Rosie Cook | St Stephen’s C of E Junior School
The National Curriculum states that “children should be taught: to speak with confidence in a range of contexts, adapting their speech to a range of purposes and audiences” (Department for Education, 2014). At our school, we want our children to be confident speakers keen for their voice to be heard. However, when asked to present or share their work and ideas, many children become withdrawn and lack confidence. When holding class assemblies or celebration assemblies, our children do not always present with confidence, speaking loudly and clearly with passion. It has usually the same confident, children who are chosen to deliver in front of their class or the whole school.
In addition to this, when children join us at junior school, we find that they are not always forthcoming and confident in giving their view and are not willing to challenge or question others’ views in a discussion or a debate. As a school, we feel very strongly that we must do what we can to improve this because we believe this will have a huge impact on our children as individuals and as learners.
In order to do this we must explicitly teach our children to be able to articulate their ideas and share these with others confidently. As Dawes and Mercer state: “children will not learn how to make the best use of language as a tool for communicating and thinking without guidance from their teachers” (2012). Therefore, as teachers we must provide them with the tools to do so.
The evaluative question for my research was, “To what extent does teaching presentational skills to reluctant speakers, over three months, impact on their confidence when talking in front of others?
At the beginning of the year, during a writing lesson, I asked my students who would be happy to come to the front of the class and present their work to us all. I explained this would involve them standing at the front of the class and reading out their work clearly. Four out of thirty children volunteered. I then asked the children to show a ‘fist to five’ (0 being not confident at all, and 5 being extremely confident) about how they felt about standing and presenting to others. There wasn’t one child who gave above 3 as a measure of their confidence.
I also observed students engaging in a range of short presenting activities. When observing, I saw few children making eye contact with their audience, students often held up work covering their faces, some students mumbled in quiet voices whilst others shuffled around and played with their hands. Over half of the class asked to sit down when sharing instead of moving to the front of the class or asked to ‘pass’ when it came to their turn. When working in trios, more than a third of the children asked if they could choose one person to present while the others helped create the presentation.
Finally, I asked students to jot down three words that they felt when asked to present to other people. The students’ responses included: nervous, embarrassed, scared, silly, shy, anxious, quiet, and horrible. Not one child wrote: confident, happy, proud, excited. This is what I wanted to achieve from this project.
Intervention & intended impact
To begin, as a class, we generated some discussion guidelines so that the children could understand what is meant by a discussion. We then explored what it meant to be good listeners. As a result of this, we created guidelines that are now displayed at all times, demonstrating These guidelines were then referred to during all lessons whenever a teacher, TA or child was speaking.
Following this, we created some presentational talk guidelines, these included: stand tall and confidently, know what you are going to say, speak slowly and clearly, look at the audience, do not fiddle, use hand gestures, project your voice, use expression etc. In order to do this, we watched a number of videos of famous speakers, as well as some children and young adults speaking confidently. Students then jotted down the key features that they felt helped the speaker present their ideas effectively.
After the guidelines and initial discrete teaching of the skills had taken place, we then introduced a presenting element into every writing lesson where a minimum of three children had to stand at the front and present their work to the class.
After creating the guidelines, the children were referring to them in all lessons and I observed children giving feedback such as:
- “name, you need to show you are listening by look”
- “You could put your hands behind your back to stop fiddling”
- “If you’re worried about laughing, you could look at a point at the back to focus on”
- “We’re all listening so it doesn’t matter if you’re shy”
- “Wow your work is amazing. I can’t wait to hear more.”
After only two weeks, students were able to provide each other with valuable feedback, showing each other that they were listening. All students were willing to share their work. At first, even though students were willing to present to an audience, they spoke quickly and quietly. However, as the intervention progressed, this became less and less common; students fiddled less, they looked at their audience and spoke much more slowly and clearly.
At the end of the project, I asked the children to write down three feelings that would describe how they feel when presenting, these included: excited, proud, nervous, happy, eager and pleased which was a huge improvement.
When presenting to the class, all children now stand up and happily share what they might be doing over the holidays. Recently, not one child has asked to ‘pass’ or ‘skip’ them. When given a presenting task in pairs or trios, all children partake in presenting even if the quieter children say less, they still make sure that wheat they do say is loud and clear.
When asked to give a fist to five for confidence (0 being not confident at all, and 5 being very confident) all children gave 3-5. I also observed conversations such as:
- “I hope I get to share my work today”
- “Hopefully they’ll be more than three people sharing”
- “I can’t wait to show our presentation now we’ve rehearsed.”
As my research consisted mostly of observations of the children, I asked them all if they would be happy to help me with some research at the start of the project. I also asked if they were happy to use any of their quotes or statements if I didn’t use any names and if they were not happy with this, then they had the right to say.
The impact of the project on the student’s presentational skills was clear however to be more successful we need to make sure we revisit ‘presentational talk’ more regularly to ensure expectations for this type of talk are well-embedded As I teach Year 6 students there were a number of points in the research when revision for SATs became a higher priority and therefore and the focus on presentational talk slipped.
If I were to do this research again, I would also pick a focus group to interview and observe in more detail so that I could focus more specifically on reluctant speakers in more detail. My next step is to roll this out across the whole school and advise other teachers of how, by changing the expectations for talk, fostering positive relationships between students and teaching them the skills of presenting, we can have very clear, confident speakers in our school.
Department for Education. (2014). The national curriculum in England: complete framework for key stages 1 to 4. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4
Dawes, L and Mercer, N. (2015) Importance of speaking and listening. [online] Available at: http://oer.educ.cam.ac.uk/wiki/The_Importance_of_Speaking_and_Listening