Just the word is enough to send shivers down the backs of some students and their teachers too.
The primary school speech format has changed so little from the time I went to school. Most schools have each child get up in front of their class for 3-4 minutes. The best speakers then are selected to stand in front of the school.
There are boxes to be checked. Has the student used repetition, rhetorical questions, quotes and statistics? Check, cross, check, check. There are strict rules about time. Don’t look down. Hand gestures and the odd dramatic pause thrown in for good measure. No images because that isn’t a speech, that’s a presentation.
The end results can be sometimes be decidedly underwhelming. Speeches that tick all those nice boxes on the rubric but say nothing at all.
What makes a good speech?
Instead of having of going the usual route of having students sit through Martin Luther King Jr talking about having a dream, Kennedy going to the moon and Churchill fighting on the beaches then analyse each one for rhetorical devices I was determined to do something different.
Don’t get me wrong as a student of political studies I have an appreciation of oratory and these speeches are quite rightly iconic. However these men were leaders of nations and movements over 50 years ago their lives and thier language is far removed from the pubescent students sitting in Wellington today.
So we listened to Richard Turere talk about scaring away lions, Thomas Suarez wax lyrical about app development, Adora Svitak persuade a group of adults that they could learn from kids. If you haven’t heard of these names before there is a reason for this. These speakers are not much older than my students.
Instead of looking at the rubric I simply asked my students a question.
What made these speeches good?
My students decided that speeches were good because the speaker was sharing a passion, an interest or telling a story. As a teacher the most memorable speeches were the ones when students shared something about themselves that we might not hear.
I then challenged the class. They had 3-4 minutes to share something with the class and they needed to make those moments count. Everyone had a story to share and it was their job to find their one.
Over the next few weeks I spent more time coaching kids then explicit teaching. Alongside offering advice about language features, and giving feed back about structure I often scratched my head wondering why a student had chosen topics they didn’t seem interested in or passionate about.
Despite being officially not the done thing I let students use as many images as they saw fit to help communicate their ideas and some tried out an ignite format.
This year I was amazed to see a number of my kids that don’t necessarily shine when in standardised testing coming out of their shell to boldly declare ‘this is who I am.’ We learned about being the new kid in school, fears, learning disabilities, personal heroes, hobbies, family culture and immigrating to New Zealand.
One child talked about losing a parent.
The speech itself might not have ticked all those nice boxes on the rubric. There weren’t the dramatic pauses or hand gestures. In fact the student could not finish the speech so I read from the cue cards beside them. By the end of the speech, half the class, including myself, were in tears.
This was a speech that everyone in the classroom that afternoon will remember.
My students might not have been good enough to make the finals but there were so many kids who bought their best selves to speeches this year.
And that’s what any teacher should be aiming for.
On top of the students of my school pulling off an amazing Matariki performance, I gave an ignite talk and then hopped on a plane on Friday night for #educamp Christchurch.
Matariki, being the Maori new year it seems an awesome time to reflect. As @taratj pointed out at the amazing Ignite Evening at Amesbury school it’s been almost a year since the first Ignite evening was held at ASHS. That immediately made me realize that it’s been about a year since @FionaGrant offered me a lift up to Tai Tokerau Educamp where I met some fantabulous teachers including the MAGIC @annekenn. Anne’s enthusiasm for all things learning (see I ditched the e) is so infectious that I’m feeling a lot more re-energized for the last week of term.
It’s hard to believe how much my life has changed since that first educamp. A new job, a new city. Yes it’s been tough but ultimately but oh so rewarding.
This week I was reminded how very easy it is to find yourself stuck in the silo of your own class/syndicate/school/city/country and forget to nurture those links. As I mentioned last week, it can easy to push those online connections to one side especially when you find yourself seemingly bombarded by tasks that require your immediate attention. But for me, there’s something very cool that happens when teachers come together from a variety of different contexts come together to learn.
I know there’s a snark out there that the younger student, the less intellectuality demanding the teaching is and therefore less important the work is. I challenge anyone who thinks Year 1/2 teaching is easy to spend even a morning in a junior classroom watching the amazing learning goes on. As one of the ignite talks on Thursday five-year olds are capable of learning a great deal when you break the steps down for them.
Indeed it was amazing to spend a session over at a contributing school for my students to see where they have come from as well as pick some ideas for my own teaching. But this weekend I realized I have absolutely no idea what happens to my year 8 students once they go to College save for my own memories of high school. I hope things have changed since I left, but in general there seems to be a huge and I would argue unnecessary chasm between the different education sectors in New Zealand.
Certainly for me at least there’s a huge rejuvenation that comes from getting out of my own context and seeing what works in different places as well as renewing links with other educators. The fact that we don’t get together all the time makes thing like educamps and ignite evenings so special.
But really shouldn’t we as teachers be doing more of this sort of stuff?
As Matt Harding demonstrates, there’s something truly MAGIC in coming together.