Don’t Follow Your Dreams

Almost time for the new school year. We’ll all go back to our classrooms and tell students to follow their dreams. Never quit! You can be anything you dream of being!!! Except…

A dream is a regular idea with a fancy name. That’s all it is. It’s an idea that popped into the head. Understanding that is very important. Why? Have you ever had a bad idea? Ever looked back at something and thought, “Whoa. I shouldn’t have done that. That was a bad idea.” Be realistic: Lots of people have bad ideas. And if a dream is an idea with a fancy name, lots of people have bad dreams, so to speak. If lots of people have bad dreams, lots of students do, too. How do we deal with students who have “stupid” dreams?

It becomes important because we treat “dreams” so differently than “ideas.” Let me give you an example. I was playing golf at a municipal golf course. My playing partner was 46 years old and announced that he had just quit his job to focus on golf. There is a Senior Tour for professional golfers, and he figured he could make lots of money there. Except he wasn’t that good. If he had said, “My idea is to try out for the Tour and become rich,” I would have said, “That’s a really bad idea. Every year, many touring pros with years of experience turn 50. These guys regularly shoot in the 60’s which is something you have never done. They have years of experience playing under extreme pressure and you have none. You have no chance at surviving the qualifying process to join the tour. Get your job back now!”

But he said, “My dream is to try out for the Tour” instead. Dream? No one can step on another person’s dream, right? So I said, “Oh. Go for it.” Which is really bad advice.

You have seen the “Famous Failures” poster, haven’t you? There are a few versions of it. Michael Jordan didn’t make varsity as a high school sophomore; one person said Walt Disney wasn’t any good; The Beatles were rejected by a recording company; Steve Jobs was fired once… AND THEY DIDN’T LET THOSE THINGS STOP THEM FROM THEIR DREAMS!!   Follow your dreams, too!!

Should we point out that of the hundreds of millions of Americans who lived in the 20th century, they picked out six? Should we point out the arrogance of comparing yourself to one of these people? Should we point out that for every wrong statement such as “you will never make it as an author/musician/cartoonist/athlete/whatever” literally millions of similar statements were true? Edgy stuff, right?

Do we have a responsibility as educators to teach realistic expectations? The default is “Hey, go for it! Follow your dreams.” Who would dare to challenge that? But are we sending students down the wrong path and shutting down their possibility of developing their true talents? I know some readers are thinking, “Who are you to make such determinations?!” I also know that every reader can think of students (and adults) who had very bad ideas and you knew they were bad. When should we stop parroting the cliché?

Does age matter? Let little kids believe in Santa but tell older kids the truth? When do we share important realistic information? Do the math. There is one president, and he/she holds office for four years. It is not the case that anyone can be president. Only one of 333,000,000 can. Do the math. There are five big name pop stars/movie actors/filmmakers/Internet company developers/baseball players/etc. The planet has 7 billion people. Do we have a responsibility to share this? Should we ever say, “You draw well and it will be a great hobby for you, but what else should you be doing?”

The odds are overwhelming that leading students to realistic expectations will be better advice than “Go for it!” Do you want to play the odds? Do you want to educate about reality or encourage fantasizing about what will never be? I struggle with that. I fear I do a disservice by blindly saying, “Follow your dreams.” I wish the kids just said, “My idea is to…”

 

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Teaching Speaking, the Forgotten Language Art

Nobody exactly knows. This is what I find out when I ask teachers, “What are the skills involved in effective oral communication?” I mean, we all have some ideas, but no one knows for sure what is really involved.

It’s an important question. In every classroom at every grade level in every subject, students are asked to speak: book reports, discussions, showing solutions, debates, reading aloud, presenting lab results, research reports…. And as digital tools enter the classroom and students engage in digital storytelling, podcasting, and video production, speaking skills are on display like never before. By this point in the year, the odds are excellent that you have already had some kind of student presentation.

And in life beyond the classroom, oral communication is the most important language art. I am, as you may have guessed from other posts I’ve written, obsessed with skills that will be important for our students in their lives after school. With the tools out there today, oral communication is more important than ever. It is always at or near the top of skills employers are looking for.

I don’t care what job students ultimately get—people who speak well will be more successful at the job than people who don’t speak well.

But we don’t exactly know the secret to effective speaking. (I am not referring only to “public speaking” which is what we tend to think of: the big presentation to large groups. The interview, the staff meeting, the sales call, the Back to School Night show, the wedding toast, the Socratic Seminar and more all require the exact same skills of oral communication.)  I have collected many rubrics/score sheets over the years and there is nothing close to agreement.

From a 9thgrade “Science in the News” assignment: 5 points each for “make eye contact,” “speak loud enough,” “hold head up,” “use note cards,” “knowledgeable;” 20 points for “five W’s answered.”

From a 4thgrade “Historical Fiction Book Share:” 10 points each for “interesting opening and satisfying conclusion,” “speak loudly & slowly,” “make eye contact,” “preparation and practice are evident;” 15 points for “presentation is organized;” 5 points for “keep audience engaged;” 20 points for “the character is creatively shown.”

From a 10thgrade “Cultures of the Ancient World:” “Oral Presentation: 20 points—Organized; Good eye-contact, loud voice; Dressed in clothes that symbolize the era.”

