Archive for the ‘Talking & Listening’ Category

Last week I had the pleasure of assessing 17 genuinely excellent solo talks from my S1 class – every pupil worked extremely hard and delivered an engaging, confident talk on the topic of ‘My Favourite Place’. At the start of the process we all agreed on appropriate success criteria and, remarkably, every pupil met each specific target. How is it that I managed to achieve a 100% success rate? By being incredibly blunt about the quality of earlier presentations.

In Arran High School we are currently experimenting with an embedded IDL course for first year pupils – since August S1 timetables have featured one period a week dedicated to interdisciplinary, cross-curricular learning delivered by a small team of teachers from several different subjects (you can read more about it here).

A few months ago one of the two classes were studying The Slave Trade, and were tasked with preparing and delivering group presentations on a range of aspects of the topic.  As an English teacher it fell to me to provide feedback on the presentation skills (as opposed to the content) of each group. Put simply, the presentations were terrible – every group simply typed everything they wanted to say into a Powerpoint, projected it on the Promethean board, and then read it out to the class (without even looking at the rest of the class). All of this was made even more frustrating by the fact that explicit instructions had been given throughout the preparation progress to encourage them to avoid such mistakes! I am of course well aware of the prevailing opinion which dictates that feedback should always focus on the positive, but to be honest I think that there are time when anything but complete honest simply doesn’t cut it.

So, I told them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth:

“Your presentations, to be entirely honest, were awful, and I expect much better from each and every one of you.”

OK, so this approach is admittedly rather full on, and isn’t something I would do with someone else’s class (the pupils in front of my were the same class that come to me for English and we have an excellent relationship); however, this was a problem that I had seen time and again. We increasingly – and correctly – expect our pupils to be extremely accomplished speakers, yet so much of the time we accept a level of mediocrity which would – or at least should – never be tolerated in their writing. I decided to address this problem once and for all (with this group at least) and the blunt feedback was a big part of the process. The next stage involved detailed teaching of the important aspects of good public speaking (including a demonstration from me about my own ‘Favourite Place‘) followed by an extended period of planning and preparation.

And the end result? As I said at the start of this post every single pupil delivered a superb solo talk which met every single one of the agreed success criteria (as well as eight of the Level 3 E&Os). I also heard from a colleague that a couple of the pupils in question had asked prior to a recent presentation in their class whether they had to “do it the easy way, or the Mr McEnaney way?” I am confident that these pupils will never again thing that the sort of presentation they delivered in that IDL class is acceptable in any situation, which is exactly the outcome that I was aiming for.

Of course, I’m not arguing that every piece of feedback that students receive should be blisteringly critical, but sometimes – in the right situation – there is a lot to be gained from simply being blunt with our pupils. Sometimes we need to focus on the positive to drive progress, but there are also times when honesty is the best driver of success.