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Monday, September 24, 2012

Tall Poppies Group Blog: Get With The Times: When Speech Making Turns Ugly!...

Tall Poppies Group Blog: Get With The Times: When Speech Making Turns Ugly!...: Get With The Times: When Speech Making Turns Ugly! Yesterday I was talking to a parent who was telling me all about the frustration she fel...
Get With The Times: When Speech Making Turns Ugly!
Yesterday I was talking to a parent who was telling me all about the frustration she felt for her child who was in the process of preparing for speech competitions at school.  The whole saga made me very frustrated too!
Here is the run down:
Class asked to write a speech and told they are not allowed to do it at home.
Child writes speech using creative writing strategies.
Peer feedback given, child told that she used big words that were hard to understand.
Child cuts out some of her adjectives.
Speech timed (needs to be 3 minutes exactly).
Speech over time so child cuts out more adjectives.
Teacher checks script, tells student to do more explaining about the terms she uses and to put explanations in brackets.
Child asks teacher "how do you say a bracket?"
Teacher says "I don't know, just put them on your cards"
Child times speech, now over time again.
Child cuts out even more adjectives.
Child write script onto cards.
Child reads speech to class.
Class fall asleep!

This is an all too familary story!  What is the learning here?
The synic in me would suggest that the lesson plan looked like this...
WALT: Create a speech that is exactly three minutes and make our writing small enough to fit onto cue cards.

Now to be fair, I don't necessarily blame the teacher or the school.  It would be fair to assume that the school has a couple of big shiny cups from years gone by that need to be handed out at school prize giving.  It would also be fair to assume that the community have an expectation that there is a school wide speech competition and  to assume that the teachers have not receive any PD on the teaching of speech making. I would also be so bold as to suggest that this is not the teachers favorite part of the curriculum.

We need to get with the times.  Our students have access to so many speech making role models through the www.  Schools need to get PD for their teachers, be brave enough to make changes and to create new traditions.  Our ability to communicate with each other, to deliver our information effectively, to connect with an audience using our oral language is just as important as other curriculum areas.  Let's teach it instead of just doing it! www.talkit.net.nz.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One Key to Growing Skills-Take a Risk.



This year as the business has grown, we have had a focus on being better at communication.  While we have had a few hiccups along the way, putting in place new systems has been a rewarding experience. As team we can see that we need to hold onto strong communication with each other, our students and their families.  This flows through to the  programmes that we teach. It is important that our students know what is expected of them, that we communicate next steps in learning and that they received feedback and feed forward that is useful for them.  This term in the Junior Academy programme we have had a learning focus on Talks and Presentations.  I have been particularly interested to note that new students often really struggle with the concept of extemporaneous speaking.  No notes, cue cards or memorizing, just speaking naturally from a plan that we have rehearsed.  I notice that these students are often afraid to take risks, afraid to get it wrong or are worried that they might say the wrong thing.   Many schools are still advocating the “cue card” speech techniques that require memorization or reading...not speaking from your knowledge or your heart.  Taking risks in communication is the only way to make change.  Taking risks builds resilience and taking risks will make us better communicators. We need to have the tools and take some risks!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Back to Basics

I sometimes wonder at how amazing it is that I have grown a business essentially based around teaching the basics of communication.  These days our classes are not so much about "drama and performance skills", we have to go back to basics.  How to join into a discussion. How to speak your opinion. How to look people in the eye when you talk to them...and of course the list goes on. In years gone by, where did we learn these skills from?  I am fairly certain it was not from an extra curricular provider!  Don't get me wrong, we love teaching this stuff and seeing what a difference it makes but I do think that sometimes we need to go back to basics.
 We are so busy in our lives that often we don't have time to sit down and talk to our children or the neighbours children or any children! Many of us don't often eat together or play together.  The holiday period is a great time to reconnect with each other and I have enjoyed doing this.  I am often surprised with the depth of conversations we have and we all enjoy it. 
I had coffee with a friend yesterday who is an English teacher.  We were talking about this exact thing.  I was wondering how a student can do all the study for English, tell you all about the study they have done, have a clear understanding of the work but when it comes to the exam, receive an average result.  Of course there are lots of reasons for this but we decided that in many cases it is simply due to the fact that our youth are not used to pushing a pen across a page for 3 hours at a time. I remember the callouses on the fingers, the aching arm, the three pens needed to complete some exams.  Many students get into the exam room and run out of stamina and cut answers short. Why?  Most likely because they are used to submitting all answers type written, spell checked, grammar checked and neat and tidy.  A written exam requires you to deliver on all of the above and provide an answer to the question...tricky stuff if you are not used to it.   She told me that some year 12/13 students will even fail a written exam because the spelling is so bad.  So, fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) for my teenagers this year, mother will be encouraging no PC written homework unless it is specifically requested and many more conversations around the dinner table....back to basics.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Musical Theatre" Sing it Loud Sing it Proud