From a district language arts committee generic rubric: “4) Speaks fluently (i.e. with expression, volume, pace, appropriate gestures, etc.) with varying formality for a variety of purposes using appropriate vocabulary, correct sentences organization, and respect with distinction; 3) Speaks fluently (i.e. with expression, volume, pace, appropriate gestures, etc.) with varying formality for a variety of purposes using appropriate vocabulary, correct sentences organization, and respect; 2) Partially speaks fluently…”

Well, you get the idea. We all seem to think that eye contact and a loud voice are important, but would a student know what it takes to be effective based on these score sheets?  In an educational career from K through 12thgrades, a student will never see the same scoring system more than once. There is no common language, no common understanding. And I love the “etc.” of the generic rubric, the universal way of saying, “I bet there’s more, but I have no idea what.” We are telling students, “You guys know all the secrets to speaking fluently, don’t you? Expression, volume, pace, gestures and all that other stuff.” But they don’t know! And much more importantly, has any teacher taught even one lesson about any of those elements? For example, one lesson about pace and why it’s important and how to adjust it, followed by little practice speeches/activities?

So we are stuck listening to students who say, “I’m like all for like health care and all but I’m like whoa who is gonna pay and stuff, you know what I mean?”  At least we are stuck until we make two changes: one, become clear on what it takes to be an effective speaker; two, commit to teaching oral communication skills more purposefully before you assign the speaking activities you already have.

I can help with the first part. Visit www.pvlegs.com. It provides a structure and a common language that has worked very well for students (and adults) for many years. It makes clear that all speaking involves what you do before you speak and what you do as you speak. You can get a sense of the distinction between them by clicking on the checklists at the bottom of this post.

As for the second part, how many of us have given a score for “gestures” without ever teaching mini-lessons on gestures?  Just as we teach pieces of writing (punctuation, commas after an introductory phrase, commas to separate items in a series, commas to join independent clauses), we must teach the pieces of speaking: “On Tuesday, we will discuss and practice emphatic hand gestures; on Wednesday, we will move to descriptive hand gestures; on Thursday, we will work briefly with body gestures; on Friday, we will have a little lesson on facial gestures and expression so that next week when you give your speeches, I can score you on gestures.” Teachers are always talking about teaching reading and writing. Somehow, we never mention teaching speaking.

You already have them speaking. Let’s make those activities more meaningful. Adopt a simple consistent language. Teach specific lessons to develop each skill. It can be done. Do a web search of PVLEGS and you’ll find many teachers who are improving student speaking (and student lives) by helping kids become well spoken. Visit www.pvlegs.com

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Mind the Gap: How We Make Kids Hate Speaking

“How do you teach speaking?”

I ask that questions when I do workshops about the #1 language art. Inevitably, teachers respond by telling me about an assignment they give.

We do biography presentations. Students spend three weeks reading about some historical figure and, at the end, they dress up like the character and give a three- to five-minute talk.

Students make an About Me podcast. They use GarageBand to make a four-minute podcast about themselves with sound and music included.

I assign Brown Bag speeches. Students bring in a grocery bag with items inside that represent who they are. A child might have a small soccer ball and talk about her soccer team, and so on.

All of these are nice assignments. All of them force kids to speak. None of them explain how they teach speaking. MAKING STUDENTS TALK IS NOT THE SAME AS TEACHING THEM HOW TO TALK WELL. That’s where the gap is. More like a chasm, actually. Assigning kids the job of getting in front of people and speaking is cruel if we don’t teach them how to pull it off.

Imagine I told you that you were going to be graded on making an elaborate origami swan. One or two of you may know how to do that, but the vast majority would be quite upset. “Are you going to show me how to make a swan?” “Nope. Oh, and next Tuesday is when I will grade you.” You’d hate that assignment, right? How horribly unfair to expect you to do something that you were never shown how to do. But we put students in that position all the time. We make them recite poems, give book reports, read aloud, share research projects, and so much more without even one lesson about the pieces of effective speaking. Students fear of public speaking comes from being made time and time again to do something they don’t know how to do. And being made to demonstrate that lack of skill in front of an audience or on camera? Horribly rude.

Teachers grade students on skills they were never taught. It is so common to see scoresheets like this piece of one from ReadWriteThink. (Side note: Hey, ReadWriteThink, why did you forget the most important language art? Why not ReadWriteSpeakThink?)

Did you have lessons about how to change volume to improve effectiveness? Any activities where kids could practice that? Any lessons about pace? Any practice activities and assignments that let students work on adjusting speed? Any exercises to work on effective pausing? And how did you teach “appropriate” facial expressions? Were there lessons about what is appropriate and what isn’t? Practice activities and perhaps video recording tools so they could see themselves and work on the skills you taught? You’ll see many other skills in there that are being assessed, and you know as well as I do that none of them are specifically taught. It would be so very rude to score students on something not taught, wouldn’t it? (Another side note: avoiding the use of slang is a terrible idea. Slang may well be exactly what is needed in many situations.)

To say that all kids already know how to talk is a cheap dodge. All people already know how to fold paper, too. But there is big gap between talking and talking well just as there is a big gap between folding paper and creating a swan. Just as all students can improve as writers with specific lessons, all students—yes, all students—can improve as speakers with specific lessons. You can get some ideas here: https://pvlegs.com/activities/ .

Teachers often say that they are helping students get more comfortable as speakers by giving them lots of opportunities to present. Nonsense. We help students get comfortable as speakers by breaking the art of effective oral communication into teachable pieces and giving lessons about and practice with each piece. (I’ve written about some of the pieces of good speaking here: https://pvlegs.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/100-english-teachers-walk-into-a-bar/.

