Just as our reading classes have been going through an overhaul, I'm now turning my attention to my oral communications classes in the hope that we can fix some weaknesses there as well.
I've added variety to the reading classes by introducing a broader variety of reading: poetry, fiction, non-fiction and current issues. I'm now laying the foundations of a similar revolution in oral communication. Up to now, my speaking tests have focused almost exclusively on presentations. We've dabbled in discussions and debates, but to be completely honest, I've had a little reluctance to giving up control of the class.
However, I've recently noticed a weakness in the curriculum. My students have become fantastic speakers. Their presentation skills are progressing wonderfully. Unfortunately, they are becoming proficient at only ONE kind of verbal communication. What I want to do is give them more opportunities to speak, more opportunities for EACH student to speak, and that's going to mean giving up some of my control and moving the oral communication classes to something a bit more learner centered.
I've already experimented in that direction, and the results were VERY well-received by the students, and the activities were very productive.
A few changes ...
One, there will now be a greater variety of speaking assignments. Some of these will be assessed by me, but others will not. These will consist of presentations to the whole class, presentations in small groups (that will include question and answer sessions, feedback sessions and so on), class discussions, discussions in small groups (including topic-based brainstorming sessions), and so on. One of my second graders REALLY, REALLY wants to do debates, and I somewhat hesitate because some students are not entirely comfortable with the adversarial nature of debates ... but I think we're going to do it anyway. Agreement and disagreement is an area of communication it wouldn't hurt to look into now and then.
In addition, I'm going to add more opportunities for students to speak amongst themselves. This week, I tried letting the students answer their reading questions in small groups, then checking their answers quickly in the last five minutes, rather than the previous style of checking the answers in class (in a more traditional teacher-centered style). It went over wonderfully. Students were speaking actively to one another in English in my second grade class.
As well, in the independent reading class, I set aside fifteen minutes for students to talk to one another about the books they are reading and/or books they recommend. This went over very well, for the most part, with my first grade reading class, but there was a little stress there, so I'll have to perhaps guide the students through the process a little more.
In my first grade writing class, I added fifteen minutes of cooperative learning. I use my Thursday writing class as an independent writing time, where students can do brainstorming and work on their rough drafts for their essays. This time, I had students show their work to one another and asked them to explain their essay topic (they had a choice of three), go over their development, and then get suggestions from their groups about how to develop the essay, things they could explore, some group brainstorming and more. It worked so well, that I wonder why I hadn't done it all along!
As I see it, the biggest weakness in oral communication, in a nutshell, is that my students are improving in presentation, but not conversation. I want them to be able to speak, listen and respond to questions and comments in a less formal task than simple prepared presentations.
I think this will be a very good addition to the speaking curriculum.
In the future, I may give a little thought to the first grade writing curriculum.