s lessons and learning from them. We learn so much by watching other teachers in action and applying some of their lessons into our own classroom. We have so many inspiring teachers at our school that I have learned from over the years, one of whom is my dear friend and colleague Lisa Safley, a veteran teacher. Mrs. Safley is an expert, an avant-garde, a true resource. She is our art teacher, and she has a wealth of knowledge and expertise that has truly benefited me, especially in planning cross-curricular, differentiated, engaging, and unique lessons for my students. ELA pairs well with history and art, and I am a strong believer in cross-curricular lessons. Every ELA teacher can benefit from fusing language arts lessons with art, history, science, music, CTAE, and math.

Hands-on Learning

Hands-on Learning

Two weeks ago, I walked in on Mrs. Safley teaching students in her art class about quill pens. She taught them how to make their own quill using feathers recently harvested from a turkey. As she worked with a small group, the students learned how quills were made, how words were written, and how the alphabet developed from this “technology.” I was mesmerized. The wheels began to turn as I began to think about how much this lesson connected to Shakespeare. A writer from his time period was not like today’s writer who easily creates new product using the latest technology; Shakespeare and others labored for their art. They practiced writing. They drafted and drafted their work. They watched one ink blot damage a whole page of their draft, yet they persevered. I thought there was a great lesson to be learned here.

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Mrs. Safley very graciously offered me a spot at her table, and I became the student. I know a little about the art of side-to-side writing — calligraphy — so I was naturally curious. I listened to her explain the history and the science of the quill pen, and I participated in making my own. It was fun. I was ecstatic when she agreed to help me plan a lesson for my gifted class that would help them experience writing the way Shakespeare did.

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I prepared a differentiated assignment as the performance task for Romeo and Juliet. Some of my students had been part of Mrs. Safley’s original lesson to her art class, so they were all intrigued. As we read Romeo and Juliet, students chose significant quotes or passages that appealed to them. When we finished reading the play, I presented their assignment and how it would be graded. Of course, it was more important to me that students experienced Shakespeare as the writer who labored for his words with his quill.

Differentiated Romeo and Juliet Assignment Sheet

Differentiated Romeo and Juliet Assignment Sheet

Diagram of a Quill

Diagram of a Quill

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Quill Pen Directions

Quill Pen Directions

On the day of our lesson, we ventured to the art room where Mrs. Safley taught the class about the history and science behind the quill pen. It’s all about capillary action! Students then made their own quill — ELA classes can be hands on! After they made their quill, they practiced writing and began experiencing the full struggles of Shakespeare, the writer. After some practice, students began working on their Romeo and Juliet project using their quills. I truly enjoyed being a learner in my own class, but more importantly the students learned so much about art, history, science, and language arts today (and they had fun doing it!).

Making Quills

Making Quills

Fletching

Fletching

Who knew English could be this interesting?

Who knew English could be this interesting?

Practicing Writing using the Quill

Practicing Writing using the Quill — how did Shakespeare write so many plays with these?

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