We have to mind the gap. The space between what we do in making them present and teaching the skills needed to be well spoken is enormous. It’s time to quit making kids hate speaking. Give all students the gift of effective oral communication skills and all of them will become more confident, competent speakers. https://erikpalmerconsulting.com/

 

 

 

 

 

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Speaking Well Does Not Mean Speaking White

I didn’t think I would have to clarify that. But I had an interesting experience over a tweet I wrote.

My tweet:

An irate response to that tweet: “How dare you tell students that you must speak a certain way! Who are you to insist that only white, middle-class speech is appropriate?”

This provides some important lessons for all of us. First lesson, read before you react. Don’t fly off the handle and make ridiculous (stupid?) assumptions. Had the person read the article or anything else I have ever written, she would have known that I never come close to suggesting that there is only one approved way of speaking. I have made that clear many times in my work, including here. https://www.td.org/insights/code-switching-its-not-always-proper-to-speak-properly A small exploration of what I have written would reveal that the skills I suggest teaching apply to all styles. The comment is as absurd as protesting teaching comma usage. “How dare you tell students that commas are used to separate items in a series! That’s racist.”

Second lesson, we have no idea what it means to teach good speaking. What good speakers do can be done in any language, dialect, or social group. In other words, the skills of effective speaking are neutral: gender neutral, ethnically neutral, politically neutral, religiously neutral, and whatever other kind of bias you are worried about. I’ll give you a couple of examples. All speaking involves what you do before you speak and what you do as you speak. I refer to these as building a talk and performing a talk.

One thing to address before you open your mouth is to analyze the audience. You should plan a different talk about magnetism for third graders than you do for twelfth graders. You should plan a different talk about math manipulatives for teachers at the math department meeting than for parents at Back to School night. You should use a different style for the interview committee at IBM than for the teammates in the dugout. I use a different style for my stand-up routine at the comedy club than for my keynotes at district PD days. Analyzing the audience is a tip for all speakers who want to be successful. It is not class or race specific.

One skill to think about as you are speaking is speed. Great speakers know how to use speed well. They can speed up to create excitement. They can slow down for emphasis. They can stop for dramatic effect. Watch any truly impressive speaker anywhere on the planet. Watch speakers speaking a language you do not understand. That way the message won’t distract you, and you can pay attention to the delivery. You’ll discover that great speakers adjust their pace. Yes, the pace can and should be influenced by the audience analysis. Slam poets tend to speak more quickly than TED talkers. But all effective speakers know how to adjust speed for impact. Learning how to play with pace is tip for all speakers. It is not gender or ethnic specific.

If you are curious about the five skills needed to create powerful talks and the six needed to deliver impressively, visit pvlegs.com. Then use that framework to teach students how to speak well in whatever manner they choose to speak.

As a side-note, notice that the skills are teachable. It is not the case that some kids are good speakers from birth while most are not. All students can improve as writers, as readers, as science-ers, as math-ers, as thinkers, and as speakers. Want to teach about how to use speed well? Have a little lesson about speed. Put up this mini-speech:

Just a nice relaxing day in the park. We were sitting on our blanket, looking at clouds, looking at flowers, sipping lemonade. Ahhh, peace and quiet.  But suddenly it all changed. We heard screaming and yelling and people were running toward us. Picnic tables were being knocked over. Stuff was flying. Someone shouted, “Look! Over there! An alien spaceship!!” Panic took over! Up in the sky was a large…a large…oh, for heaven’s sake…a large blimp shaped like a flying saucer. A stunt by some company advertising something. No big deal.

Have different students deliver the words focusing on speed. Where should we be slow and deliberate? Where should we speed up? Where should we pause? Why? How does changing the pace add to the words? Who did you think did the best at changing speed? Want to try again to see if you can do even better? Will all students master pace? Of course not, just as all don’t master our word choice lessons. Will all students improve at a skill that great speakers use? Yep.

Bottom line: settle down. Don’t be so quick to take offense. And don’t be so quick to assume that speaking is somehow different than other language arts. It can and should be taught. All students deserve to have an effective voice. https://erikpalmerconsulting.com/

 

 

 

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Creating an argument worth delivering

A fairly typical classroom current events discussion:

Kids shouldn’t be allowed to play football.

            Yes, they should! Football is fun!!

            Denver won the Super Bowl!

            Yes! That was a great game.

            But kids get hurt playing football.

            I play football and I didn’t get hurt. That’s ridiculous.

            My cousin broke his knee playing soccer.

And so it goes. Fairly random statements. Kids spouting opinions. How can we improve upon this type of discussion? By specifically teaching some good thinking skills.

You are probably being asked to give more attention to argumentative and persuasive writing and speaking. Has your school or district provided resources and/or training to help you with this? When I ask that question at workshops I lead, by far the most common answer is “No.” It is grossly unfair to ask teachers to teach something without giving them resources and training to do so, but unfortunately, it is quite common. How can we help students with argumentative assignments? By specifically teaching some good thinking skills.

Let’s start with the most fundamental piece of good thinking, the argument. What is an argument?

