I’m in Day 4 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.
I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.
Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what i think i learned from the endeavor.
reason for the project: debate club
Today, I didn’t get to make a physical thing, so much as an abstract thing. Under normal circumstances today’s project might’ve been categorized as writing, but really it was more of a project in graphic design. I am one of the coaches for my school’s Debate club. We have about 20 students in grades six through eight who participate, and they attend weekly, in order to compete in a state wide mock trial contest.
Not being a lawyer, I find this to be a very difficult experience. Our team is required to know the law, and to be deeply familiar with the facts of the case. Our students often “win”, based on the letter of the law as we understand it, in the mock trial competition. However, we lose based on points, because we are often not the best speakers in the case even if we know the facts of the case better than our opponents.
This summer, the lawyer who assists me in the competition and the practice for the competition was able to get a copy of the judging guidelines provided to other lawyers. It turned out that we were being graded primarily on our performance, as if we were actors on stage, or public speakers, rather than on the legal merits. Whoops.
This summer, he and I just decided to renegotiate our plans for the program quite a bit. I joined Toastmasters international, in order to get more experience practicing public speaking in front of an audience, according to the rules of the food court. I also began to develop a manual, along the lines of the Toastmasters competent communicator manual, for the use of the students in our debate club.
The trouble is, I had only developed the outline of that document. I hadn’t actually produced it. I certainly hadn’t typeset it, or graphically designed it, for accurate use and suitable layout, or clear communication. Today was our first debate club meeting. Whoops.
I laid out the manual on 8.5 X 11″ paper. I used pages, the Macintosh wordprocessing and page layout application, to lay out my design. Cochin, not my favorite typeface, but a useful one for reading, and squeezing a lot of text onto a page, was my body text font. I used Helvetica in both italic and bold weights, as my headers.
I wanted the booklet to be printable, But I also wanted it to be clear, readable, and not have too much text. Accordingly, I put all of the principal ideas that I borrowed from Toastmasters, on the first four pages of the booklet. What followed that, was 10 outlines of 10 speeches.
These ranged from the introductory speech, in which a student introduces some little-known aspect of themselves into to three minutes, to the persuasive speech lasting 5 to 7 minutes, all the way to the toast lasting 3 to 4 minutes.
The section for each speech consisted of a section detailing what a student wants to accomplish in each speech, followed by a list of bullet points detailing what their particular goals should be for each presentation, followed by an evaluation form to be filled out by another student after the speech was given. I arranged it so that there was a nice mix of prepared speeches, and speeches that could be given off-the-cuff, or impromptu.
I created lightly shaded boxes around various sections of the manual in order to draw attention to those it. I also made use of bullet points rather than complete sentences to emphasize other ideas. I tried to tidy ideas back to pieces of their curriculum: for example their speeches which require some preparation are expected to reference history, literature, or science, which happened to be the areas of our classroom curriculum where most students give the most speeches.
Each speech also has an evaluators form, or a fellow students fill out. These consist of some bread, some written questions, and some yes or no questions to answer about the speech. There is also a place to write in the “ah count” of filler words, and the length of the speech in minutes and seconds.
I am making this sound all more professional than it actually was. Most of the work was completed during a study hall. The remainder was completed while a class of mine took a short quiz. I sent it, sight unseen, to the school’s copier for 20 copies.
Unfortunately, I had missed that the settings on my computer for the copier. I wound up with 20 copies that only copied one-half of the manual. Students received only every other page, because the original was printed back and front. Whoops!
Reflection on my learning:
I am impressed with my own learning on this project, from the digital perspective. I produced a 15 page manual for a class later in the day, in a little under an hour and 10 minutes. Most of the text was already written; by chief contribution was organizing the graphic design of each page, and making sure the layout looked good. Quality work, especially considering that I had started with a more-or-last plaintext file.
Where I failed, was in copier operation. I really don’t have any excuse. We’ve had the same copier for years. I know how that copier works! Clearly, the more critical the print job, or the larger the print job, the more important it is to double check the printer settings.
Reflection on learning:
I think the general learning experience was pretty important. Showing beautiful documents to students, helps them understand that they are worthy of beautiful documentation. How many teachers produce sloppy looking rubrics, or use the same difficult-to-read typeface over and over and over on handouts? I like producing quality-looking documents, for students’ use, so that they feel that they are worthy of notice and attention.
My lawyer colleague was impressed, too. He thought the manual was a great idea, and he acknowledged that many of the skills that we felt were important, would be covered by giving the 10 speeches in the book. I worry that are newer students are intimidated by the manual. However, our older students are deeply encouraged. They have felt in the past that our meetings were quite chaotic, and they welcome the addition of these new structures at new opportunities to our work.
One of my big takeaways, was that I feel I need to do a better job of teaching students some graphic design skills. Producing beautiful documents is difficult, in an age when academic papers are all supposed to be written in Times Roman, 12 point — double-spaced, except for the header, please.
Get learning typography, and learning to manage the structure outflow of a document through header, at through visual spacers such as mine at dingbat, appears to be a growing essential skill. Someday it may be website layout. Someday it may be necessary To teach cascading style sheets and HTML 11.6. For now, it may be enough to teach about how to make documents look pretty through font, whitespace, and spacers on a page. The more technical skills involved in coding, they have to wait for an older student than mine.
Three of five stars. I feel like the manual itself is great. It is well eight laid out, it is clear, it will be useful to students. It will inspire them to be better speakers, and it will provide a structure for helping them know whether they are getting better or not, while not giving them grades. Where I failed, was in execution and delivery of the final copy to the client, namely the students. Once I have the chance to print a clean copy, and deliver that to that, I will feel that this is a five of five stars. The delivery is always the most important detail.