When we were do student presentations, I often hear the following feedback: “They had good information.”
What does such a statement mean? What is information? Is it facts, dates, and faces? Is there any big idea behind the information? What is the meaning of the information?
Unfortunately, students feel the need to present laundry lists of facts before the class. What’s more, they praise such valiant efforts. As an educator dedicated to meaningful learning, it is my job to redirect those efforts to the central idea behind the facts.
I recently did this with presentations on the Renaissance. Instead of allowing the students to create slides and present them, I set the following guidelines: they were only allowed a few slides, and few words on those they did create. During the process, I even made one group scrap most of what they had created.
Why, you ask, did I set these boundaries?
I find that the bullet points become a crutch. Students create them, print them out on note cards, and read them word for word. Group after group presents them. The rest of the class becomes disengaged, and learning comes to a standstill. Students fail to own or master the material. As a teacher, it is my job to break this pattern and create livelier environments with more engaged students.
Limiting the number of slides or bullet points forced students to learn the material and focus where I direct them, in this case the values of the Renaissance as seen in certain works of art. They can (and should) present information, but they should present it in a meaningful way. I am not interested in hearing the place of Raphael’s birth, unless it is argued that Urbino made him a better artist. Who cares about Michelangelo’s humanism unless it is shown in the David and the Sistine Chapel. This doesn’t require memorization, but it does require students to see the deeper meanings of great artists and their works of art.
In the end, the project was a huge success. I saw groups who had previously struggled rise to new heights, and I saw more insightful comments on the meaning of the projects, instead of endless comments on “information.”