That seems like a pretty easy question, but do an experiment. Ask the teachers at your school to write down an answer without using a dictionary or searching online. You won’t get the same answer twice. We all sort of know what an argument is and it seems like a common term, but we don’t have an exact, agreed upon definition. You will see claim, warrant, reason, plausible argument, stance, strong reasons, position, conclusion, facts, details, quotes, evidence, backing, premise, correct logic, logical progression of ideas, statement, thesis, and various other related terms. No agreement. Competing ways to say the same thing. Confusing to students and adults. Because all of our students have heard the word before, too, we think they understand when we say, “Analyze the argument…” or “Write an argument supporting…” but they really don’t. Ask students to define argument. You’ll see what I mean.

Don’t think that because words are recognizable, they are understood. Argument, persuasion, evidence, and reasoning are common words (rhetoric less so), but that doesn’t mean students (or teachers) can master them without direct instruction. I wrote Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning to give teachers an understandable, practical way to teach students these important skills. There are some core principles in the book.

  • A common language is important. Shifting vocabulary from class to class, grade to grade is not OK. “Position with reasons and quotes” in English and “Conclusion with warrants and backing” in social studies and “Opinion with evidence” in health is not optimal for students.
  • Take nothing for granted. Define and teach “argument.” Explicitly explain the steps needed to build an argument. Teach five types of evidence and give students practice finding them. Teach persuasive techniques and give students practice with them. Teach grade appropriate rhetorical techniques and give students practice.
  • Every discussion, every book, every news story, every math problem, every “Can we go outside?” is an opportunity to teach good thinking. You have activities that can be tweaked to make all of the needed teaching possible, workable, and even fun.
  • Teaching students about argument, persuasion, and reasoning will benefit them for their entire lives. Knowing how to evaluate and create these will be important every day in their professional and social lives.

Let’s start building that common language. In Good Thinking, I offer this definition of argument:

An argument is a series of statements leading to a conclusion.

This is an important definition that will ultimately make life much easier. If we get in the habit of using this definition, thinking improves. Some examples:

Example #1:

Student: I think we shouldn’t let kids play football.

 Teacher: That is an interesting argument. What is the reason you said that?

Error #1: That is not an argument, Teacher. That is a conclusion. It is the end product of some line of thinking, the last piece of some argument.

Better:

Student: I think we shouldn’t let kids play football.

 Teacher: That is an interesting conclusion. What is the reason you said that?

Error #2:  Imprecise language can lead to misunderstanding.

Student: I think we shouldn’t let kids play football.

 Teacher: That is an interesting conclusion. What is the reason you said that?

  Student: Because you asked me to tell you what I thought about football.

Better:

Student: I think we shouldn’t let kids play football.

 Teacher: That is an interesting conclusion. What statements would lead us to that conclusion.

Example #2:

Student: I think we shouldn’t let kids play football.

 Teacher: That is an interesting conclusion. Give me two reasons for that.

 Student: My cousin got a concussion. Football is a dumb game.

Error #3: Why two? What if it takes more statements to lead to the conclusion? Never put a number on this.

Error #4: The student gave two statements but how do they add up to “Don’t let kids play football”? Your cousin got a concussion. So? The student hasn’t built an argument yet, but has given random statements. Don’t be satisfied with this.

Better:

Student: I think we shouldn’t let kids play football.

 Teacher: That is an interesting conclusion. What statements led you to that conclusion?

Student: Football has a lot of violent contact. Sometimes that contact causes kids to get concussions. Concussions can cause big problems. So we shouldn’t let kids play football.

Teacher: I see. Well that does add up, for sure. Those statements would lead me to your conclusion and make me think your conclusion is correct.

With consistent, precise language, students know what is required, and quickly get the idea of how to build an argument.

There are some simple steps we can take to teach students to build a good argument. First, of course, give them the precise definition: statements leading to a conclusion. Then, offer the same sort of little lessons you use for all other subjects. Before we ask students to write a paragraph, we have been clear about the pieces needed, and we (or someone before us) taught specific lessons on each of those pieces. We taught sentence structure and gave students practice activities with fragments and run-ons. We taught topic sentences, supporting sentences, word choice, punctuation, capitalization, and so on. Let’s do the same with argument.

Let students practice with three-step arguments (syllogisms, if you want to use the language of logicians). These little exercises [See the Stenhouse blog to see the exercises: http://blog.stenhouse.com/archives/2016/07/07/blogstitute-2016-elements-of-a-good-argument/ ] get students thinking about how to make statements that lead us to some conclusion. The first one is a completed example. Students can fill in the others. Note: there is no one answer. One student could say, “Students can’t think well when they are fidgety. Recess gets rid of fidgety. So we need more recess.” Another might suggest, “Childhood obesity is a problem. Recess provides calorie burning activity. So we need more recess.” In some cases, a statement is offered and students need to come up with another statement and a conclusion. Again, there is no one answer. “The U.S. spends billions on defense. We have never been invaded. Therefore, we should keep spending.” Or, alternatively, “The U.S. spends billions on defense. Lots of that money is wasted. Therefore, we don’t need to spend that much.”

Some arguments need more than two statements to get us where we want to be. I use this example in the book:

            Schools should model healthy lifestyles for children.

            The French fries the cafeteria serves are full of fat and calories.

            Fat and calories contribute to overweight kids.

            Childhood obesity is a problem.

            Therefore, we should stop selling fries in our cafeteria.

