In Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students (2011), I stressed the importance of speaking well. Our professional and personal lives both benefit if we can communicate effectively. Job interviews, staff meetings, presentations to the jury or the board of directors, coaching the child’s sports team, the wedding toast, the eulogy—there are many and varied opportunities in life that require good verbal skills. I work with adults in the business world as well as with teachers and I firmly believe that speaking well is more important today than ever because communication skills are so much on display and so widely needed to function in modern society. Consider a few examples:
- One woman’s employers wants her to lead Webinars in addition to continuing to write for a journal for professionals in her field. No longer will she be an invisible writer behind the text.
- Another woman wants to use her pocket video camera to record small product demonstrations to embed on her company’s Web site.
- One man wants to be more effective in video conferences with potential clients. He thinks he is losing business to better communicators.
What these people have in common is the need to improve speaking skills because changes in technology are affecting their jobs. But the demands now also begin before the job; employers are using videoconferencing tools to vet applicants for jobs (Berry 2011). We need to prepare students for that reality.
Most states are working to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and as they do so, they are also discovering the “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards.” These anchor standards begin each section of the CCSS—before the reading standards are listed; before the writing standards are listed; and so on—and make clear that the business realities mentioned above affect all of us in education.
From the introduction to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects:
They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use . . . They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals. (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2010, 7)
From the “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening” portion of the CCSS:
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (Common Core Standards Initiative 2010, 22)
I draw special attention to the phrases “select and use those best suited to their communication goals” and “use of digital media . . . to express information.” These statements make clear that technology use is not the goal; the purpose is sharing information and expressing knowledge.