By Peter French
Welcome to the good, old poster project—21st century style. Remember the curled piece of Bristol board? It’s been replaced with state of the art graphics exploring and expressing a cross curricular topic through creative writing and visual design that puts the left and right sides of the brain to work in the best way possible—together.
This is a modern interpretation of the traditional assignment—the poster project. The version I created is called the Remembrance Day poster in honor of Canada’s national day of remembrance of all of the Canadian soldiers killed in battle. But this time there was an additional challenge. The students were to research, write and create posters that honored the Remembrance Day tradition while also being more accessible to anyone without any background knowledge of this special day. The topic is inherently cross curricular requiring research into:
- Remembrance Day itself
- the cultural traditions of many of our students
- the traditions of posters in general and the power they have as vehicles of communications especially in terms of social awareness and change
- the dynamics of graphic design including an introduction to the elements and principals of design to better understand how to properly design a poster
- writing for posters, where text must be brief, compelling and, in this particular case, highly accessible.
Cross curricular topics are a personal favorite. As a high school teacher with a background in industry I believe in trying to make assignments authentic—as close as possible to projects in real life within the safe confines of the classroom. Cross curricular topics are inherently more authentic because school “subjects” never exist in isolation in real life. This makes cross curricular topics more realistic which tends to make these assignments more motivating.
We have all heard the discussions about the powers of the textual, sequential left brain and the holistic, visual right brain. This poster project puts both sides to work equally. By utilizing the power of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you get around many of the restrictions that non-artistic students typically pose—they cannot draw or print and so on. Now they don’t have to. The software does some of that for them and gives them graphic tools which the old cut and paste cannot match. It can be accessed simply, at a beginner level or at a full blown professional level. The choice is yours, and the students. As their skills and comfort level evolve, so too will their desire to push just a little farther.
The structure of the project is flexible enough to allow it to be rewritten for any grade level capable of using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. If a single poster does not offer enough space or opportunity for textual information, then have the students work as small groups, with each student creating a single poster as part of a group series.
As a teacher of digital design I automatically include lessons about the elements and principals of design in my classes. For other teachers this may be a step too far. However, I believe that it would be productive for the teacher to do a brief introduction to the history of posters, complete with samples that are especially compelling. This could quickly cover simple aspects of effective layout and provide the students with an introductory vocabulary of design solutions. The problem I see daily is that students have very limited knowledge of things like graphic design. They see posters and layouts constantly but have no grasp of how to create their own. Samples solve that. Put them up in your room. Discuss how they are designed—where the emphasis goes, and so on. Talk about the text—talk about the different approaches possible. Build a working vocabulary of these things together. Oh—by the way… want a twist on this poster business? Get them to create old fashioned posters. Suddenly there is another perspective to research and the opportunity for a completely different type of fun and challenge.
What is the work flow for all of this? I suggest that the whole project starts by having the teacher create their own poster first. This serves two distinct needs. The teacher must establish their own sense of what an “A” is, versus a “B” or a “C”, and that can only happen, I believe, once the teacher has discovered what the software does easily and what takes a lot more effort and skill. The students need to know what good versus better versus best looks like, before they start, and this allows the teacher to create samples of the different levels, to the best of their ability. It takes a little time and effort but the quantum leap forward in confidence that the teacher experiences by learning more about the software is worth every minute invested. Speaking of teachers—your classroom is full of Photoshop teachers right now. They are your students, many of whom have had some experience with this software and would love the chance to demonstrate their skills. Put them to work—set limitations beforehand, keep the demos simple and focused, but do let them show their stuff. My students have taught me a great deal, as I have taught them. It is a wonderful dynamic—put it to work for you.
In conclusion, I heartily recommend this newer, updated variation on the poster project. Make the topic(s) cross-curricular—this makes the assignment more authentic. Suggest that the posters are for a television station, to offer print information about a news topic. Perhaps they could be for a local charitable group wanting to inform their audience about a specific topic or problem. Get the students involved by exploring posters as powerful vehicles of communication. Do invest the time to build your own posters. And last but not least, put your students to work as teachers / demonstrators. Let them be the real proof that kids can use these digital tools effectively, as beginners or as more skilled practitioners. Oh yes—one final note—best clear your bulletin boards now. You are about to have a lot of wonderful work to display!
Possible resources for you to try – and this is just a small warm-up compared to the full extent available on the internet:
power of posters as teaching tools
the history of posters
intro to composition / the elements and principals of design