The Handout Dilemma
Sometimes teachers provide their students with too many handouts. Students seem to think handouts are better than taking notes. I am sure many of you have heard your students complain non-stop when they have to take notes. Most schools have photocopiers and plenty of paper so why not make everyone’s life easier and simply distribute those “copies”. Lately, I have thought about the handouts I provide. I wonder how often students refer to them. I know I have to remind them to “go” back to these pages but do they even use these darn things on their own? Probably not.
Too Many Lists
However, my students need to know what transitions or connecting words are so … this week I pulled out an old handout on transitions. There are eight transition word categories. Each category has a long list of words. If you organize the eight lists just right they will take up two full pages of paper. Non-academic students like ELA 10-2 do not want to look at these lists never mind memorize them. How do you deal with this dilemma? I guess you begin by shortening the list to four categories, with only five words per category. A handout like this will be less intimidating right?
Experiment with Colour
Next, how do you make the handout (graphic) appealing so students want to use it or at least look at it? In response to this question, I experimented with four different looks. I tried simple rectangles – one for each category. I coloured the rectangles’ outer edge only – attempting to achieve a minimalist look. Frankly, that look was unappealing even to me. Then I tried arrows instead of rectangles. I filled them with some “safe” colours and text. Nothing seemed to jive. I almost gave up. Instead, I read Chapter 11 again. According to the course text “learners prefer color materials” (p. 266) so we have to learn how to use them effectively. Keeping this in mind as well as what each colour might mean, I simply played with colour. I wanted to try white, grey and black—and I did. The tires with text were okay … Yet the text also stated that children prefer bright colours (p. 265). This idea supported this week when we asked our students to add a sticky note (along with their thoughts) to our new library display. Students went right to the bright colours – orange, pink, green, purple and blue. Forget the dull yellow or the dark blue sticky notes—they were not good enough. So I looked for the brightest possible objects I could find and used them. Hence, the decision to use brightly coloured highway signs.
The Layout Blues
No matter how I arranged the shapes (whether rectangles, arrows or highway signs) nothing looked right. There was no symmetry (p. 275). Harmony, what’s that? Balance, what’s that? Finally I decided to create a banner. By simply placing the signs in a straight line I achieved harmony, balance and symmetry. What really pulled it together as well was adding a drop shadow to the title to give it depth (p. 262). The highway signs also added depth with their two toned colour and effective use of black and grey. However, it was Tufte’s comment that really reaffirmed my choices. He said, “distribute color throughout for unity” (p. 269). Hopefully, I did just that.
Throughout the experimentation process, I kept pestering my poor partner. Does this look okay? What about this? When I finally decided on the banner and highway signs for symmetry, the man said: “that’s it, now leave me alone; stop asking me to help you with your homework.” How’s that for affirmation? The true test will happen when this graphic appears on a banner instead of a handout.
FYI: This graphic looks better on my project webpage. It seems squished here. The print is quite readable there! I tried different image sizes on this blog but nothing seemed to help. Suggestions?
Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education, Inc.