Brad's Blog

The greatest gift...

Monday 30th January 2017

The greatest gift we can offer our students is the gift of confident public speaking. It is perhaps the most significant employability skill of all. The common hallmark of those who rise to the top of our professions is 'presence' i.e. the ability to command a room and to articulate ideas and opinions in a clear, fluent and persuasive manner. We can teach confidence. We can teach effective public speaking but all too often our efforts are directed towards improving written rather than spoken English. The significant exception is our public schools sector. The articulate and confident nature of students from public schools is often commented upon and their successful onward progression to dominate Oxbridge admissions and our legal profession, journalism, politics, finance, banking, business, drama etc. Even our leading comedians attended public schools. Environment and upbringing plays a part in this success but parents who damage their children's confidence by ignoring or rejecting their opinions exist across the social and income spectrum. Our responsibility as teachers is to lift all forward and when we detect low confidence and low self-esteem we need to consider how to build personal confidence and instil self-belief. Education is a portal to a better future and central to this is helping all to find their voice. This is not an easy task. Public speaking rather than snakes and spiders regularly tops surveys of personal fears. The primary reason for this is a lack of familiarity. Our classrooms offer too few opportunities to practise public speaking. Like any skill or knowledge the more it is accessed or applied the more expert and confident we will become. How often do teachers coach and support improvements to spelling, punctuation grammar compared to coaching and giving feedback on how to speak and how to deliver an effective presentation?
Building confidence
Teachers should seek to embed the skills of confident public speaking. Start small. Start from day one on the induction course by introducing the name chain game for a bit of fun followed by paired introductions. Script it with three or four things to report back upon. Ask questions that only need a one word answer to remove any pressure. So wrap around the room asking what is your favourite food? Favourite sport? Favourite music? Favourite colour? Get them used to speaking from day one. Follow-up in lessons by applying some or all of the following approaches to increase talking and discussion within lessons rather than teacher presentation:
· Regular 'appetisers' to start the lesson commenting on relevant news stories, role models, websites, apps, books, photographs, You Tube video, museum collections, new inventions, key issues, relevant employment options, university options, wacky facts etc. See my textbook 'Outstanding teaching and learning' hopefully in your library for a full description of these suggestions. It is now out of print. The aim is to encourage opinions and raise awareness of resources and issues linked to their studies and after a few weeks to invite students to offer 'appetisers'. Short, snappy three minute presentations like website of the week etc.
· Employ regular thunks i.e. ridiculous questions that have no obvious or correct answer. If the thunks are provocative enough it cause all to get involved in voicing suggestions/ideas.
· Employ morally based questions i.e Should it be illegal to smack a child? Should you flash your car headlights to warn other motorists of a police speed trap? Think of other questions of this type or subject based issues for a mini three or four minute debates. Wrap around the classroom and every student should say agree or disagree. Again it just a one word answer but our aim is to prompt everyone to speak and to hold an opinion.
· Set key questions to guide learning rather than objectives ( as far as possible) and invite discussion on how many they can answer before the lesson starts to tease out differentiation but also to promote a learning dialogue. See the 'Big Picture' lesson plan template on to support this approach plus a self-assessment template to encourage discussion around personal progress and as a device to pair up for peer support /reciprocal teaching.
· Introduce regular paired and group recap activities to promote discussion around progress and regularly apply 'spaced practice' by returning to earlier topics.
· As a teacher everytime you deliver whole class teaching model how to present. Apply the Ted talk rule of three and keep to short inputs. Draw attention to body language, making and breaking eye contact and the correct use of Powerpoint using bright visuals to promote concentration and improve memory. The use of visuals to reinforce the spoken word is referred to as Dual coding and was identified as a significant aid to learning by the late Professor Allan Paivio of the University of Western Ontario. It also makes for high impact presentations if relevant photographs, image and diagrams support the spoken word.
· Invite your students to use the Cornell note-taking system during a presentation, or while watching a video or reading a textbook and to compare their notes and their questions with classmates and the class as a whole.
· Place into regular random pairs to answer key questions with three or so minutes thinking time. Go from pair to pair to pair for responses. Sometimes place pairs with opposing answers together to discuss their respective answers and see if all four can agree.
· On a regular basis employ a 'no hands' up rule and select students to answer questions. Remember to apply soft or more demanding questions appropriately so that all gain confidence in providing correct answers before starting to stretch.
· Apply Socratic question and answer strategies to probe reasoning.
· Employ a full range of Q&A activities that often involve students standing-up or coming to the front of the room so that they become used to being in the spotlight. Quite often use the one word answer approach for speed and full involvement before branching out into deeper questions.
· Hold debates - prepare topics in advance.
· Set regular group tasks with clear discussion / presentation points. Make outcome presentations photo slide shows, podcasts, powerpoints, video, flipchart diagrams etc.
· End lessons with a discussion on what they have discovered and know and what outstanding questions they may have.
· Set 'bridge' tasks to the next lesson and invite research and exploration of relevant online resources - use Cornell note-taking approach again and pick-up next lesson.
All of the above approaches are designed to build lessons that involve the students in regular discussion, expressing opinions and answering questions i.e. finding their voice /building the confidence to participate. We also need to have at our fingertips lots of ways of saying 'good' and 'well done' to build a positive climate and convey our appreciation of every contribution.
Effective presentations
All of the above learning approaches should help to build confidence by offering lots of mini presentation opportunities. Consequently your students will be more prepared and comfortable with the idea of giving a more formal presentation. Familiarity reduces the fear factor. To further reduce the fear factor it is important to acknowledge that public speaking is the most common worry of all and to directly teach / coach how to give a good presentation:
· Demonstrate how to stand and use body language - avoiding the fig leaf, open palms, hands within the power zone, avoiding fixed stance, isolating any nervous ticks.
· Coach the breathing techniques to help control nerves - it is OK to be nervous.
· Coach use of voice in terms of volume, speed, pitch and tone.
· The effective use of Powerpoint i.e bright, high impact relevant photographs and diagrams with minimal text to support key points. Large fonts.
· Using the text on Powerpoint as your prompts rather than looking down at notes.
· Speaking to your prompts rather than trying to read a prepared script.
· Making and breaking eye contact with appropriate movement.
· Applying the TED talks rule of three - i.e. a significant headline with only three subpoints in support.
· Drink water as your audience looks at a slide change to avoid a dry mouth.
All of the above should be modelled for the students and invite students to the front of the room to practise each of the above points. Make it fun. We can't win all students and unfortunately we can't ensure that every student becomes a first class presenter but we can try. Happy to expand on any of these points if of interest