Learning from the speeches of grade seven students

As part of the grade 8 graduation ceremony, J- and the other grade 7 students spoke about the students who were going on to high school.

J- was initially unsure about her speech. She didn’t know much about her honoree beyond a few short facts and a couple of stories from her interview. Her speech reflected it: generalities like “nice” and “funny”, and two pieces from the interview that were strung together with little transition.

We helped her edit her speech. She found ways to connect the pieces, trim unneeded words, and become more specific. Larger fonts and more space between lines simplified reading. Slashes helped her find places to breathe and remember to make eye contact. It wasn’t perfect, but it had fewer filler phrases, and it flowed more smoothly than her first draft.

She rehearsed with the cat-tree as an ad-hoc podium. She didn’t drill it endlessly, but she practised it enough to get a sense of how the words felt.

When she delivered the speech, she got laughs – and high-fives, fistbumps, and compliments afterwards.

There’s a beginning, perhaps – that feeling of competence, that “hey I can do this”, the way that the music notes of her favourite songs are beginning to melt into melodies and her writing is becoming more about thought instead of mechanics.

One of the key things in helping people learn, I think, is to nudge people over that hump and into that “I rock” experience, so that they get to the point of being able to enjoy it.

I wonder how more people can get over that hump and enjoy exploring and sharing ideas.

Also, it turns out that you can learn a lot about speaking from watching students. A few of the other speeches drew on clear, personal experiences. Others were delivered confidently and capably. Many echoed a common outline – perhaps the suggested questions from the interview: How long has the student attended the school? What are some characteristics you would use to describe the student? What’s a memory you can share about the student? Students were described with generic adjectives: “nice,” “funny,” “athletic.” Stories were left in the air, with little connection to the beginning or end of the speech. But that’s okay, they’re still learning. (Aren’t we all?)

Worth the time.

2011-06-27 Mon 21:36