I’ve been thinking about how I ran my public speaking classes in the past. I’ve also been thinking about Dr. Prezz’s recent entries about authenticity in education and standards-based grading. I’m re-thinking how I put my classes together, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
1. I’m teaching at a community college where it’s likely that none of my students is going to go on to address the U.N. While I’m certainly not discounting the possibility, mind you, I’m also mindful of the fact that this class should be less about public oratory and more about confidence in communication. I want my students to leave this class with the skills they need to negotiate with a superior, make presentations to clients, and speak to small groups of people they don’t already know.
2. I will not apologize for making the students read and write during this class. It’s a communication class, after all, and communication is far more than just talking and texting. Learning to be a proficient (and an efficient) writer is an important component in learning to be a confident speaker, and I’m going to get my students writing on day one.
3. Going along with my goal that the students learn skills that they can take with them into their professional lives, I AM going to assign them a topic for at least one of their presentations. It’s true that, at least once or twice in their careers, they’re going to be asked to work on or put together a project or presentation that they’re not personally invested in. Finding a way in to work like that – finding a way to take something that doesn’t interest you and figuring out how to do it well, anyway – is an important skill I want my students to have.
4. I’m also not going to apologize for looking closely at speeches from history – and from right now – and teaching students to analyze what they read and hear. Communication isn’t only about transmission, either; I want my kids to understand what’s being said to them, to question what’s being said to them, and to draw conclusions and make connections in such a way that the information they receive means something.
5. I’m going to be far more clear about the standards for grading this term than I’ve been in the past. Students will receive rubrics along with their assignments, so they’ll know exactly what skills and techniques I’m looking for as I assess their work. While this will represent a bit more work for me, it also places responsibility for performance directly into the students’ hands. If I tell them that I’m going to be looking closely at their Power Point slides, and their slides are bland, boring, and misspelled, then no one should be surprised when the grade reflects that. Conversely, if I don’t say I’m going to be focusing in on the polish of the written part of the presentation, then the student needn’t put hours of work into it. Students know where to put their effort, and I can zero in on just those things. Everyone wins.
I’m going to be spending a good chunk of this afternoon getting my syllabus in order. Class starts on Monday, and my intention is to hit the ground running and to keep up that pace until March. Wish me – and my students – luck!