Tappan Zee High School English teachers Frances Duffy, Lauren Calcaterra and Laura Sorrese-Lefkow recently teamed up with a Salem, Massachusetts-based theater company–with support from Library Media Specialist Patty Eyer–to transport students back in time to the 1692 trial of Bridget Bishop.
“Our students read and viewed Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ in their own classrooms, and we wanted to augment that experience for them with an interactive multimedia event,” explained Sorrese-Lefkow. “Our hope was to recreate an authentic Salem witch pre-trial as closely as possible with the History Alive acting company to truly bring the events of the play to life.”
Duffy added, ““Much of what happened in Salem was the product of decontextualized snippets used as fodder for personal agendas. What better reminder to all of us, in the current world of sound bite media being confused with fact, than what happens when people do not stop and ask themselves about the full picture – about who really wants what, and why?”
The three-period special lesson began with a remote reenactment of key highlights from Bridget Bishop’s trial and live discussion with Goodwife Ingersoll, owner of Ingersoll’s Ordinary–the tavern beneath the courtroom where Bridget Bishop is being tried for witchcraft. Students critically considered the evidence presented and were asked to judge the culpability of John Proctor and Abigail Williams in igniting the witchcraft hysteria.
“To help students further understand the powerful Puritan perspective and make connections between history and today, we planned a set of activities with the 9-12 Next Generation ELA Standards in mind,” said Calcaterra.
Following the livestream, students rotated through a series of engaging learning stations, featuring primary sources from the Salem Witch Trials, speeches and articles from the Red Scare and McCarthyism–even lyrics from popular songs about witchcraft. They were challenged to cite strong and thorough evidence to support analysis of “The Crucible,” as well as primary and secondary sources, and make logical inferences. Students were also tasked with evaluating various explanations for actions and events and determining which fit best with the textual evidence, as well as integrating information from diverse sources into a coherent understanding of an event. Their culminating task? Create an original t-shirt slogan inspired by the Salem Witch Trials.
“We also have a tavern area with cider and doughnuts to bring Salem to us!” Sorrese-Lefkow smiled.