I would have to add “PowerPoint-a-mania” to the list. This phenomenon you are describing has exploded in districts everywhere I go. I find myself shaking my head at the reverential attitude of school officials when proudly showing off the posters and PowerPoint presentations of their students. In St. Charles, we’ve had portions of board meetings spent “oohing” and “aahing” over history projects presented on tri-fold poster boards or flashed on overhead computer screens (PowerPoint computer graphic presentations which are nothing more than glamorized poster presentations….and even easier to put together with available clip art). I always want to raise my hand and say, “But where is the accompanying paper that the student has written? Can the student write a coherent 2 or 3 page paper on this topic?”
As far as I can see, Postermania originates from three directions:
- The hottest fad around these days has to be Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, even though the theory has no research support. Everyone wants to teach to students’ different intelligences and so instead of a written book report, the teacher will give the student the opportunity to either “act out” the book report or “draw” something related to the book. Unfortunately, since writing is always the most difficult option, few students will select that one when given the choice. Posters and PowerPoint presentations enable the teacher to feel as if he or she has adapted the assignment to meet the needs of students who are “kinesthetic learners” or “visual learners.” As can be readily seen, a steady diet of these options ensures that a student will not develop those concurrent writing skills. If you visit the ISBE performance assessment site that I wrote about last week, you’ll see that making posters and similar projects was encouraged for these types of assessments to enhance sensitivity to individual multiple intelligences.
- Another reason for the poster mania comes from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), many who believe that visual literacy is as valid as written literacy. This powerful organization (a heavy proponent of Whole Language) is based out of Champaign at the U of I and as an undergraduate in 1970, I experienced this thrust from its inception. My freshman honor’s rhetoric class met under the trees on the quad every day without rain. Under the trees we learned about Marshall McLuhan and how the technology of television was reawakening our tribal consciousness, finally counteracting our rigid left brained orientation distorted by learning how to read and write in a linear left-to-write regimen. In sync with this philosophy of how the Guttenburg Printing Press had destroyed our potential, we made poster after poster of concepts covered in the course (also a home movie). Desiring an easy A on my transcript, I quickly discovered that if I bought the largest size of posterboard and the glossiest magazines available I was guaranteed the highest grade. The sheer size of the posterboard (impossible to bring to class and still steer my bicycle) along with brightly colored photographs rubber-cemented on it was my key. Collages were easy to make about how at the end of the 1960’s an awakening tribal consciousness was arising, supposedly enhanced by television’s impact on our neurology. The few times we had to write in that class, I discovered that abandoning capital letters as being too authoritarian warmed my TA’s heart and also led to an automatic “A.” Naturally, we also journaled, although I don’t believed he ever read them. What seemed so innovative them, has now become commonplace.
- The third influence on postermania seems to arise from educator’s naive attempts to prepare students for the business world. Many educators whose entire careers (indeed their lives) have been spent within the confines of school buildings, have a caricaturized imagine of the business world as consisting of sales reps in front of poster boards or PowerPoint graphic computer presentations (also in front of chart paper taped to the walls). Often their image of this business world embraces teams of five or six individuals presenting the final project. The imagery reminds me how simplistically writers are characterized in the movies. Whenever a movie character is going to write a book, you see the character sitting on the hill at his or her typewriter or laptop perched to start the book. The reality of typing two sentences only to retype them twenty more times, of desperately thumbing through a thesaurus trying to find the right word, of tediously scanning twenty books trying to find the quote that would fit into the text just perfectly, of reordering a clause over and over until the meaning is clear is always omitted as the cumulous clouds slowly move over the neophyte writer in the movies.
When educators feel as if they are meeting the needs of the business world as they see their students poised in front of the graphic art (and making a great looking poster or PowerPoint presentation is a no-brainer), they look past the importance of the accurate writing, of the importance of a rigorous knowledge base, of homework time spent learning something of more significance than cutting and pasting in front of a television set.