One of my biggest regrets (if we are allowed regrets in this day and age) is that as a child/teenager I never had the confidence to explore the discipline of Musical Theatre.  In my own children I have watched with interest as they sing loud and proud as toddlers, preschoolers and early primary students and then slowly but surely they develop a self consciousness that prohibits them from singing aloud, solo in front of an audience.  Putting together my observations of their development and my own experiences as a child I have some assumptions to share:
1.  When we are little, we are encouraged to sing out loud regardless of talent, we have not yet developed the sense of comparing ourselves to others.
2. To sing solo in front of an audience is one of the most fearful things that we can do.  Singing in the shower is easy but we think that to be an accomplished singer takes training.  I agree that it does to be an expert but a good singer...  NOT TRUE.
3.   I have three children who have inherited lovely singing voices from both sides of the family. The 15 year old boy accidentally found himself in the school choir and was appalled and embarrassed by this accident of nature, even going as far as to keep the public performance a secret from his family so we would not attend, the 13 year old girl loves to sing but will only do it ensemble and the 7 year old will sing anywhere anyhow.
So where did we miss the flip...what is the difference between Justin Beiber and my apparently talented 15 year old?  (He would suggest there is plenty of difference) I suggest that there comes a time when singing is mystified.....made to seem more difficult that it really is.....possibly by pretentious music teachers (who are often failed singers themselves) but I think there are huge parallels to the modeling industry here.  Our kids listen to music most days, singers they perceive to be "good" and they will never be like that.  Just as the Top Model Competitions have our young people thinking they could never be that beautiful.  Just like Top Model, singing is digitally altered tidied up all the time, we just don't know it.

As a teenager I did explore my vocal capabilities.  Wanting a career in the performing arts I knew being a great singer is a must.  Alas it was not to be....I had three not so positive experiences.  Firstly the singing teacher my parents so kindly funded for a year, said to me one day "that has really improved but don't sing it to your parents just yet will you"....keerrrpppppoooooowwww, that was a confidence buster! Second, my friend (who shall remain nameless but who had asperations for a Musical Theatre career too) and I auditioned for a part in the chorus in our local Musical Theatre company (amateur), rehearsed, were very brave.  What a terrible experience! It will suffice to say that it involved a very large stage, 2 elderly gentlemen who failed to introduce themselves, two pairs of spectacles being frowned over and a bell!  Keerrrrrppppppooooooow another blow to the ego.  The third was when my friends parents pulled some strings and we made it into the chorus of a production of the Pearl Fishers...grand opera.  It was a great experience but we soon figured out that it was not our singing we had been cast for....I was a Vestal Virgin complete with bikini style top and full body blackening, perfect for a 16 year old with a DD rating!  Keerrrrrrppppppooooow...there goes number three.  So I basically gave up the singing lark until last year when I decided to give it another go, a lovely teacher, had fun and gained confidence.  I am by no means ready for the Dixie Chicks but at least I have faced the demon and I know I can sing loud and proud!
Our children need to be encouraged to be the best they can be, to over come the fear and do it anyway.  Singing is just another string to the bow of talents we can walk the planet with and if nothing else, I believe it is truly great for the soul. 
So with this in mind, Tall Poppies are offering Musical Theatre classes for children this year...no experience necessary!  And to steal a lyric "The sun will come out tomorrow, bet ya bottom dollar for tomorrow, come what may"....perhaps we will have All Blacks who are confident enough to do more than just lip sync the national anthem.....and I say, watch more Glee!