September 6, 2008

When Things Work

We have certain benchmarks that we need to meet each quarter, and often we don't quite address those benchmarks until the quarter when they should be assessed. There are benchmarks that are addressed all year long, but public speaking isn't one of them. Public speaking is a little standard slated for 4th quarter.

Skills in public speaking are what a few teachers on my team were crying for last year. Not so unlike the need for researching skills, which are also assessed later in the year. But public speaking skills I can deal with the second week of school when I don't have any textbooks or the ability to make photocopies. A short week on public speaking is something I can pull out of my you-know-where without any preparation.

Last Friday, student brought in objects that were important to them for a short speech. Okay, call it Show and Tell. Whatever. We also used it for a writing assignment. It was lovely. And, I had a quick look at what kind of speakers I might be dealing with this year. Most of them weren't bad. Each class debriefed with an analysis of the good and poor speaking traits they saw, and most picked out the same things I did. I love how my students can reflect on their abilities! In any case, they had a good base knowledge, so they just needed some booster tips.

For years I've been lecturing the finer points of speech delivery, preceded by a short talk on how to overcome the fear of public speaking, all based out of Brent C. Oberg's Speechcraft. It's a few days of lecture, and I am by no means a great lecturer, but I brought out my best performance with stories of my own speech failures, like the time I failed miserably at policy debate match and found myself a puddle of tears in the bathroom at the Alta Novice Debate Tournament. But did that stop me? No way! I demonstrated how gestures can work for or against you, and we had a lively discussion on how mispronouncing words, although it could be a regional dialect, which is technically no reason to judge since we accept diversity, will irritate some people so much that they stop listening to what they say. (People! Pronounce the name of our state the way we Nevadans do, or we'll think you're an idiot!)

Throughout the year, when my students give speeches I'll evaluate their delivery on eye contact, gestures, charisma, and voice. The state standard for speaking also has a component for analyzing the effectiveness of public speakers, so of course they'll evaluate each other and themselves along the way. For last week, though, after they observed me, someone who is admittedly a flawed public speaker, I planned for them to watch some professional public speakers and analyze their delivery styles.

And wouldn't you know it? Just in time for the Democratic and Republic National Conventions. This is the perfect time for me to integrate current events into my classroom and have it miraculously fit with the standards. (It's language arts, I can make anything fit, but you know what I mean!)

Oh, wait. Public speaking standards are not the ones I should be worrying about this quarter, right? Tough. It works. And it works well.

I made it an explicit point to tell students to put their--or their parents'--political opinions aside and simply observe the delivery skills each speaker had and how it might have enhanced their messages.

But I cannot help but smile when my little Republicans and Democrats argue with each other in the hallway after class. That's the good stuff.

No comments: