Friday, June 29, 2007
Action Plan 3 Quality students presentation of ideas.
Helping students present their work as best they can has aways been a feature of a group of Taranaki teachers since the 70s. Most of those original teachers have long since retired but their ideas live on in many schools in the province today.
One cynical local principal used to call this early group of teachers the 'pretty classroom brigade'! I have more recently heard such efforts to develop 'attractive' presentation of idea a waste of time - that the thinking involved is far more important.
When students enter science and maths fairs they soon learn the value of well designed presentation skills! Ideas are of no use if no one can be bothered reading them. 'By altering the graphic content of an exhibit you could double the number of people who visited it', according to Gillian Thomas, formally of the UK Science Museum
The belief is, that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well ; that when anything is well done a growing sense of pride develops. This applies to every area of human endeavor.
There seems a need for an aesthetic dimension to valued above the merely practical. This aesthetic dimension can be seen in the drawing of our ancestors of animals on the cave walls of Lascaux; these wonderful drawings are not just practical, they are thoughtful, creative and inventive. They are an opportunity to respond and create to their experiences.
Developing well designed aesthetic student book and research chart work is hardly high art but it is important for a number of reasons.
Most important we want our efforts recognised - to stand out so they are noticed. If students ideas are exciting so ought to be their presentations. Good design is what 'catches' your attention.
Design ought to become an obsession in all we do, according to business 'guru' Tom Peters, in his book Re-Imagine'. Everything we use has been designed, often so well, we take it for granted - poor design we notice more easily! Schools designed for a 19th century eduction are a good example! Nature is full of beautifully designed animal and plants. Good design makes use of simplicity, clarity and focus, not confusion or sloppy work. the study of design through the ages would make an interesting 'rich topic' at any level.
Students are entering a world where design is more important than ever to 'sell' ideas or products and, for students to be successful, they need design assistance to present their ideas. This is more than 'prettiness' or 'window dressing'.
Back to the classrooms and our students work.
Let's help our students develop design graphic skills from an early age. At one school that takes this seriously the staff have developed what they call 'design scaffolds' for each level of their school. The very young need a lot of interactive help as they have only 'beginning' writing skills - teachers need to help them develop their ideas and their layout. As children move through the school design formats become more demanding and, by year six, students have a repertoire of design formats to select from. Students who have natural design skills are encouraged to introduce their own creativity.
Students can develop an insight into visual design by paying attention to the layout of various publications - School Journals are an ideal source of graphic presentation ideas.
Some Taranaki schools have resisted the movement towards developing 'portfolios' and instead have re-imagined traditional exercise books as portfolios. This is something I would encourage. All books in such schools are to show continual quality improvement throughout the year. Criteria and suggestions can be pasted inside the front cover of each book to guide students and to inform parents - one school sends all the books home twice a year before parent interviews.
A common phrase during regular feedback situation is, 'Is this better than your last page, how,and how will you improve next time'?.
The work in such schools is outstanding.
One insightful retired principal friend of mind believes a quick look at students exercise books will quickly show the quality ( or lack of it) of school programmes. This applies to the depth of content as well as presentation. All too often , even halfway through the school year, few pages are used and what can be seen is of poor quality.It doesn't take much to gain small victories in this area.
Visual design presentation skills apply to all book students use, including their maths book. A few simple (if old fashioned ) guidelines will improve books. Neatness is an important factor in mathematical accuracy - and realistic maths projects can include illustrative design elements as well to make them look more exciting. The handwriting book is an ideal way to develop design and aesthetic qualities. Obviously visual design skills are important in books used for personal writing and content study work.
None of the above suggestions are brain surgery and may strike people as being 'old fashioned'. All I know is that when I visit such schools with other teachers the quality of the written and research chart work on the walls, along with quality art of the students, always impresses
Students in such schools are gaining an experience of personal excellence and an understanding that their 'personal best' is always 'next time'.
And through such experiences of excellence students develop an 'eye' to appreciate quality in other students' work and in their environment generally
It is all about doing fewer things well.
This insight might be the most important thing students learn.
I would recommend schools set about developing quality visual design and presentation skills in their school - set a challenge and give students and teachers a term or so to see what they can do.