Thankful for an authentic audience


I sit here on a Saturday with five school days left in the semester, reflecting over yesterday’s class.

Here’s what happened:

Students, in groups, presented their social issue speeches. Each group had a special guest, someone from central office, an administrator, or an educator, to give the students feedback. Students were excited and nervous about presenting in front of special guests, but as the process began I watched amazed as students greeted the guests, presented speeches, gave each other feedback, and intently listened to feedback from the guests.

This idea was inspired during the Teacher’s College Argument Institute I IMG_8298attended last year. They talked about having guests come in for a debate panel to give students an authentic audience. I’ve talked about my quest for authentic class experiences since then in another blog post. When it came time for students to give speeches on their social issues, I wanted to try to do two things: (1) Give students an authentic audience and (2) Have the speeches delivered in groups in one day (instead of hearing 30 speeches in one class over the course of a week).

I cannot express the gratitude I have for all the Central Office folks, administrators, and educators who listened to students’ speeches and gave them feedback yesterday. I cannot say how proud I am of the students—their work, their willingness to take a risk, their feedback to each other, their professionalism.

IMG_8284But what I might be most proud of was listening to students and the guests talk after the speeches were all delivered. The students asked questions, the guests shared personal stories and bits of wisdom. There was laughter, and as Lester Laminack says, if there isn’t laughter, there isn’t learning.

For the students, they felt special.  “Important people” (as they called them) were taking time out of their busy schedules to come listen to them, really listen to them, and to talk with them-not to them, but really have discussion with them.  The students had worked hard on these assignments, and they wanted honest feedback.  They wanted to know what they could do to become better.  We talk in class all the time about how their voices matter.  Now they had to chance to talk to people who had some experience with public speaking to get insight in to how to make those voices that mattered heard.

One guest asked how much I had prepped the students for the after speech IMG_8271discussion, and I confessed I didn’t. The first time doing this, I hadn’t thought that it might go faster than my carefully planned out schedule. After I realized we had some time at the end, I asked the students to learn as much as they could from the guests while we had them here. And that’s what they did.  In a way that came naturally from a curiosity and a quest for knowledge.  What students learned yesterday was more than just about public speaking. They learned a little life. And I’m so thankful for all those who had a part in that.

If you are interested in doing something like this, here’s a little more on what we did:

  1. Students had already been working on their social issue assignments. They had completed research, conducted an interview, and wrote a proposal. For more on that, read this.
  2. Students wrote and practiced speeches after studying speeches through mentor texts, specifically focusing on audience, purpose, and delivery.
  3. Our literacy coach helped me conference with students about their speeches, an invaluable piece.
  4. I sent out invitations for our presentations and made a schedule, trying to have groups with a variety of topics.
  5. Students volunteered to be a part of a hospitality team. They set up a IMG_8252hospitality room for the guests, greeted the guests, and directed as needed. They also made thank you cards.
  6. Our principal’s administrative assistant helped me gather things we needed and went over what we might need that I was forgetting.
  7. Our media specialist and media clerk let us take over the media center and sat in on speeches as well.
  8. Students made name tags and worked through logistics the day before.
  9. The day of the speeches, students had the schedules and assigned spots. They gave their speeches and then received feedback from students and guests. I had them write feedback too, which I will compile and give them to keep.
  10. Clean up and then go to sleep. Wake up the next day and reflect on what happened. Or maybe that is just me. It was a lot of work but incredibly worth it!

Bonus Read:  We all do reflecting at the end of the semester.  I found this Three Teachers Talk post Writing my wrongs: How I’m learning from my mistakes to be beautifully honest and encouraging for us all, as we get ready to end one semester and begin another one.

All I can promise my students is that I will continue to reflect, move forward, and become the teacher they deserve.  But alas, growth takes time, trial, and error.  It requires me to unravel years of traditional education, analyze what works, what doesn’t, what I should carry with me, and what I can discard.  It will take time for me to unwind my own brain just as I ask my students to unwind theirs.  I am still learning to be a writer, a reader, a student, a teacher, and that takes time, time that sometimes feels all too precious when I only have one year with my kids.  Fortunately, teaching is like writing.  Every day, I begin the process of drafting a new story, and every year, I get the chance to revise my work.