 We can use a graphic organizer such as the one below. [See the Stenhouse blog for the organizer: http://blog.stenhouse.com/archives/2016/07/07/blogstitute-2016-elements-of-a-good-argument/ ] Statements leading to a conclusion are represented by steps for us to get across the bridge. Put up some conclusions and let students practice building the bridge:

           The United States should ban handguns.

            Homework should be abolished.

            Plants are good for people.

            All squares are rectangles.

How many boards do you need?

The trick is to be sure that each board is needed. An example:

           The United States leads the world in handgun deaths.

            There are many kinds of hand guns.

            The high number of deaths is the result of how easy it is to get a handgun.

            If people couldn’t get handguns, they couldn’t kill someone with a handgun.

            The United States should ban handguns.

Which one of those statements does not help us get to the conclusion? Make sure you have students critique each other’s arguments checking to see if statements are missing and if all the statements are needed.

Arguments should be supported so we are tasked with teaching how to evaluate and use evidence. I ask teachers how they teach evidence and this is a typical response: “I tell students to add facts, evidence, etc.” Actually, facts are one type of evidence and I’m pretty sure “etc.” means “I don’t know anything else.” Do all of your students understand that there are types of evidence? How do you teach those? Let me guess: you have been given no materials and had no training about this, either.

Let’s go back to the football argument. We left off here:

Teacher: I see. Well that does add up, for sure. Those statements would lead me to your conclusion and make me think your conclusion is correct.

Here’s how that discussion should continue:

Teacher: Now we have an argument. But it seems some of your statements need support. “…causes kids to get concussions?” Do you have any evidence for that? “Concussions can cause big problems?” Do you have evidence for that?

I fear that most often when teachers ask for “evidence,” they mean “find me the place in the reading where it said that.” That is asking for the source, not for “evidence.” Another fear is that teachers give the impression that “quote” equals “evidence.” Too often, we say, “You need some evidence for that. Can you find the quote in the book where that was said?” I get really picky about imprecise language. Muddied vocabulary leads to muddied thinking. Students can get confused or, worse, misled.

I talk much more about evidence in the book, but alert readers will get a pretty good sense of the five types of evidence from the question the teacher asks:

Teacher: Can you give us a number of how many concussions occur? Do you have any facts about how concussions affect the brain? Can you tell us more about the example of your cousin and how he was affected? Is there a quote from some doctor who agrees with you? Can you make an analogy perhaps about how concussions are like hitting a car windshield in a car wreck?

That wasn’t so hard, was it? We change our language to be consistent and specific, and we teach a couple of mini-lessons just as we do with every other subject. We are well on the way to having arguments supported with evidence. A little upfront investment in teaching these skills will make so many things better in your class and beyond. Look back at the discussion that opened this article. With lessons about argument and evidence, discussions such as that are transformed.

Kids shouldn’t be allowed to play football.

Why would you say that? [Student version of “what statements lead to that conclusion?”]

 Kids get hurt playing football. [Nice! Student gives a statement of the argument!]

I play football and I didn’t get hurt. That’s ridiculous. [Direct challenge of the statement.]

You are one example only. Lots of articles talk about the number of concussions kids get.

Denver won the Super Bowl!

Where did that come from? What does that statement have to do with this argument?

Notice the improvement? The lessons we teach will spill over into every part of your class. I hope the lessons spill over into every part of our lives. I don’t know about you, but the election season drives me crazy.  Seems lots of candidates count on us not being able to recognize good thinking. Make sure your students don’t end up in that group!

[Originally published at Stenhouse Publishers: http://blog.stenhouse.com/archives/2016/07/07/blogstitute-2016-elements-of-a-good-argument/ ]

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Being nice is mean.

 

I had a problem with being too nice. Because I once had a job that involved phone sales, I knew how hard the job is and I had a soft spot for those trying to make it work. So when someone would call, I’d be nice. I had no intention of ever buying the product or going on the cruise or signing up for the club, but I’d listen and I’d say I was interested and I’d agree to talk again. I didn’t want to seem mean. After three or four calls, it became apparent that I was in fact NOT nice. I had wasted the time of callers and led them on. If I had been honest at the first call, it would have been better for them. So in a way, being “mean” would have been nice.

This came to mind as I watched some 3rd graders do a presentation. Students had completed projects, and as a culminating event, parents were invited to come see the projects and listen to each child’s three-minute talk. Students were told that one child would be given a prize for being the best speaker. One child really stood out. He was poised, had a clear voice, had lots of feeling, looked at every audience member, gestured well, had a nice pace—he was good. I talked to his dad afterward, and his dad told me all that he done to work with his son teaching him specific skills and showing him how to be a more effective speaker. The other children ranged from mediocre to poor. They shuffled and fidgeted. Some were mumbling, others too quiet. Most spoke in a monotone, some with an odd sing-song lilt that went up in the middle of a sentence and down at the end. Few had gestures. Some were too fast. Bottom line—they weren’t good.

Mean, right? Criticizing eight-year-old children? They all gave their best, didn’t they? Well, it turns out that the teacher wanted to be nice. While it was abundantly clear to everyone in the audience that one speaker stood out, the teacher wrapped up the evening by saying, “I know we said that we would select one speaker as the best, but I think all of the children were winners. All of them did a great job, didn’t they?” Aww, that’s nice. Except it isn’t.

