It’s wonderful when an idea comes together. Last week we ran our Year 8 Project Soapbox as part of our newly established Rhetoric Roadmap – as detailed in this earlier post. One of the many forms of oracy we’re trying to develop is the capacity to speak in public.
The project was conceived by our Director of Spoken Literacy, Andrew Fitch, influenced in no small part by a visit to School21. We wanted to run a public event which included every single student in Year 8 giving a three minute speech. Originally, the idea was that this speech had to be from memory…but, as this was our first go, we accepted that we needed to build confidence first and, for many students, cue cards were necessary.
The logistics were quite complicated with four pairs of Year 8 classes taking part in two sessions in two venues across two days. This give time for everyone to make a speech in front of two-classes of students and any parents that could attend.
A peer assessment pack was created so that the audience had a focus for engaging with each speech. The pack contains a variety of different evaluation grids for students to use.
Students will receive formative feedback on their speeches and the oracy work will flow into a written version of their speech that will be assessed more formally.
So many wonderful things came out of this project. It’s fantastic to hear the individual voices of our students, each with something to say. Very often they were nervous but, having completed their speech, they were beaming; the rewards of overcoming fears, rich and well-deserved. Some of the individual speeches were spectacular.
One highlight was a student whose low key intro led into a full-blown extended beat poem recited from memory: antisocial social media; losing touch via our touch screens; too busy with wifi to say ‘hi’ or ‘goodbye’; lots of ‘friends’ but friendless; connected but disconnected… a powerful and brilliant speech/poem. She gave a reprieve in our full-school assemblies to rapturous applause. I don’t think that we’d have heard this without giving her this forum.
Another highlight was a boy who wrestles with his stammer every day; he could have opted out but, in discussion with his teachers, he gave it a go giving a wonderfully touching speech about having a stammer. Facing the challenge head on, he did brilliantly well. His peers were suitably impressed.
The range of topics was great: forced marriage, in praise of Youtubers; educational inequality in developing countries; refugees; the death penalty; animal rights; feminism; the secret to Barcelona FC’s success; why chicken shop workers should earn more than lawyers! To name but a few….
We’re thrilled to have got this project off the ground – with huge thanks to the HGS English Department. The next stage is to embed it further still with similar events in every year at KS3, making it part and parcel of school life. We also need to think further about the memorisation aspect. At School21 they are clear that students must not have cue cards; they argue that this gives them a crutch they will always rely on and that, if they have no option, all students can learn to speak without notes. That’s a challenge for us to consider. This time around, we were excited just to hear everyone speak; a good proportion didn’t need their notes and they’ll have shown the others what is possible.
Other improvements we could make are around the authenticity of the audience. We did invite parents but only a smattering could make it during the working day; perhaps we could raise the profile now we know how good it could be. We could also go further still to achieve 100% engagement. With 193 out of 210 students involved, we did pretty well but despite extensive efforts and copious encouragement from their teachers, some students were simply too nervous; some were conspicuously absent on the day! I hope that once it is established as a routine feature of school life, we’ll get closer to full participation.
This is the Trivium in action. Philosopher Kids holding forth in the agora…. it’s a beautiful thing!