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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