English & Visual Arts (Artglish) join forces to reimagine Othello

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving (Iago, Act II, scene iii)” 

It seems to be a topic in the media every other week – the question of how well the high school curriculum is preparing students for a successful and productive life beyond the school gates.

In July this year reforms to the HSC were announced that “will strengthen the integrity and international standing of the HSC and better prepare our students for work, training, university and for life after school.”

At Bradfield, we are responding to this growing movement in education by offering students unique learning experiences aimed at nurturing soft skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking and leadership; as well as traditional academia.

To this end our Visual Arts and English Advanced teachers have developed a new cross-disciplinary unit in which students study Shakespeare’s Othello. The new unit aims to provide students with a more relevant, real world skills suited to a growing innovation economy, and 21st century creative industries.

Instead of just writing an essay, which is the most traditional for of assessment, students developed a wearable art piece, delivered a Vive Voce and curated an exhibition around what they considered to be the most important themes and ideas of the text.

It has been a transformative experience for students and teachers.

“Cross curricular learning enables students to identify the relationships and links between subjects and their learning. It is also a process that allows for deeper connections through multiple avenues and learning styles. Concepts are solidified through alternative experiences,” said Kim Kofod, Learning Coordinator Design and Visual Arts.

For Advanced English teacher Rachel Visser, the project was so interesting because teachers were able to watch the students unpack the themes and ideas of Othello in a physical workshop environment.

“Students were able to explore the metaphors and figures of speech using physical materials and objects. They considered an audience moving through a physical space to communicate what they thought to be the most culturally relevant ideas for this specific context,” said Rachel.

"The goal is to encourage students to think more critically about what they are consuming and why? And to think about how this process relates to their generation specifically.”

Throughout this project, students were granted the style of autonomy that is typified in the workplace. They were given a brief, had to find materials, and form teams to deliver the project.

“It was great to see students teaching each other the skills and ideas specific to their chosen disciplines. The communication of knowledge and the discovery of common links across subjects was wonderful to experience,” said Rachel.

“We never doubted that they could achieve it,” said Advanced English teacher Madeleine Koster, “but we were astounded by the level to which they rose in doing so. As the audience for their Viva Voce’s, we ceased to be teachers marking an assessment, and instead became gallery directors listening to an artist pitching their concept.”

“Students walked out smiling and confident, actually feeling as though the task had enabled them to explore their understanding instead of prohibiting engagement. The best part about this project, for me, was that it was transformative (for students and teachers alike). Students didn’t just read Othello – they lived it,” she said.

The final exhibition will be an opportunity for students to present their work to a real audience in a professional gallery space, on campus.