Stage 4: Active Experimentation
Aim: Concrete experimentation and actualisation of knowledge via argument building.
Activity: There are numerous ways to approach this final stage depending on available time, capability of the class, and the balance of in-class work to homework. It is a challenging, hands-on stage that requires close guidance and a breaking down into sub-stages. In the pilot run teachers noted how difficult this stage was because students had to come up with their own line of argument in the absence of a specific question. Teacher guidance is crucial to enable students to pursue their own interests in the extract and shape these into unique and credible theses.
Stage 4 requires students to cluster ideas into meaningful groups, hierarchies, stages or lines of argument evidenced by words and phrases in the extract—and all in the absence of any specific essay question. The key point here is that any argument is valid (no matter how embryonic, limited or unusual) so long as it is personally constructed and relies on textual evidence. This is because the aim is to give students authority as interpreters and to value their personal angle on the extract.
Students need to:
- Select some concepts from their hoard that they find interesting and want to pursue;
- Arrange their selected concepts in some sort of coherent cluster (potentially with sub-concepts illustrating a main concept) or in a logical series that leads smoothly from one concept to another; and
- Consider specific elements of the extract as evidence for specific concepts and note other parts of the play that might also be relevant.
If students are having trouble shaping a response in the absence of a question, they could be asked to begin a paragraph with a phrase like, ‘Hamlet is about...’ or ‘This extract reveals...’.
At this point students can produce some coherent outcomes. For example, relying on and demonstrating all three of the sub-stages above, they could write a paragraph explaining their conceptual series or cluster. This might amount to an explanation of what the play is about or an exploration of a particular aspect of the play that interests them. Purely for illustrative purposes (because the possibilities are infinite), here are five topics that could be presented as mini-theses or paragraphs detailing a response to the extracts:
- (Extract 1) an exploration of the way Hamlet uses mythic characters to interpret his family and himself;
- (Extract 2) a discussion of what it means to be human or of the role of natural imagery in describing the human;
- (Extract 3) an account of how important Polonius is for the plot;
- (Extract 4) an exploration of the similarities and differences between Claudius and Hamlet; and
- (Extract 5) a discussion of how women are treated in the play.
Stage 4 of the Bard Blitz arrives at its conclusion with each student having created a personal response to the extract in the form of an argument based on evidence from the extract. Stage 4 is a very important part of the Bard Blitz and should result in the production of a thesis that the student has genuinely invested in from the ground up and can be truly proud of.
Using the Table: This final stage should be able to be completed without reference to the Table because the students should already have amassed their concept hoard.
- Students could share with each other the concept clusters that they have chosen to pursue and the group could spend a little time helping each of its members (one after another) by brainstorming their chosen concept and offering examples from elsewhere in the play to help support it;
- A mini-debate could be held where students with very little preparation argue both sides of a concept to help clarify its possibilities and evidence;
- A group discussion of what students think an essay is meant to do and what makes a good or bad essay;
- Group reflection on what students think the value of the entire Bard Blitz, and each of its stages, is for them.