PPT Design With Students: No More Death by PowerPoint

I have high expectations of my students in everything they do and creating good PowerPoint Presentations is one of them.  Never assume that being “digital natives” magically turns young students into excellent creators of digital content.

So how do we get the students to design high-quality PowerPoint Presentations?

I take two 30-minute sessions at the beginning of the year to teach them about good design.

Session 1:   COMPARE bad and good PPTs

Why?  By seeing both types, the students themselves notice the differences. Ask them about what they see and have a flipchart ready to record their observations.

I also show them how one of my 3rd graders changed her slides according to these observations. There is nothing more powerful than seeing how a 9-year-old *can*, in fact, produce work comparable with that of adults’. See below.

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Behavior – From Attitude to Habit

We need young people who can think well, who are able to make informed decisions, and who respect others. It is our responsibility as guardians of these values to establish a learning environment that fosters freedom AND responsibility.

When we say “behavior” we tend to compartmentalize it into simple class management, but it is more and beyond that. Behavior is both a source and an effect of daily interactions, expectations, routines, and language we use in the classroom.  Anyone who has ever taught knows that “rules” are never enough, and that they are quickly broken in an environment where trust, openness, firm boundaries and care are absent. In other words,

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

My approach? The three Fs – be fair, firm and friendly, and high expectations of students as a sign of trust in their abilities as learners. Read More

Effective Literature Strategies (2)

In part 1 of this blog post on literature, I emphasized the importance of engaging students in analyzing high-quality texts, in developing both written and oral language skills, and in building an in-depth understanding of the beauty and complexity of literature. If you would like to see the extended argument, please read the previous part.

As I mentioned years ago, cognitive work is not busyness. We need to move away from engaging, shallow activities that might keep students busy but not thinking, hands-on but minds-off:

me - cognitive work


Learning results from what the student does and thinks, and ONLY from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning by influencing what the student DOES to learn. (Herbert Simon)


…we need to be INTENTIONAL in selecting the content we teach and the strategies that yield the greatest learning for students. The web is full of wonderfully-crafted worksheets and activities but they are not necessarily the best in terms of the depth and complexity of thinking the students are required to do. I found that *elimination* is the best approach – we are tempted to use in the classroom the newest or the most interesting (innovative) strategy but that is counter-productive. It is harder to eliminate the “noise” and focus on specific, often simpler but powerful instructional routines that are far more effective in the long run.

Some of them I elaborated on in the previous post, and some are below. Read More

Effective Literature Strategies (1)

Language is THINKING.

It may look obvious and you would be quick to dismiss this as a trivial, “truthiness”- like statement not worth the seconds it took you to read it. However clear it may seem to you, it is connected to a concern that I had and that started to grow a few years ago as I engaged on Twitter education chats, particularly with primary school teachers. The trend, which continues to this day, is that we should simplify the texts students engage with, that we should select labeled books that are appropriate to each student’s reading level, and that we should have students analyze texts based on their interest or even to use pop culture sources because children find them “interesting” and because these texts appeal to their generation.

My argument against this trend is the same as it was years ago:

me - quality education

So while students should be given the opportunity to read at home any books they prefer, at school we should focus on high-quality texts that require cognitive effort, that enable students to acquire academic language, and that develop their aesthetic taste. Remember:

“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” (Vygotsky)

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Structure Challenges

Open-ended tasks have their place. But structure creates challenge.

I was discussing this with another teacher on Twitter and I found it difficult to make my thinking clear in 240 characters so here is the extension.

Open-ended tasks have their advantages that, paradoxically, are also their neuralgic points. On one hand, the students are free of constraints and that allows for a potentially more innovative approach to the task. Moreover, they can stretch their thinking and skill to the level of competence that they are at, without becoming anxious about the result or the desired standards expected by the teacher.

These are exactly the two vulnerabilities open-ended tasks have. Freedom can often be paralyzing, exactly as writers experience the anguish in front of a completely blank page at the start of a novel. I have seen this over and over in my teaching and I started to question the frequency of using open tasks, whether in literature, mathematics or another subject. The second aspect I mentioned above, personal competence, can often lead to mediocre work that students produce *precisely* because they are not challenged, despite the fact that they *can* do better. They would employ the same vocabulary, literary strategies, or thinking tools they already master. Read More