The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 122 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
A couple years ago I started hearing about this thing called a one-pager. The name gives you a pretty good idea of what it is: a single page containing information about a topic, or a book, or a film, or whatever, really. One-pagers almost always include visuals, like sketches or word art, and the contents are usually arranged in a visually interesting way. The pedagogical thinking behind these is that combining visuals and words helps students process and remember information better. One-pagers also are a form of summarizing, which is powerful way to process information. Although one-pagers have been most popular in English language arts classes, they are being used in history, science, and even math classes, with an incredible variety of designs and details.
But just like with any other vehicle for learning, if you jump into one-pagers head-first without learning a few tips from people who have been there, you might hit some snags. With one-pagers, there are some basic best practices that can help you and your students be more successful with them, so today I’ll be talking with someone who has been through the trial and error process with one-pagers. Betsy Potash is a former English teacher who now works full-time helping teachers bring more creativity to their classrooms through her website and podcast, Spark Creativity. In this episode we’ll talk about what one-pagers are, how they’re different from sketchnotes, how to overcome the issue of students thinking they’re not artistic enough to do them, and a step-by-step process for getting the most out of one-pagers in your classroom.
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Now, before we get into the interview, I want to address a question about one-pagers that might be coming up for listeners who have been following my work for a while, something I probably should have addressed in the interview, but forgot to: Could a one-pager be in danger of being a Grecian Urn assignment? If you’re not familiar with this term, I would recommend you listen to Episode 54 for a full explanation, but real quick: A Grecian Urn assignment is one that consumes a ton of time and effort without a lot of actual learning going on, like spending 4 days of class time making a papier-mache Grecian Urn for a middle-school social studies assignment instead of doing something else that might really go in-depth on Greek culture. So the short answer is yes, a one-pager could run the risk of being kind of a Grecian Urn assignment, depending on how the assignment is structured and what’s required of students. If it takes students several days to do it and they spend most of that time basically decorating the page, then it’s a Grecian Urn. But if they spend that same amount of time collaborating with others, pulling relevant quotes from their text, re-reading passages to check information, summarizing key points, and sorting through information to find the most important stuff to include in their one-pagers, then it’s not a Grecian Urn. I really do think one-pagers have a lot of potential as a learning tool, so if you try them with your students and find that the activity didn’t do much to enhance student learning, you may need to go back and tweak it to make it more rigorous the next time around. Explore examples of one-pagers online to see all the kinds of things you can include in them.
OK, with that said, here’s my interview with Betsy Potash.
GONZALEZ: Betsy, welcome to the podcast.
POTASH: Thank you.
GONZALEZ: Before we start talking about one-pagers, just tell our listeners a little bit about what you do.
POTASH: Okay. So for most of my career so far I’ve been an English teacher, which I loved, and I was always pursuing creative strategies in the classroom, anything new that I could think up or read about or dream up I was always launching some big new project with my students. And I loved it. We did poetry slams, Socratic seminars, class plays, reading festivals, you name it. And it was such a joy. But I found that throughout my career, I ran into a lot of misunderstanding, and a lot of judgment and that was, that was sad, and that was frustrating to, to have those obstacles with my colleagues, and I felt like I wanted to make a difference to other creative teachers who are facing the same thing. So after about 10 years in the classroom, I followed my dream to move to a work where I could support and empower other creative teachers and help them to know that they weren’t alone and give them the strategies that they maybe didn’t have time to research when they were up ’til midnight planning their new projects. So now I work on my website, Spark Creativity.
GONZALEZ: Spark Creativity, okay. And so we’re going to give people, actually we can give them the URL now, but we’ll give it to them again at the end, just in case they happen to drop off before we get done. What’s the URL of the website?
POTASH: It’s www.nowsparkcreativity.com.
GONZALEZ: Great. So anybody who’s an English teacher, you’re going to have something in common with them, but we’re definitely going to be branching out our conversation of one-pagers for any subject area.
POTASH: Absolutely, yeah.
GONZALEZ: People who are not an English teacher, yeah, they should be, they should stay tuned. So okay, for any listener who has never heard of a one-pager, explain what they are and how you use them.
