English - The class strikes back

Using mixed media to tackle 'Othello' yields vivid results

Adam Webster

When I heard my head of department lamenting the fact that software sometimes fails to meet our key needs, it set me thinking. Why not devise a project where pupils are in charge of their own learning, using technology of their choice? It is, after all, an area about which they often know more than we do.

At the same time, I was swayed by the Learning Pyramid, a study done at the National Training Laboratory Institute in Maine, which showed that students retain only 5 per cent of information from a lecture, but remember up to 90 per cent of the information or ideas they use immediately.

So I launched an independent learning project with my Year 9 class based on Othello: after we had read Act One together, they had to produce a subsequent Act in any medium, other than written. The only restrictions were that they had to include at least some of Shakespeare's original language and they must complete it within four weeks. They had access to books, computers and a decent amount of space.

Their innovative and sophisticated use of technology astounded me. They turned in projects ranging from PowerPoint presentations and stop-motion animation to radio plays. These weren't produced to a professional standard but I was left in no doubt that each pupil had an impressive understanding of the language they were handling. They're now assessing each other's work in class for a review section in an imaginary newspaper, so they're getting really truthful feedback on what worked and what didn't.

There were some hurdles along the way: some technology failed and one group had to restart their project halfway through. Others struggled with the language, bringing in the angel Gabriel as the "herald" who announces a night of frivolities where the play is set, on the island of Cyprus. A few pushed the boundaries to represent women as Lego Ewoks, or Othello as Darth Vader.

You can't guarantee that a project like this will yield "better" results than traditional explorations of the text, but it guarantees a level of engagement and enthusiasm that's hard to replicate. And you may find that your class produces something that is genuinely special; a five-minute rap of the narrative of Act Two - including a number of direct quotations - was one of the most impressive pieces of work I have ever seen from a pupil.

Adam Webster teaches English at an independent school in Surrey and blogs on creativity and innovation in education

What else?

Try RMNewbury's adaptable "it's a fine line" card game to engage pupils with Shakespeare's language in Othello.

See what happens when hip-hop and rap meet Shakespeare in misschurchill's Twelfth Night lesson.

In the forums

How big is yours? Teachers are comparing the size of their top-set English classes in the TES Resources English forum - 36 is the record so far. How does your top-set English class compare?

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources039.

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Adam Webster

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