Is it just me, or do secondary school children make a heck of a lot of posters? Now, I’ve got nothing against posters per se, but why do we seem to have decided that poster making is the best way to demonstrate knowledge and understanding? I suspect it may be because deep in our blackened, embittered hearts, we secondary school teachers think somehow that making posters is fun.

Further, many secondary teachers have a bit of a warped view of what goes on in primary schools. We have a tendency to assume that the primary curriculum is – at least to some extent – baby stuff. We see the function of non-specialist primary teachers as being more about child care than teaching. And we assume that new Year 7 students aren’t up to much, so out come the colouring pencils and the Pritt-stick in order to make them feel more at home.

The one massive advantage primary teachers have is that they know exactly how their students have been asked to express their understanding of curriculum content over the year. If for any reason they’ve asked the class to make posters, primary teachers will know how many times, and how recently this will have happened. They have the capacity to say to themselves, maybe one poster a term is quite sufficient, thank you very much.

When children arrive in secondary schools they disperse to the winds. It’s very hard to keep track of how much writing and what type of task children are asked to produce. If a Year 7 students has let’s say 10 different teachers all of whom are have lowish expectations of what they’ll be able to do, then it wouldn’t be that surprising if many Year 7 children were asked to produce 10 posters a term. I don’t care how great you think posters are, this is too many! If you’re looking for a way to alienate otherwise supportive parents, set posters as homework.

There’s another related problem with the poster-based curriculum and it is this: posters are, by their very nature, a visual medium. They’re meant to be eye-catching from a distance. They are not meant to contain paragraphs of densely typed text. Here are some posters:

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They are masterpieces of design. They communicate a simple idea as efficiently as possible with the maximum economy of language. As such, maybe they are worthy of study in art or design; maybe historians do need to look at propaganda posters; maybe it’s worthwhile for geographers to look at tourism posters. Maybe.

This, on the other hand, is crap:


Teachers have a choice: we can either commit curriculum time to teaching students how to make posters or we can spend that time teaching the richness and beauty of our subjects. If we don’t teach students how to make posters they will make crap posters. They will fill them with crap writing, and because practise makes permanent, they will be practising writing badly and get better at being bad at writing. This is not desirable.

Instead, we should teach our students how to express themselves like subject specialists. History teachers should teach students to write like historians; science teachers should teach students to write like scientists; English teachers should teach students to write like writers or critics.

And to those teachers who scream out, “But making posters is fun!” Not ten times a term it isn’t. If you’re unable to make your subject intrinsically interesting, then maybe you’ve no business teaching it.

And before you ask, don’t get me started on leaflets!

UPDATE: Some of the more baffling objections to this post have been handled very adroitly here by Toby French. Before issuing an incensed “Yeah, but-“ have a read of Toby’s post cos it’s pretty much precisely what I’d say to you.