POTASH: I would be delighted. So a one-pager is actually a really simple concept. It’s a lot like what it sounds like. It’s powerful, it’s easy to use. I always think back to the way I used to study for final exams when I was in high school. I would take reams of information, everything from an entire semester or year, and I would jot it down on a couple pieces of paper using a colorful set of markers. I would try to make it as visually appealing as I possibly could, just put the key information, the most important formulas, the quotations that I thought there would be essays about, and I would add little sketches and little symbols and doodles, because I wanted the information to stick in my head, and I wanted to enjoy looking at it. Basically that’s what a one-pager is, a student takes whatever they have learned, it can be from a film, it can be from a podcast, from anything, and they, they put down those key concepts, the most important quotes, the big ideas onto a piece of paper, and then they’re going to illuminate them with sketches and symbols, icons, drawings, whatever works for them. And I think the reason that this works so well, the reason that it worked so well for me is that it combines these two powerful parts of our brain, there’s the visual and there’s the verbal. And I learned about this a while ago when I was interviewing Mike Rohde on my podcast about sketchnotes, and he told me about this dual coding theory that I think I knew in my head, but not the formal concept. So there is this guy Allan Paivio, and he put forth this idea, the dual coding theory, that there are two ways of processing information, the visual and the verbal. But the most powerful option to understand and really retain material is when you use both. So for me, I like to think about advertising campaigns. If you think about any advertising campaign you’ve ever seen, it’s always going to combine these two powerful elements. If you look at like a Nike ad, what’s more powerful: Just to see the words “Just Do It” or to see like a tennis serve being smashed across the court by Serena Williams and then this huge “Just Do It” get splashed across the back court?
POTASH: You’re so much more impacted by both.
POTASH: I think that’s how it works for students too.
GONZALEZ: Yep, yep. There is. And there is, I think, a lot of research that, that kind of runs the gamut from graphic organizers to sketchnote types of things to even just really, really simple doodles besides, next to like a vocabulary word, for example, that really do back up this idea that doing something visual along with the words that you’re learning or the concepts that you’re learning verbally really strengthens your memory and your connecting of ideas.
POTASH: Yes, yes. And I, the great thing about a one-pager, and perhaps many of those strategies, is that you can use it with almost anything, so you can be reading a nonfiction article, you can be going for an in-depth study of a literary character, you can listen to a podcast, study a historical event, watch a TED talk, just, it doesn’t matter what the subject material is. You can use this strategy to dive more deeply into it with students.
GONZALEZ: Sounds like it’s almost like a little mini poster.
POTASH: Yeah, except you can just do it on whatever piece of paper you have lying around.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, what would you say is the difference, if there is one, between a one-pager and a sketchnote?
POTASH: I think sketchnotes are usually taken on the fly. So with a sketchnote you’re just going to be writing down and doodling and drawing as you listen, and you can definitely do that with one-pagers too, but I think often when teachers are using them as a summative project, students have a lot of time to think, to look back over material and to try to really get the best.
GONZALEZ: So they’re more planned out?
POTASH: Yeah, in general, although I’ve also used them like for a podcast or a film with the intention being that it’s on the fly.
GONZALEZ: It’s funny because the idea of doing a sketchnote, because I am a doodler, but when I have seen people actually create sketchnotes, to me that is a very intimidating process because there’s not a plan, and I just feel like I would want to go back and change things and revise. So I like this idea that sort of traditionally a one-pager is something that you do over a little bit more of a long period of time and you sort of plan it out. That makes it a lot more appealing to me, you have control over the situation.
POTASH: Yeah, absolutely.
GONZALEZ: So, and this can be used, you’re saying it can be used for almost any sort of “text,” and I’m putting that word in quotes.
GONZALEZ: And it can be used as a lot of different kinds of assignments. So can you give a couple of examples of types of one-pager assignments that you have either seen or given yourself?
POTASH: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So we talk about this a ton in my Facebook group, and we’re always sharing pictures, so I get to see examples from all over the world. And one really cool one that I saw a couple weeks ago, a teacher had worked with the school and shared the one-pager idea, and the school had had all the students in the school create a one-pager about themselves, and they exhibited these beautiful one-pagers sharing the story of each student in the hallway, and they called the exhibit “Tell Your Story,” and I just think that is such a powerful use, having students do a one-pager about themselves, either just as a person on their personal history or about how they work best as a learner or about their reading history or, or whatever. That’s, that’s a really powerful use. I see a lot of one-pagers used as a final project with a choice reading novel or literature circles in English, and history after studying like a big war or a big exploration to sort of sum up what’s been, what’s been showcased. And though I haven’t worked as much with science and math teachers, I can easily imagine that when you’re working with a complex concept in science or math that incorporating sketches and drawings along with key formulas and key ideas would be really helpful.
GONZALEZ: I do think there probably is something to the idea of being limited to that one space too.
