What We Did Last Time
Last issue, we imposed some order on Jeffrey’s slidedeck, turning the first set into the second.
In the process, we improved readability but, almost more importantly, by placing design elements consistently from slide to slide, we made it easier for the audience to concentrate on what matters (the numbers and text) and ignore what doesn’t (where the numbers and text are located).
Does This Matter To Teaching?
I suspect a lot of teacher-readers are hopping past these design posts. This isn’t necessarily a mistake. There isn’t enough time in the day to chase all our interests and design might not ping loudly enough off your radar.
But, friend, design had better ping somewhere. Because these days, How Good Your Ideas Are has yielded some ground to How Good Your Ideas Look.
These moments break my heart at conferences: a speaker whose ideas are head, shoulders, knees, and toes above the rest but whose dress code, timid vocals, or sloppy PowerPoint put people off.
You have a great activity or handout (great content) but you package it with a lousy verbal introduction or a lousy handout design (lousy form) and it flops.
Here you can say, “my kids have some obligation to meet me part way on this one,” that they should lean in towards you, compensating for how your weak instructional design has leaned away from them. Maybe they should. Most won’t.
The Good Kind Of Worksheet
Here are three worksheets randomly selected from the pile I built last year:
They are tiny by intention. Their content is less important than what they look like.
The Other Kind Of Worksheet
Here’s the sort of worksheet I see floating around the department copier:
With good worksheets, things that don’t matter become invisible. With bad worksheets things that don’t matter glare at you.
What doesn’t matter:
What does matter:
- the task.
- that’s all.
With the bad worksheet you can’t help but linger on everything that doesn’t matter. The awkward non-alignment of “name” and “date.” The varying spacing between lines. The second line of the second problem which hangs awkwardly.
None of those elements matter. Only the task matters but those sloppy elements have kept me from getting to it. The sloppiness is sloshing the pail, if you will.
With the first set of worksheets, things that don’t matter are kept constant. You’ve got space for a name .5 inches from the top of the page. The title of the worksheet is .25 inches off the left. A dividing line sits 1.26 inches from the top.
This is because I don’t care about any of these things. I don’t want my students to waste our time or their mental energy searching for the title or the name space or the first question.
I don’t want them pondering my font selection so I keep the font consistent (Block Berthold for title, Georgia for body text).
I keep alignment consistent. I use the “distribute space evenly” command constantly.
All of these efforts at a consistent template means we we get working on what matters quickly. We keep that pail full.
This school year, build your first worksheet with great intention. Make it something you can live with the entire year through. Then when you go to make a second worksheet, open your first one, save a copy, and find yourself changing only what’s important.