Short term, the teacher was nice. Long term, damage was done. An opportunity was missed. The teacher effectively said something like “All speaking is equal” or “It doesn’t matter if one speaker is better than another” or, even worse, “Who cares how well you speak?” In other words, she missed a chance to say, “Wow. Did you notice how well Victor spoke? Did you see what 3rd graders can do? Let’s learn how to speak better!” She short-changed every student by accepting far less than what they are capable of and giving them the impression that poor speaking isn’t a problem.

The truth is that speaking is the number one language art. Professional and social success is more dependent on effective oral communication than on any other skill. It doesn’t matter what you know, it matters if you can communicate what you know, and the main form of adult communication? Verbal communication. Robbing students of the chance to become better speakers is definitely not nice. Failing to give them help to improve is flat out mean.

Look at a video clip of 4th graders. The first part is from a video a teacher posted on YouTube; the second part is from a school that taught specific lessons about speaking using ideas from Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students (see the book here). The video is here: https://youtu.be/dbYTc9ZZQNc

Did you notice a difference in the speaking skill? The book report students aren’t perfect, but they are better. A lot better. So which teacher was nicer, the one who said, “Oh, that’s fine. I don’t expect more from you. Let’s put this up on YouTube for the world to see” or the teacher who said, “You aren’t ready to record yet. Let’s have some lessons on speaking first”?

We aren’t nice when we pretend that all results are equal, something we would never do with any other subject. (“Well, Erik, that answer is wrong because 1/4 plus 1/2 doesn’t equal 1/6, but so what? Everyone wins here!”) We don’t do students any favors by being nice when nice means failing to give them needed help. And we aren’t nice when we ignore a language art that has huge long-term value.

I don’t rudely hang up on callers now, but I do tell them the truth. We can let students know the truth, too. Not doing so is harmful. Visit pvlegs.com.

 

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Three questions about Media Literacy at your school

How to Teach Listening in the Digital Age: Three Questions to Ask

When I began teaching a couple of decades ago, I read an article about how much television children watched. I was stunned by the numbers and wondered if my class was typical. I surveyed them. They were typical, watching an average of three and a half hours a day. I discovered that in spite of all the time they spent in front of the tube, they knew little about television. Sitcom structure, number of commercials per hour, persuasive techniques used in commercials—all of these were unknown to them. So, I developed a TV literacy unit.

As I was writing Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking (ASCD, 2014), I realized that the thinking behind that unit applies today. What are students listening to now? TV, yes, but a massive amount of other media in addition. Messages come on laptops, tablets, and smartphones. YouTube videos, podcasts, movies, webinars, flipped instruction, and more compete for their attention. How prepared are they to “evaluate content presented in diverse media,” to use the language of the Common Core State Standards and the Indiana Standards? No better prepared than they were to evaluate television, I’m afraid. That led me to design a media literacy unit, Listening in the Digital Age.  Let me ask some key questions here.

Who teaches students how to evaluate sound? For instance, teachers should point out that music affects the message. It is not difficult to find video clips with happy music (as the baby animals frolic in the water), dramatic music (as the storm approaches), or scary music (as the predator begins to sneak up on the unsuspecting prey). Students easily see that sound has a purpose. I watched a 4th grade teacher show students how to make an “About Me” podcast. She gave attention to how the tools worked but none to how to select the sound she required as part of the podcast. Many students randomly chose one of the tools pre-built, looping tracks—a poor idea, and one that often distracts listeners rather than engages them. Why not teach the soccer maniac how to add the World Cup theme?

Who teaches students how to evaluate images? It is easy to find images of New York City, for example, from Google Images. Ask students to select images that would make someone want to go to New York. Then have them select images that would make tourists stay away. Students see that images have power to create messages by themselves, and begin to understand that they can select images to support a point of view. A high school teacher I know has his students use their smartphone cameras to create photo essays: one essay making the school look terrible, one making it look great. Both are “true,” he points out, in spite of the opposing messages.

Who teaches students how to evaluate video? Find a video from Kid President. Ask students if they got the message, of course, but go beyond that. Why was the video shot in a locker room, on a football field, and in front of a chalkboard with football plays shown in Xs and Os? Why does the scene change so often? Why the camera angle looking up at Kid President with a beautiful sunset above him? Video techniques have a purpose behind them, and students can begin to see how scene and montage affect the message. Many of your students have made videos at home. Ask them to share appropriate ones with the class, and ask them about the construction.

These ideas are a beginning to help students bombarded by media. Make sure your school commits to giving students the tools needed to be critical listeners and viewers of all of that content.

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Listen to the Rough Draft of the Speech. Yes, LISTEN…

Do you ever ask to hear the rough draft?

Yes, you read that correctly. I want to hear my students’ rough drafts. Every day, students are speaking in class. Often, teachers assign some talks with higher stakes than the daily discussions, answers of questions, and the like. We assign the quarterly book report in front of the entire class, the biography project final where students dress up as some historical figure, the report on smoking’s effects in health class, the presentation of the science project, the participation in a mock Congressional hearing, the talk at the DECA competition, and many more. At all grade levels in all subjects, at some point students will be giving a talk to a group. Before we expose the audience of students and/or parents and/or judges to these talks, we need to make sure that the talk is ready for prime time. I tell students to practice several times before presentation day, but occasionally some students do not in fact practice. I am sure this is just an issue I face, and you never have this problem. To avoid that problem, though, I want to hear the rough draft before my students give the final talk. I ask students to send me the rough draft of their talk so I can listen to it and offer advice. Do you ever do that?