GONZALEZ: That those types of restrictions can really force you to make decisions about what’s important and you know and just, I don’t know, I’m just noticing more and more, and I’m hearing that more and more that creativity really can thrive inside some, some kind of a restrictive environment rather than just, you know, no holds barred.
POTASH: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. No, I think it’s, I think it’s nice for students, they end up doing kind of a curation process, they’re choosing what’s most important and most relevant, and of course that’s a great skill in the modern world.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. And generally teachers that do one-pagers a lot with their students, do they tell students what to put on them?
POTASH: Yeah, so this is really critical, I think. It’s, the one-pager can be intimidating for students, but you can help them a lot if you take a look at the text, whatever it is that you want them to be showing the highlights of, and you give them the list. So for a novel, you might say two important quotations, three big themes, showcase some of the literary elements, make some connections to your own life, that kind of thing. And when they have that list, that’s a great starting point for them. It’s going to be far less intimidating that way.
GONZALEZ: Right. Speaking of intimidating, you know you and I had talked about this before, and I can completely relate to this too that, you know, for some kids, they resist the idea of doing one-pagers, because they say, well I’m not artistic. I can’t, you know, I’m not a great artist, so I can’t do this. So how have you solved this problem? Because you’ve come up with a solution for it.
POTASH: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think across the board it was the No. 1 reason that teachers that I was working with didn’t want to try one-pagers because it’s always the elephant in the room when it comes to creative interdisciplinary projects. There are always some kids that feel like they shouldn’t have to have colored pencils now that they’re in high school, right. They’re just like, I have moved past coloring, and I’m not going to do anything artistic, and they roll their eyes. But then there are those few students that are just incredible at art, and their work gets showcased all over Teachergram and Facebook and so you see those examples, and you’re like, oh my God, well her students are so artistic, but my students wouldn’t like one-pagers. And so I heard those kind of comments over and over. And so I developed this really simple idea of just creating a layout, a template for a one-pager that would connect all those different elements that I wanted to see from the students, with a specific region of the page. So I just open up PowerPoint, I grabbed the shapes tool, I made a whole bunch of different ones. There were ones with a star in the middle and boxes around it, there were framed ones with little circles, whatever. But when I would design the instructions, it would say, you know, put three key quotations in the three stars across the bottom, and illuminate them somehow with your lettering, with your sketches, with your, with an image, whatever you want to do. And write the themes around the border of the page in the rectangle that’s there. And this small element of creative constraint just seemed to free up those students who felt like they weren’t artistic and make them feel like they could succeed on the assignment, even if they felt like their use of color or their sketches were inadequate, and that the reality is, you know, many of those students are very creative and artistic, and they’ve just sort of sold themselves down the river. They don’t think that they can do it, and it’s sad, because the skill of connecting design and content is so relevant in the modern world.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. And just having a little bit of structure given to them, then they’re able to move forward. And your templates, by the way, we are going to be, in the blog post that I’m going to put with this podcast, we’re going to be linking people to where they can actually get your free templates.
POTASH: They’re so fun. I designed them a while ago, and there are two sets. So there’s one set that’s for teachers of any discipline, and you’re just going to see the templates, and then you can connect them to your own requirements, and then there’s another set for teachers of English, and there are four different templates with instructions for responding to novels and I think I’ve shared them with about 10,000 teachers at this point, and I just love hearing from them. I hear from them every day about how it helps students over this very issue of being frightened of art.
GONZALEZ: Oh, that’s awesome. So, okay. So let’s just, if someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, okay, this sounds great, I want to try this, what are the steps that a person should take, if they’re going to do their first one-pager, what should they, what should they do?
POTASH: Yeah, so it’s really, there’s no need to be intimidated. You’re just going to choose the text that you want your one-pager to be for, whether it’s a TED talk or a math concept or a book, and you’re going to create a little list of what you want the students to put into their one-pager. So some of the things you might think about are quotations, key themes, literary elements in English, some discussion of the style of the work, important characters or dates or figures. Ways to connect to other disciplines, that will often reap some really rich work from students, and also ways to connect what they are studying to their own lives. I like to include that in most of my one-pagers too.
POTASH: So once you have your little list, then you’re going to either create a layout. I use the shapes tool in PowerPoint and find that very straightforward, but you can also just get templates from me.
GONZALEZ: Oh, let’s, I’m going to pause you for one second, because I want to make, for people who are listening and are thinking, what? I think there are a lot of people that have never used PowerPoint to actually create an 8.5 by 11 print out.
POTASH: Oh, that’s true.
