This last weekend my husband and I went to see a play. Upon entering the theater, actresses in 1950’s era costumes gave us a name tag to wear that had an old-fashioned woman’s name on it. Mike was Eleanor while I was Petula. The purpose was to draw the audience into the era of the play. A man in front of us had refused to wear a name tag. He was adamant that he would not participate in the play in any way, shape, or form. It occurred to me that some adults are concerned about being embarrassed or having a spotlight on them.
We teachers are in front of people all the time; I suspect we love/crave the attention, so I am often taken by surprise when adults are adverse to attention. However, middle school student participation is another story. Adolescence is the pinnacle of self consciousness. Middle school students are always worried about becoming the focus of their peers’ searing ridicule.
Many of the Common Core speaking and listening standards require our students to present their ideas in front of groups. This requires Herculean efforts from our self-conscious students. To ease my students into the task of sharing ideas, I often have them turn and talk to the classmates sitting near them and allow them to process before they share. This gives them a chance to confirm their ideas. I know that most teachers have been using this Think/Pair/Share or Turn and Talk method for some time. In addition to talking it out first, I tell students they may share their ideas, or the ideas of their partners. This takes the heat off of students who would rather eat pre-chewed gum that has been scraped off the sidewalk than express their opinions in front of classmates. ( I gained this idea from educator Spence Rogers.) As the school year progresses and the class has had a chance to build their learning community, the students are more eager to express their ideas.
During third quarter I like to take my students on a field trip to this great place called Comedy Sportz, where an improvisation acting team performs. Additionally, these actors hold a workshop that shows how improvisation can be used to strengthen presentation skills as well as learning how to think on one’s feet during interviews. It is rewarding to watch my students support each other as they perform on stage; many of their fears have disappeared as they cheer for each other. When it comes time to present in front of the class, they continue to support each other. The result is wonderful presentations and a stronger learning community.
Eleanor and I have students who are still at the “Please don’t make me talk in front of the class or I will be mortified” stage, but we are offering our students opportunities to briefly present to build their confidence, gradually working toward proficient speaking (or sping if you take the eak out) skills.