“Why are we doing this?”

I love that question (which I often hear when I assign a new project or start a new unit). I’d like to steal and adapt that question to my own ends. “Why are we doing this?” Why do we give presentations?

Every year, I ask my students the same question: “Why do we write?” They come up with a dozen or so answers. “To explain,” “To remember,” “To entertain,” etc. No student ever gets the answer for which I’m looking: “Because we read.” The purpose of all writing is because somewhere out there, we believe there is an audience. They are writing for me. I am writing for them. Steven King is writing for people who want to scare themselves so silly that they can’t sleep at night for fear of finding out they have a Pet Cemetery next door. Malcolm Gladwell is writing for people who want to learn the about hacking their lives. We all have to have an audience. More important than identifying your audience is considering what their needs, objectives, filters, etc. are.

Look out there. See that sea of desks? See all of those shining faces, ready to be led onto some new adventure of discovery and learning, or do you see a bunch of students who have been bulldozed by up to a dozen years of bad presentations? Why so few of the former and so many of the latter?

Years ago, I realized that I had spent lots of time in staff developments learning about how to use the software for Microsoft’s PowerPoint, but had never actually had anyone explain that slapping a bunch of info, pictures, and other media isn’t actually getting the job done. Alexei Kapterev is one person actively thinking about this topic, at least in the world of business; I would highly recommend that any educator watch his video presentation called Death by PowerPoint.

But business is business and education is education. Our society keeps conflating the two, expecting schools to have measurable achievement like we’re all trying to impress the investors and boost our stock’s scores instead of actually accomplishing our real goal of educating. Instead of simply making this first blog post a preamble to presenting Mr. Kapterev’s fairly famous videos, I wanted to take this moment to actually explain how this all applies to education.

Some teachers roll out of bed in the morning and think, “Oh… I have to give a presentation today.” I don’t really see this as the right attitude. Instead, I would like to think that I roll out of bed and think, “Oh… I have content to deliver or skills to teach today… what is the best way to do that? A presentation would probably work.” In other words, the conversation should not start at “presentation.” Instead, it should start at “curriculum” and then go to “how.”

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