Checking the rough draft is common for many writing assignments. The cynical among us may suggest checking the rough draft as a way to make sure students are doing the work they are supposed to be doing. The fear that the paper may not be started until the evening before the six-week assignment is due is real. Less cynical teachers may look at the rough draft as a formative assessment. Discovering mistakes and giving feedback before the final paper is due is more valuable than writing comments on the finished paper. For both reasons, I always asked students to do a rough draft before they handed in a major writing assignment. I collected and commented on the drafts and warned students that I would get quite miffed if those comments were ignored. I want the same thinking to apply to oral assignments—but with a twist. Don’t have students hand in a paper with the words they are planning on saying; require a recording of the talk instead.

There are many ways to record the rough draft. All of them contribute to preparation for the Common Core State Standards, by the way. Speaking standard 5 requires students to use multimedia in presentations. Beginning in second grade, students are expected to make audio recordings of talks; by fifth grade, students should be including multimedia components in presentations. This requirement is probably more daunting to teachers than to students. Far more of them than you realize are already quite adept at various ways of recording and posting audio and video. Today, I want to share some of the simpler ways we can record, and show you how to use digital tools to practice talks. Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2012) is the source for those wanting to do more.

Every computer/netbook/tablet has built-in audio and video recording. PCs have some version of a webcam—the Dell computer I am using now opens a video recorder by accessing “Dell Webcam Central”— and your students will have no trouble finding it. If students have a computer at home, they can record themselves and attach the movie to an e-mail to send to you. If you have one computer in your class, students can take turns making videos of their rough drafts and leave the files on the desktop of that computer for you to check later. PCs also have Sound Recorder. Windows puts an “Accessories” folder on every PC. It contains a calculator, a snipping tool that allows you take screenshots, and Sound Recorder, among other things. Double-click on Sound Recorder, and a small box appears on the desktop. The red button labeled “Start Recording” couldn’t be more obvious. The blue “Stop Recording” button is impossible to miss, too. As soon as you stop, a screen opens and gives you the option to name and save the recording: “Muffin’s rough draft,” for example. Students who record at home can attach the file to an e-mail to you. Students using the class computer can leave the file on the desktop.

Devices using a Mac operating system have Photo Booth built in. Click on the icon on the dock, and you are ready to record. One option allows you to take a snapshot, but we care about the option that lets you record video. One click and—after a “3-2-1” countdown—you are recording. The recording is automatically saved. More tech-savvy kids may use GarageBand, also on the dock of every Mac device. It is a bit trickier to use, but if they know how, let them use it.

I read that 80% of high school students have smartphones. I downloaded a free app (Easy Voice Recorder) for my phone after a student of mine did a favor for me. I asked him to record something for Digitally Speaking, thinking he would go home to his computer and use a tool I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Instead, he pulled out his phone, spoke, hit a button, and e-mailed me the recording. It’s in the book. Ask students to send you a spoken rough draft, and they will have ways to do it that we don’t know about. That’s fine with me. I just want to hear the practices.

Can your students get to the Internet at home or at school? Visit www.vocaroo.com. There’s no sign-up, no password, no cost—the home page has a big red button that starts the audio recording. When students finish, they can “Listen” to the recording. If the recording is not good enough, they can hit “Retry”; if they like it, they can copy the URL address to send to other listeners or hit a button that lets them e-mail the recording to someone . . . a teacher, for instance.

Think of the possibilities. Students can watch/listen to the recordings, critique themselves using a PVLEGS rubric, make adjustments, and improve. Audio and video can be shared in a group: each group member shows his or her rough draft and gets feedback from other group members. Recordings can be viewed by a teacher who can give important tips to improve a presentation before the due date. A Reader’s Theater team could record parts and send them to teammates as a way to improve before performing the book selection in class. The Poetry Café presenters can listen to themselves before getting up in front of classmates and parents. The recordings of a “This I Believe” speech could be useful formative assessments on the way to the final talk. And, of course, you have your own great ideas.

Why wouldn’t you want to do this? Improving speaking skills, avoiding dull presentations, updating instruction, and meeting Common Core State Standards can all be accomplished by asking to hear the rough drafts.

Erik is the author of Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology and Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students.

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Media Literacy & Speaking (from Channel One Blog)

(See the original post here.)

After two decades teaching, Erik Palmer has coached countless students through the basic steps of forming a good argument. Drawn to debate in high school, his fascination with spirited discourse propelled him from the debate stage to law school. Later, he moved into business and helped grow a commodities exchange firm. When he became a father, he needed a more family-friendly schedule. “I loved playing with my kids. As a single dad, I wanted to be on the same schedule as my boys and was drawn to teaching.”

Early on, Palmer decided to bring his love of presentation and debate into the classroom. He quickly realized that kids didn’t speak well and was surprised at the lack of materials to teach it. “The limited information on speaking well was focused on esoteric, hard to understand jargon like ‘elocution,’” Palmer said. So he created his own curriculum that became known as The Palmer Method.

His eleven-step process (shown below) covered the two phases of speaking: what you do before you open your mouth and what you do as you are speaking.

Public Speaking and Media Literacy

Erik’s method became popular within his district and at professional development conferences. After becoming known as the “guru” for this topic of teaching kids how to speak, he was asked to write a book about it.

When researching the book, he found the speaking and listening standards required integrating and evaluating diverse media and formats. “That was my lightbulb moment,” Palmer said. “Wait, kids will need to be media literate to do that!” Listening standards also required the ability to evaluate arguments and reasoning skills.

