Teacher Reflections on the Value of Pre-Search and Presentation Zen Style for Student Learning

I’m excited to team up again this month with Deborah Frost, one of the most experienced and talented teachers here at Creekview High School.   Deborah’s 9th Honors/Literature Composition students are in the library for the rest of the month as they inquire into a controversial/hot topic of their choice and craft a persuasive research paper on that topic as well as an oral presentation.  Through trial and error over the years, Deborah and I have learned much together as instructional partners as we’ve reflected long and hard about what has worked and what hasn’t in each collaborative project we’ve endeavored to do with her students.

Last year, Deborah was more than willing to implement two new aspects to the research design we were crafting.  As part of my effort to make a more concentrated effort to frontload the initial connecting, wondering, and investigating stages of inquiry, she agreed to let me build in a larger initial chunk of pre-search time with the students to help them:

1.  gain background knowledge about their controversial/hot topic and determine if that was really the topic they wanted to explore or to see if there were other topics of more interest to them

2.  read more intentionally and thoughtfully to help them begin discerning big ideas from facts

3.  to begin building background knowledge to develop research questions and to determine if the articles really spoke to their information seeking needs

The students worked for approximately six weeks as they researched, submitted research questions, and collaboratively composed a persuasive paper in Google Docs.  The other new component of the learning experience was teaching students skills and concepts associated with the “Presentation Zen” style PowerPoints for a class presentation to compose an oral presentation supported by those visuals that helped tell the narrative of the learning and insights.

Because that design was so rich and successful, we are doing it with this year’s freshmen.  We’ve made a few tweaks to the new and improved pre-search graphic organizer (see below).

We’ll also be incorporating some new search skills to the students as well.  The other new component for the project is the use of EasyBib in place of NoodleTools since EasyBib allows us to more easily create citations for our database articles.   We will once again do the Presentation Zen style presentations, and in April, I’ll blog a few new minor but helpful modifications I’ve come up with this past year to help support the learning curve for the skills associated with that endeavor.  Finally, we’re being flexible with the schedule/timeline of learning activities to be responsive to student needs; while we have a working calendar, we’re letting it be fluid so we can be responsive to the students if they more or less time for a specific skill or learning activity, then we can do that without feeling married to “the calendar”.   I’m appreciative that Deborah Frost is willing to experiment and to be improvisational as needed within the larger framework we’ve co-designed for the students.

I invite you to check out our research guide and to take a few minutes to listen to Deborah’s reflections on the value of pre-search and Presentation Zen style for student learning!

Media 21/Learning 21 Students Reflect on Presentation Zen: Praise and Suggestions for Their Peers

On Friday, November 12, we had about 10 minutes at the end of 4th and 7th period after Day 3 of student presentations in which our Media 21/Learning 21 students are sharing the findings of their “Issues in Africa” research and reading experiences.  I thought it might be helpful for us to take stock of our first three days of presentations, so we used that 10 minutes to reflect on the 12 presentations each class had seen and to offer both praise and constructive criticism for the presenters this upcoming week.  Here were the directions for reflection:

1. What qualities have you seen in the first three days of presentations that have been exemplary or well done?

2. In general, what suggestions might you have for next week’s presenters to be effective speakers/presenters?

Feel free to look to our rubric and presentation guidelines to consider specific suggestions and praise.

Here are the results of the astute, honest, and insightful observations (also cross posted to our daily agenda on our class site hosted at Google Sites):

Our pathfinder I created for students is below if you would like to explore the resources, guidelines, and rubrics.  I’ll be highlighting some additional video from the presentations and slidedecks in the next few days here on the blog (with student permission).

Teens Embrace Presentation Zen

Our culminating activity of our Issues in Africa research and reading experience was for each student to design and present a talk on his/her learning experiences using the presentation zen style.  I collaborated with Susan Lester, my co-teacher in the Media 21 project, to show her the benefits of presentation zen style and created a pathfinder to guide conversations with our class and to provide resources to facilitate this new learning initiative.  All the handouts and rubrics you see on the pathfinder were co-created by Ms. Lester and me; many thanks to Kim Cofino for inspiring my own use of presentation zen and to Joyce Valenza for her model of avoiding “death by PowerPoint.”

When I first introduced the concept of presentation zen, the students seems intrigued but slightly skeptical.  After all, this concept was a far cry from the endless parade of bulleted PowerPoints they had created in their previous school experiences.    In spite of any initial doubt they may have harbored, the Media 21 sophomores jumped right into the work, first creating a loose “storyboard” or outline of the big ideas they wanted to emphasize in the presentation.   It was not until they had fleshed out the major talking points and ideas that they got the green light to start looking for Creative Commons licensed photos.  We used the “Advanced Flickr search” and students learned how to discern Creative Commons licenses and how to provide image attribution.

