About six months ago I wrote this on staffrm:
Historians don’t produce posters: they might refer to a poster or use one as evidence of a particular view or campaign – but they don’t produce them. If I want my students to be great historians then they don’t need to waste time making posters.
I didn’t always think this, but I do now. Vociferously.
A history teacher from another school once visited me to discuss something I’d presented at a teach meet and, when we got down to talking about my views on making posters, pointed out that I had student versions of scenes from the Battle of Hastings on my wall. Probably every history teacher has done this at some point. He said, ‘But you’ve got those drawings – isn’t that the same thing?’ I replied that it was and that I’d since changed my mind. I’m quite happy to do this and to admit to it.
But, Mr French, doesn’t that mean your classroom is very dull? No.
I’d like whiteboard walls like Carl Hendrick has, but as it is I pin up every A3 sheet of ideas and notes, every annotated source – written or drawn or photographed – and every piece of great written work, either the original or photocopied.
Why? Because that’s what historians do and I want my students to revel in that. I do understand, by the way, that not all my students will become professors of history, and I also realise that the history they practise at school is removed from the reality of the everyday historian, whatever that may be. But I want them, as far as possible, to engage in the work of historians. And that means no making posters!
One might argue that creating a replica Red Army propaganda poster from the Russian Civil War might be useful in discussing its form, colour and choice of imagery and how these relate to the aims of Lenin and the politburo, or whatever. But I think that, skilfully dissected and questioned, we can do that with <INSERT YOUR SUBJECT HERE> driving the conversation.
So, do I think you’re crazy if you do create posters? No. But you’d have a tough time convincing me to start making them again.
Well, as ever, David Didau has rekindled this debate (though I don’t think it is a debate) with this post.
The comments from detractors underneath and on Twitter are, in some cases, astounding. They also miss the point.
Okay, so your PhD required you to present your ideas on a poster, did it? And the quality of your poster directly affected the conversations you had with other doctoral students and perhaps even directly contributed to funding opportunities? Brilliant.
Except that has nothing to do with an eleven year old spending twenty minutes deciding which crap version of WordArt should be on their A4 poster on cell walls.
Okay, so you’ve seen some pretty nicely designed infographics on world population trends and you had a go creating some yourself using an app. You printed a couple off to discuss with your A Level geographers and now you reckon that it would be cool if they could create their own versions.
Except it would be a waste of time. They could be actually analysing the information using a spreadsheet, making their own graphs to cross-reference various data-sets and using, and stretching, their maths skills.
Okay, so you found a book which turns Shakespeare into a comic-book style storyboard. You think (erroneously? Another time, another time) that this might be useful for students with very low literacy to engage with the Bard. You plan to show them how to create a storyboard on A3 so that they can more clearly explain Romeo and Juliet in just twelve short steps.
Except that this isn’t Media Studies, it’s English. Except that wouldn’t the time be better spent expanding their literacy by actually reading Shakespeare as opposed to presenting a poor understanding of a play they don’t really know on a wall of ignorance? Except that being creative when using storyboards, especially at a young age, requires lots of time spent looking at how other people have successfully created storyboards which, although perhaps interesting in its own way, has nothing to do with the subject at hand.
You may well have to produce posters at a higher level. I had to create a PowerPoint presentation for my dissertation (which was both pointless and the only thing that annoyed me about a wonderful year of study). But unless you are specifically trying to teach something where posters and design are integral then you’ve missed the point.