Death by PowerPoint – A view from a guilty lapsed Catholic!

Firstly I need to lift the mountain of guilt from my shoulders before I give my views on the potential evils of PowerPoint. I have two guilty confessions about this week:

1. I made three PowerPoints this week! I was making new schemes of learning for the department. Knowing most of the dept like using them I made some image based PowerPoints, despite wanting to phase them out of my teaching forever and encourage others to do the same! It was the easy thing to do. Hypocrisy you may rightly cry! To slightly mitigate this behaviour, I did make two ExplainEverything audio presentations as well, just to mix it up and give the students a different style of presentation.

2. My second guilty secret is that I took my small children to MacDonalds this weekend. It was lazy. It was wrong – I know, and I’m sorry. Please don’t judge me too harshly!

Glossing over my bad parenting hastily, I want to get back to PowerPoints! Now, I admit, they aren’t as evil as I may have initially suggested (English teachers are notorious for their use of hyperbole!), but they are over-used and often abused so I want to weigh in on the subject. There should be some simple rules for teachers in my view:

Rule 1. You should not make jokes about ‘death by PowerPoint’ and then go on to show a 50 slide PowerPoint! That is not irony – it is not big and it is not clever.  This particularly applies to training providers, especially exam board training sessions! STOP this please!

Rule 2. Don’t write what you are going to say anyway – I am not an idiot, nor are students. Say it with me: Do not patronise with PowerPoint!

Rule 3. Try hard to not exceed ten slides (when I have broken this rule, it has been only just over!) and if you do they should only be creative images.

Rule 4. Make the slides image based and/or with media clips – not crammed with writing. In fact, if possible, go wordless.

Rule 5.Try to use a variety of tools of teaching strategies instead of PowerPoint – variety is the spice of life! If you want to use technology you could mix it up with Prezi, Pinterest, make a movie, record a podcast etc. Be courageous and do away with them completely!

Rule 6. Experiment with ‘flipping’ the lesson, making the PowerPoint largely redundant.

Rule 7. Do not use pixelated images – these look awful when at full size!

Rule 8. Do not include garishly colourful backgrounds – these do nothing but make people feel slightly queasy!

Rule 9. Do not use other people’s PowerPoints without some serious editing – would you wear someone else’s ill fitting clothes? No.

Rule 10. I don’t have one, but I felt finishing on 9 rules would be odd!

Right, I feel so much better having confessed my sins. If you too were raised in a moralistic crucible like me you may want to add to my rules, or flagellate yourself for breaking them! Also, I recognise that by creating rules I thereby admit there is a place for PowerPoint, but as the saying goes ‘everything in moderation’.


About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I have had the great privilege to have written a book, 'Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher', edited by the brilliant Geoff Barton, and I am writing another for Routledge, entitled, 'The Confident Teacher'. I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

3 responses to “Death by PowerPoint – A view from a guilty lapsed Catholic!”

  1. Marty says :

    I agree with all of your Powerpoint tips wholeheartedly but I feel you may be being a little harsh on good ol’ PP (and indeed yourself – if they’re Powerpoints that genuinely drive learning, you have not sinned!).

    Powerpoint can be truly wonderful if used to its potential, particularly for those of us teaching in very challenging catchments where literacy standards are not particularly high and pupils need work clearly modeled for them in order to achieve their best results.

    I appreciate the point that needless, lazy or over use of Powerpoints is to be condemned but I have yet to find any other strategy that will, for example, explain and demonstrate technical things like subordinate and main clauses, quite as effectively as Powerpoint (at least with my intake of pupils).

    I note that you are teaching in a ‘successful’ comprehensive in York whilst I am in an inner-city London school, so we are likely dealing with pupils from very different worlds but I would be interested to know how your pupils may get on with things like this?

    You’ll need to download both the main presentation and the worksheets for it to make sense.

    This was made to specifically target a group of very low ability/SEN Key Stage 3 pupils – you may perhaps balk at the ‘gharishly coloured backgrounds’ (hopefully they’re not too bad!), but this has consistently worked absolute wonders in my classroom and, as part of a wider unit of work, has radically improved the writing skills (and written confidence and enjoyment) of countless pupils.

    For me, Powerpoint does still offer a few great bits and bobs – such as the Custom Animation stuff that you’ll notice in the above resource but I remain
    perplexed as to why it’s not ‘moved with the times’ so as to offer the stretchy slides, ability to embed videos, drag and drop features and so on that are commonplace with Smartboard and other similar programs. Quite evidently, that kind of enhanced flexibility is the future (although I am equally perplexed as to why, to the best of my knowledge, Smartboard doesn’t offer any ‘click animations’ in the way that Powerpoint does).

    Prezi and PInterest look great though – I suspect it may be a while before schools like mine catch on but I will endeavour to have a good play with them over the summer!

    As an aside, your first point re training providers is EXACTLY what happened in one of my first teacher training lectures! We sat through an hour long Powerpoint of at least 20 slides (all black and white and with far too much text) about how to make good presentations on Powerpoint (this was before the days of Smartboard etc) which included such painfully ironic points as ‘don’t overjumble your slides’; ‘don’t use too many slides’ etc etc… Never have I lost so much faith so quickly in a training provider…

  2. oliver caviglioli says :

    More slides is not necessarily bad. Look up the Laurence Lessing method: he uses hundreds of slides to make for an exciting presentation, staccato-style. I guess Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte are our best guides, not forgetting Xplane’s Dave Gray and his use of hand-drawn doodles and writing. Here is a one-sider summary of the major points about presentation design:

    • olivercaviglioli says :

      Talking of Prezi, I am disappointed. It seems to be PowerPoint with dizzying transitions that make you nauseous after a while. The Big Picture-to-Detail attribute that sounded so promising is rarely in evidence as the text on the detail is always so small when seeing the big picture.

      The main trouble with all presentation software, it seems to me is that once you have ‘clicked’ what was visible becomes invisible and therefore overloads your short-term memory. The answer? In the future there will be three walls where you can ‘park’ slides you have just left. A sort of group memory board.

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