Our workshop time, in which students had eight working days in class, was sprinkled with mini-lessons on tips for delivering an effective talk; some students also used this time to do a “dress rehearsal” in which they practiced in small groups and provided feedback to each other.  Part of the presentation requirement was to use no or minimal (1 small index card) notes; this requirement was in place to encourage the students to speak off the slides rather than reading the slides or reading from notes.   I was pleasantly surprised to see that out of roughly 45 students, only about 5 actually chose to have a notecard in hand, and even then, the students did a terrific job of using the notecard minimally.  During our workshp time, we also spent time helping allay fears about speaking in front of classmates—most students had little experience in presenting to fellow students, so we understood that many felt some degree of anxiety.  What struck me was the care students seemed to take in selecting their images and how engaged they seemed; on several days, many students seemed to lose track of time because they were so engrossed in their work.

It took about three and a half days to complete the presentations in each class.   We used the big screen and seating area in the library to host the actual presentations so everyone could sit more comfortably and have easy visibility.   I served as timekeeper (students’ were to keep presentations in the six-minute range) and “clicker”, which worked well for the most part although I will purchase a remote clicker for students who may feel comfortable being in control of their slidedecks.   Some presentations were exceptional while some were less than stellar; most, though, exceeded our expectations, and more importantly, what the students thought they were capable of doing!    We also did private “debriefing” sessions with students to emphasize the strengths and to provide verbal feedback on what they could do to make their presentations even better; this feedback seemed truly important to the students.  Because of time issues, we were not able to provide each student a copy of his/her assessment rubric, but each student will receive this after the holiday break as well.

We also had some teachers and our principal, Dr. Eddy, who dropped in to hear a few of the presentations.    All seemed impressed with how well students delivered their “talks” and the slide design.  Dr. Eddy was particularly impressed that the students were not reading off the slides or any kind of script; Susan and I responded that was exactly the point of this style of presentation!  I also now have at least one other teacher on board for going with the presentation zen style for next semester—I am hoping that through word of mouth and a presentation we will share with the faculty next semester (which will include some of our students actually redelivering their presentations), we will get more buy-in for interesting talks rather than dull presentations that are mere readings of regurgitated facts.

Students were asked to complete a post presentation self-assessment of their presentation and slidedeck; this self-assessment form, created using Google Forms, was embedded on the pathfinder page as well as the class agenda that is hosted on Google Sites.


Creekview High School LibGuides – Presentation Zen: Issues in Africa Presentations – Self Assessment via kwout

I have found the responses to the self-assessment to be particularly revealing.  The responses were overwhelmingly positive, and several students even shared that they were now eager to try another presentation because the zen style made the process more meaningful for them.

I’d like to share some of the responses that struck me as particularly interesting here:

I like that I cannot rely on my slides as much.  It requires me to actually learn what my project is about and not just copy and paste a whole paragraph into my power point then read it right off the slide when I am presenting.  I felt that I was more connected to the class while presenting and I really liked that, it made me feel better about myself while I was actually up in front of the class.

I love the presentation zen style because I noticed it kept my audiences attention. Also I was able to elaborate on the different topics without having to read paragraph after paragraph from slide after slide. It was more fun for me to present because I got to find pictures that reminded me of my information and I could add anything that “popped” into my head without people saying “hey that wasn’t on the slide”.

I would enjoy doing another presentation zen project. This style of project allowed me to freely talk about my topic since there were no set in stone bullet points. I also would do it again because the audience was more concentrated on what I was saying rather than the slide itself.

I like it SO much more. You feel so much more comfortable and relaxed when you can just look at your audience instead of reading bullets off a power point.  Thank you to Mrs. Lester and Mrs. Hamilton. I know that my grade does not match with how much I have learned. Even though my grade isn’t what I would hoped it to be, the learning I have received will be with me forever, and for that I am strongly appreciative.

I liked the fact that there were minimal or no words at all. I liked that we could use the pictures to tell the story. I have never done that before and I will do it more often.

Using the “presentation zen” style, I actually had to understand my findings. Because I couldn’t use bullets in my power point, I was forced to really connect to my research to talk about it during my presentation.

I like the whole “simple picture, simple text” concept. I think this method actually gets the presented message across to the audience more powerfully and emotionally than busy, chaotic slides. This method also forces the presenter to present to the AUDIENCE and talk from what he/she knows rather than look at the slides and read right off of the slide with no communication to the audience.

This has been an amazing experience. I cannot wait to start another project similar to this one. This project has even opened a doorway to what classes I might want to take in college and which way my future job might take.

I seriously liked the new style of one or two words to convey the ideas as well as the one picture. The overall feel of the presenting was different like that because it wasnt just straight reading facts off in bullets, I felt with this style I was more in control of the audience rather than all of them reading the slide before I had read it to them. Also, it was more varied in the ideas without the facts. Every presentation had its unique style and ideas.  I loved the presenting despite my nerves and I would love to conquer the fear of presenting, so the more we have, the better chance I can improve!

I would absolutely love to do another presentation using this style. This style is more entertaining while also being educational and fun.

We are still in the process of uploading our presentations to Slideshare, so once the entire class is represented, I will create a post highlighting and embedding some of the actual presentations like the one below.

I am incredibly proud of the students’ first efforts and proud that they were willing to stretch themselves as they tried something completely new.  I am looking forward to us building on our successes and polishing our weaknesses next semester.   We are also going to explore some other presentation style elements, including Ignite style talks, lightning talks, and Pecha Kucha. I can’t wait to see what the students create next semester!