Monthly Archives: June 2014

In defense of speaking and listening strategies

It has been a while since I’ve posted. Life has been busy with grades and the beginning of summer.

Last night I ran across an old movie where students had to stand by their desks and answer questions, almost as if they were at attention. It was pretty cool. I didn’t go to school during those times. I’m not even sure how far back those times were. Regardless, it brought me back to my classroom.

I don’t do enough speaking and listening exercises in my classroom. I don’t know that anyone does. How can you? There are invariably the wallflowers who never say anything as well as the air horns who never shut up. That is all a part of speaking and listening as well– students need to learn how much of themselves to give to the conversation. No one likes the person who dominates the conversation, just like they could care less about the person who never gets involved.

For my next post, I’m going to write up more about why S&L strategies are so important, but for now I’m going to write more about how to tone down the air horns and bring out the wallflowers.

My favorite discussion of the year with my seniors is the big Hamlet discussion. This year’s discussion was a little flat, but in general, it goes well– possibly because there is so much to talk about when it comes to Hamlet.

The format I’ve found most useful is a team-based situation. It can be formulated as a competition. Before the discussion, I brainstorm topics with my students, usually trying to pick topics which align with their essay topics. They then get the weekend to prep and research.
On the day of the discussion, I divide the class into three or four teams. I try to get a good range of abilities in each group.

Each group is promised at least a 50% for the exercise. I then grade their entire team on the S&L rubric. Their goal is to make sure that everyone talks. Everyone. This often gets the air horns to push wallflowers to say something. If I’ve been doing my job and have actually been promoting a safe environment and been getting wallflowers to do mini interviews, only the most hardened wallflowers fail to hold up some portion of their conversation.


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Speaking and Listening and the Common Core


Even back when California was working with the standards we adopted back in 1997, very few teachers were actually teaching the Speaking and Listening standards. We might do a small perfunctory project, but even that was a rather small component of the grade and usually not a very important part of the curriculum.

Several teachers completely skip giving any kind of speaking and listening instruction at all, while most assign one informational or persuasive speech. This really doesn’t feel like it is in accordance with what is asked of us in the Common Core. Consider the following:

Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Do we really do this? Why not? Part of it is caused by our culture of high-stakes testing. We know that these standards are rarely assessed, so there is no point in covering them in some ways. We struggle with reading, writing, and language, so investing instructional time in speaking and listening hardly seems worth it. In addition, look at how much time it takes to do anything with speaking and listening. If you figure thirty students to a class (sometimes more), the time it takes to have students give even a three minute presentation (plus two minutes of setup time, the teacher getting ready to take notes, etc.) is 150 minutes. That’s a half a week if you have 60 minute periods. We all know that it takes even longer than that.
Even worse, though we cover speaking, we rarely cover listening.
According to my students, the only way they can see their listening skills ever assessed (and never taught) is in the form of note taking during teacher lectures.
My plan for next year is to do a lot more teaching of speaking and listening strategies. I’m not 100% sure what that will look like, but part of it will involve discussions and part of it will involve students being responsible for listening to each other.
If you do something special in regards to speaking and listening in your classroom, please let us know by leaving a comment.

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