GONZALEZ: So just, we just need to make sure that they know that when you’re setting the slide size, you can actually change it to letter size, to 8.5 by 11, and you can also rotate it to portrait size so that you can basically create, like, you know, a graphic organizer, a handout, or whatever, using the shapes. So if somebody’s listening and they’re like, what are they talking about, the shapes tool in PowerPoint? I use that just for giving speeches, so, so yeah. I just wanted to do a little quick tutorial there for, yeah.
POTASH: Yes. All right, so once you’ve got your template set up, then you just want to connect your instructions to your templates. So whatever the requirements are that you’ve listed, go ahead and ask students to place them in certain locations around your template, and just as a reminder, if you have really creative students who could care less about the template, just let them flip it over or grab a blank piece of paper. There’s no reason for them to use it if they don’t want it. It’s just supposed to help. So once you have your requirements and you have your template, I find it’s a lot simpler to grade this kind of thing if you have a rubric. So I would create a simple rubric. Think about the categories that work for you and for your discipline. I used textual analysis, required elements, and thoroughness, but it’s always nice to have a sort of clear description of what you’re looking for on this type of creative assignment. Then as you introduce the assignment, you might want to go ahead and show some examples of one-pagers. You can find a ton of examples on my website, you can also find them on Pinterest or just doing a search online for one-pagers. And that gives students just more of a vision of the project.
GONZALEZ: And I would also advise teachers to try to do the assignment themselves with a similar text —
POTASH: Yes, it’s fun.
GONZALEZ: — or something like that beforehand to make sure that your assignments are, that it’s clear, that the directions are clear, that you haven’t asked for too much or too little. It’s just a good way, I call it dog food-ing on another episode.
GONZALEZ: But just a good way to double-check and make sure that, that the assignment is kind of tight.
POTASH: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve probably done 20 one-pagers myself at this point, and I love it. Then, especially if it’s your first time doing one-pagers, I would recommend that you give students some time to work on them in class, so they can ask you questions and do a little collaborating if they’re nervous. Maybe you can provide some artistic materials or you can invite them to bring some in in advance. Most teachers that I work with say that a couple days is nice for a really quality one-pager, but if you have advanced students, and especially as you’ve done them for longer, you can give them time at home to complete them.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
POTASH: And then when they’re due, this is a great chance for them to showcase their awesomeness so you’re going to want to either have them present the one-pagers back to each other, maybe in small groups so it doesn’t go on and on, or do a gallery walk. I really love the gallery walk, especially if you give them a chance to respond to each other, like with Post-Its or you create, like, little comment cards where they can say what’s their favorite thing about a few, and then share those with the student creators. And then once you grade them, put them up. They’re the best display.
GONZALEZ: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. Hey, and I’m also thinking about, about a few steps back, you know, where you were saying it, teachers say that it takes, you know, one to two days or two to three days. That seems like also a good thing to communicate to the kids ahead of time, because I’m imagining some students would try to get this done in five minutes, and they would, you know what I mean, they’d tear through it whereas you’d have others that would be like I can take a week on this.
POTASH: Oh yeah.
GONZALEZ: So to give them sort of a rough estimate of about how long they’re going to have, it could get everybody to sort of calibrate their time a little bit better.
POTASH: Yeah, absolutely.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. So, well, thank you so much for sharing this. When we talked about doing this episode, I was so excited, because I have this long list of topics that I want to cover eventually on the site, and one-pagers has been a note for like a year now. So it was just such a gift that you said, hey, let’s do something about one-pagers. I was just like, okay, sure. But this, one-pagers was just one fraction of the stuff that you sort of talk about and offer online. So where can people find more of your work online?
POTASH: You can find me at www.nowsparkcreativity.com. And there’s a menu across the top that I think is the most helpful way of navigating. You can link out to my Facebook group, Creative High School English, you find free classroom resources and check out my podcast from there.
GONZALEZ: Yes, and your podcast is called the Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast.
POTASH: That’s right, it’s my, my labor of love for busy English teachers who can only squeeze in a recording now and then.
GONZALEZ: And I was not too long ago I was a guest on your podcast.
GONZALEZ: So anyone that’s a regular listener of mine, you go over there and will find my interview and then lots and lots of other ones too. So anybody’s who looking for a new podcast and hasn’t heard of that one, definitely check it out.
POTASH: Thank you.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Betsy, thanks so much. This was great.
POTASH: Oh, it was a pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
For links to all the resources mentioned in this podcast visit cultofpedagogy.com, click podcast, and choose episode 122. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.