Geekspeak: Speaking and Listening DIGITALLY

By: Kristen Swanson

speakingSpeaking and listening. We do it every day for countless reasons. Routine interactions, brief exchanges, or thoughtful diatribes propel us through everything from the most mundane tasks to critical life events. Therefore, it’s not surprising that speaking and listening have earned a prominent place in our K–12 standard documents, including the widely endorsed Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

However, the speaking and listening standards endorsed by the CCSS are often neglected in K–12 schools. Many students I’ve informally interviewed report having to give a speech only “a few times.” Coincidentally, most report being “really nervous” and “hating it.” Further, observation in lots of different classrooms has led me to note that many classrooms still have more teacher talk than student talk. Teachers must revise instructional practices by adding more occasions for students to become empathetic listeners and engaging speakers.

Erik Palmer, in a recent video post about the importance of speaking well, stated, “People are realizing, when you look very closely, you’ll see that you’ve accepted pretty mediocre speaking. And you will definitely realize that no one really teaches speaking.” By this, Palmer means that we simply assess students on their speaking skills without giving them many opportunities to practice, observe models, or synthesize generalities.

Specifically, the Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards offer an enormous opportunity to rethink and revise current practices. They seek to deepen students’ abilities to become competent, confident people. The CCSS demand explicit teaching, modeling, and practice of speaking and listening. They demand excellence. Further, the Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards explicitly state that speaking and listening should be practiced not only in language courses but in every discipline.

Regardless of what you teach, you are only a few thoughtful tweaks away from emphasizing these standards without sacrificing necessary content. In fact, speaking and listening about engaging content is one of the best ways to facilitate deep, conceptual understanding. The best classrooms have significant amounts of student talk, student discussion, and student presentation. When all this is interwoven with critical reading and critical writing, it’s a recipe for success.

John Hattie’s research reminds teachers that feedback is one of the most powerful instructional strategies they can use in their classrooms. Emphasizing the speaking and listening standards allows teachers to leverage conversation to increase the amount of feedback provided in the classroom by teachers and peers.

However, speaking and listening has grown beyond how we think of it in the traditional sense. It’s about speaking and listening in the digital age, complete with video chats and robust networks. Clearly, today’s graduates are expected to collaborate with national and international partners for both work and play. Kids need practice speaking and listening, not just face-to-face, but in digital environments.

Consider my week at work:

  • Monday: Videoconference with my colleague two states away
  • Tuesday: In-person presentation with audio, video, and a backchannel
  • Wednesday: Web conference with my boss to review new instructional materials
  • Thursday: Google+ Hangout over lunch with my sister (who lives in Greece)
  • Friday: In-person book club about instructional strategies with some teachers and principals

The integration of digital tools, conversation, and video has changed the way we behave in both social and work-related situations. Teachers need to prepare students to be competent speakers and listeners in a digital age.

Want to learn more? Check out Teaching the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards here.

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