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Powerfully Distracting

Background image courtesy of Flickr user Abby Lanes,

PowerPoint is not our friend. I know that I am hardly the first person to gripe about it, but I do want to highlight to adults just how hard it is for children to use PowerPoint (or Keynote, Google Slides, or Prezi) well. Setting a child loose with presentation software and expecting high-quality content is not a plan for success. It is akin to asking a young child to create the most realistic painting he can right before putting neon paint, stickers, and glitter on the art table. There are just too many fun temptations that distract from the goal.

Yet, there are good reasons for teachers to ask children to use PowerPoint and similar presentation software in the classroom. Presentations are a great way for students to show what they have learned, and they add some variety to teachers’ usual assessment repertoire of tests and papers. It helps too that such presentations give students real-world practice with public speaking and software skills. Using different media to present ideas can also be motivating to students. So the challenge for teachers, parents, and tutors is to keep as many of the positive aspects as possible while minimizing the distractions.

With some forethought, children can be helped to focus on content. Writing the presentation’s text before opening the software is the best way to avoid having the bells and whistles distracting from substance. The draft writing process is also a good time to talk about why and how to write presentation slides in note form, rather than a verbatim text of what the student intends to say. Drafts can be as simple as bulleted outlines on lined paper. Alternatively, you might try a storyboard graphic organizer like this one. Just as important as the drafting process is some form of review and feedback before children start work on the presentation. For students less experienced with creating presentations, having an adult see the draft is important. Children who have been through the drafting routine a few times may be able to help each other as peer editors. As with many learning processes, a little structure and practice can greatly enhance what children get out of an experience.


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