Restoring Civility in Debate

Maintaining civility through heated debate is tough, especially when parties are anonymous on social media and debates are limited to 140 characters. One teacher of gifted students in Mississippi reported becoming reticent to discuss politics in the classroom, after moderating fights among her students during last year’s presidential election. “We have a bad model right now with tweeting and public name calling,” Palmer said. But we can teach students “don’t attack the person, attack the idea.”

In his classes, Palmer always assigned a “public defender” during student discussion and debates. The public defender knew to stop conversations that became heated and say, “You need to rephrase.”

“Over time kids learned to express an idea passionately without ever having to attack another individual,” Palmer said.

Palmer Method

Building a talk (what to do before you begin speaking):

  • Audience. Understand the people you are talking to. “There are differences between a group in Manhattan, New York and a group in Manhattan, Kansas.”
  • Content. Include relevant material that connects with the audience.
  • Organization. Have a strong opening, good transitions and a powerful closing.
  • Appearance. Make sure you look your best for the group you’re speaking to.
  • Visual Aids. Incorporate graphics that support your overall message.

Performing a talk (what you do as you speak):

These steps were given the catchy acronym kids could remember “PV Legs.”

  • Poise. Appear calm and confident and get rid of odd tics.
  • Voice. Make sure every word is heard.
  • Life. Add feeling, passion and emotion to your voice.
  • Eye contact. Look at each member of the audience.
  • Gestures. Use hand motions, facial expressions, and body motions to enhance your words.
  • Speed. Pay attention to pace and adjust it during your talk.

(From Erik Palmer’s Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students)

How do you teach civil discourse in your class? Share your experience in the comments.  We’ve also gathered additional links and resources to help you make the most of Media Literacy Week.

Additional Resources:

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Media Literacy (from Channel One Blog)

(See the original post here.)

“I don’t like football, it’s bad. It causes concussions,” he said, his small brow furrowed with conviction.

“Okay. Why do you feel that way? Help me and the class understand.” The boy’s teacher, Erik Palmer, gently probed for the rationale behind his statement. The child looked up, shifting his weight uncomfortably, before sitting back down. “I’m not sure, Mr. Palmer. I just heard it.”

“Fake News” remains a hot topic underscoring media literacy as an essential part of civic understanding. In celebration of Media Literacy Week, Erik Palmer, media literacy expert and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt thought leader, shared his perspective after 20 years of teaching the topic in classrooms and to educators.

“Spouting conclusions, unfortunately, has become the norm in today’s political discourse. We need to teach kids to construct the points that led to the conclusions,” Palmer said. “What sticks in people’s minds is what’s available to them. Topic X is bad, they recall hearing it, but don’t remember where.” In order to bring the concept to life in the classroom, a difficult one for many adults to grasp, students need to understand, “that’s a conclusion. What statements led to that conclusion?”

How to Know Which Sources to Trust

“The default used to be ‘I believe’ and is shifting to ‘I don’t believe anything,’” Palmer said. “When our top elected officials describe news from our most credentialed media outlets as fake, all sources of information are undermined.”

This mistrust is the troubling byproduct of both the rhetoric around fake news, as well as the actual presence of false news reports pumped into the internet by disreputable sources. Although the overall impact on children’s beliefs is still unknown, the trust gap among adults is visible. According to a December 2016 Pew Research study, nearly one-in-three U.S. adults (32 percent) say they often see fake political news online. An earlier report (January 2016) from Pew showed trust in the media among Millennials is trending down. Just 27 percent of Millennials now say the media has a positive impact, compared with 26 percent of Gen-Xers and Silents and 23 percent of Boomers.

Media bias, also widely discussed, perhaps more so after the 2016 election is one that journalists are honor bound to take seriously. “Many people may not realize that reputable news organizations follow strict journalistic ethics and standards and they have a lot of checks and balances along the way,” said Angela Hunter, Executive Producer of Channel One News. “So when you compare a legacy news organization to a blog or some other less traditional news organization, it is helpful to understand the journalistic process and what goes into the report.”

Educators and media have stepped up to teach the fundamentals of analyzing every source and evaluating it for trustworthiness. For instance, “fake and bias are different things,” Palmer said. “You can show images of Donald Trump that make him look like a wonderful or a terrible person. Both images are true — the photos exist. Choosing one image over the other displays your bias.”

It takes a long time for kids to grasp subtleties on the continuum from fiction to fact across categories. Palmer suggested that, “a little bit of suspicion should be the new default. Let’s help kids move to ‘even if I believe most of what I see is true, let me check.’”

Standards for Media Literacy

Media literacy concepts are now baked into state and national standards across subjects, including the C3 Framework for Social Studies, which includes “making and supporting evidence-based claims and counter-claims” as a key component. They require that students demonstrate the ability to access, analyze and evaluate all media types, from movies and TV shows to news articles and YouTube clips. “Teaching students how to think, not what to think, is the goal of social studies educators,” said Geraldine Stevens, Product Marketing Director for HMH Social Studies. “In this way, skills are paramount. When students look at evidence — in all its modern forms — they analyze point of view, bias, context and authenticity. This is critical to successfully navigate today’s media-saturated society.”

How do you teach media literacy in your class? Share your experience in the comments. We’ve also gathered additional links and resources to help you make the most of Media Literacy Week.

Additional Resources:

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