When poster lessons become unstuck

While giving a difficult English class a drawing-based activity helped Mark Roberts through a few tight spots on Friday afternoons, the fatal flaw in his plans soon became apparent
10th January 2020, 12:04am
When Posters Come Unstuck
Mark Roberts

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When poster lessons become unstuck

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/when-poster-lessons-become-unstuck

Someone must have harboured a grudge against me. I knew I had done nothing wrong, yet, when I looked at my timetable at the start of September, I saw that I was going to be teaching English to class 10X, period 5, on a Friday.

It was as bad as I'd feared. Each Friday morning throughout that NQT year, I'd scrabble around, desperate to find a lesson resource that would get me through the hour unscathed. I was running out of ideas until someone in the department uttered the immortal advice: "Get 'em to do a poster lesson. Head down to reprographics. Pilfer a few massive sheets of sugar paper. Grab a fistful of felt pens. Stick 'em into groups. Ask 'em to create a poster on a topic of their choice. Bob's yer uncle!"

And they were right. The lesson went smoothly (OK, there were a few flying Berols and the odd bit of obscene graffiti but, relatively speaking, I'd emerged in one piece).

I started to introduce poster lessons into all of my schemes of work, even with classes that were, in comparison to the abominable 10X, positively angelic.

A particular favourite lesson involved drawing the outline of a character from a text on the paper. On the outside of this character, they had to write down quotes and adjectives to describe them. On the inside, they could write words to express the character's feelings.

Best of all was the time I brought in an old roll of wallpaper I'd found knocking about in the loft. We unravelled it like an ancient and sacred scroll, then got a lanky lad to lie down on the tables while we used him as a template to draw lots of Lennies from Of Mice and Men.

However, I started to notice the serious limitations of my poster-based lessons. The students liked doing the "creative" stuff: the drawing of faces, the elaborate titles, the colouring in. But this took up so much time that they often "never got around" to doing the actual learning bit: the language, the quotes, the thinking about characters.

I came to realise that my poster lessons had moved me away from teaching English to teaching art. And I was a crap art teacher.

I don't do poster lessons now. I'm well aware that dual coding - using a combination of words and visuals - can be a powerful learning tool that can improve recall of information. But if I'm going to ask my students to create graphic organisers and pictograms, I do it in a much tighter, more carefully modelled format than the garish rainbow hues of an ill-conceived and largely unfinished poster.

Mark Roberts is an assistant headteacher in the South West of England

This article originally appeared in the 10 January 2020 issue under the headline "Why I'm no longer the poster boy for poster lessons"

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