Pick up any five business magazines at the airport and look for an article touting the “Top 10 skills leaders need in the 21st Century.” Better yet, just google the title and you’ll find thousands of articles. Click on one. Look down the list of each. I can bet you there is one skill that is on every list.
The other soft skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and having a growth mindset seem to be included in some, left out in others, but the one skill that is always there is the ability to communicate effectively.
“We hold public speaking in the highest regard,” says Mrs. Robb, an English teacher and the coordinator of Chapel Talks. “It’s a very thoughtful and deliberate process. And while I get to work daily with the eighth graders to hone their public speaking skills, the reality is that they’ve been doing this over and over since kindergarten.”
What does public speaking look like in kindergarten? Look no further than Author Study.
Learning should be active, authentic, immersive, and purposeful. Through class literature study and free reading at home, Kindergarten students are exposed to a number of different authors and genres. “They each then pick an author, gather biographical information about the author, and share with the class,” says Mrs. Warren, a kindergarten teacher. “Some make posters as visual aids, some will dress up as a character from their favorite book, and it is fun to see the different types of creative presentations the students come up with.”
The kindergarten presentations coincide with the beginning of Chapel Talks each January. “Our students watch the older students making speeches to the entire school each week,” Mrs. Warren continued. “It is fun to see the student’s mimicking their eighth grade friends as they make their big presentations in class. Having them model the behavior begins to create a foundation that will help them throughout their Powhatan experience.”
A milestone of the Powhatan experience, one of the long-standing traditions is the eighth grade Chapel Talk.
Each eighth grader gets up in front of the school community and delivers an 8-10 minute presentation about a topic he or she is not only knowledgeable and passionate but also one that the mostly younger audience, Pre-K through seventh graders, will be interested in and able to understand. The presentation is followed by a question-answer session. This provides the eighth graders the opportunity to share something unique about themselves, to teach others about it in the process, and to stand up and be leaders for the younger students. It also promotes younger students learning from older students. This capstone project showcases strategies Powhatan students have gained throughout their Powhatan careers such as research, writing, technology, communication, and collaboration.
The students prepare for their performance during English class first trimester. After being audience members for years, most students arrive in eighth grade with a pretty good idea about what they’d like to do, but not always. After mulling over possible topics for the month of September, in October, the students zero in on the final topic and conduct research. Pretty soon they are tasked with formulating thesis statements, which become the hearts of their presentations. The thesis connects to their passion and is – in a sense – the message they want their audience to take away from their presentations. In October, they work through at least three drafts of writing, revising, and editing their speeches before moving along in November to creating their audiovisual component to accompany their speeches. Most choose a slideshow presentation, which does a great job of providing visuals for the audience in the auditorium. Throughout the process, the students support one another through peer review sessions, providing both positives and suggestions – with the goal of each eighth grader doing his or her best.
“It truly is a life skill,” continues Mrs. Robb. “One that they will carry with them far after they graduate from Powhatan. This is just another facet of how we learn not for school, but for life.”
We learn not for school, but for life.