Thursday, September 4, 2008

21st Century School Speeches

These days, we know all about 21st Century Learners, and most of us are proud to implement the new strategies. Just to refresh my memory I've been reading up on 21st Century Learners:

"A 21st Century Learner tends to be a multi-tasker that uses sound and images to convey content whenever possible. Text, the primary medium of traditional academics, is tolerated only when the technology does not (yet) support something better." (Dr. Roger Von Holzen, Director, Center for Information Technology in Education Northwest Missouri State University in his paper: The 21st Century Learner)

"For New Zealand, the development of a prosperous and conīŦdent knowledge society means the development of new skills and knowledge. It will require a culture of continuous enquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking, and entrepreneurship. This can only come from the education system." (Enabling the 21st Century Learner - e-Learning Action Plan for Schools 2006-2010)

"Speaking, Writing and Presenting
Students will:
• Integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies with developing confidence to identify, form, and express ideas...
– construct texts that show a growing awareness of purpose and audience through careful choice of content, language, and text form." (from New Zealand Curriculum, Level 3.)

I recently had to sit (as did the other 21st Century Learners in my class) through 30 x 3min speeches. I had to assess each of the speeches according to specific criteria, such as voice quality, eye contact and speech content.

According to the school-wide benchmarking structure, the students are not allowed to use any visual or audio aids, and they should refrain from 'over-dramatizing'. Students were expected to write their speeches in class. They were allowed to use cue-cards, which they were permitted to take home to practice their speeches. I heard some teachers say that they did not allow the actual speech to go home, because in the past parents have been known to assist in the speech writing process. Others did not want their pupils to introduce themselves.

Each teacher has different views on the actual content and delivery, probably framed by what their teachers had expected them to do/ not do when they did speeches (in the 20th Century). This is completely plausibly, because, let's face it NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

While listening to these speeches, and sensing the students' growing boredom / frustration / disinterest in the whole process, I started thinking: Why are we still doing speeches in this archaic way?

Our 21st Century Learners find it arduous to write a speech independently. Even when they can use Google to find the data they need. (They don't have loads of general knowledge stored in their brains - they know how to find it, though.) Rather, they want to collaborate, give feedback, create information and most of all, they want it all to be interactive. Speakers of today are using audio, video and images to convey meaning and capture audience attention. They are inviting audience participation, even letting audience's needs direct the presentation. (Heard of an unconference, lately?)

My pupils took weeks to construct their speeches - not because of interest or meticulous care. It was really hard to keep them motivated. I'm sure if they could have done digital presentations, it would have been a different story!

Listening to the speeches was arduous as well. I had a discussion first with my pupils on what constitutes a 'good audience'. They were still bored, and fidgety. Is forcing our modern learners to be 'good audiences' realistic? Do 21st Century audiences today really just sit and listen? Certainly not at the Keynote Speeches I have attended lately. As an audience member I contribute, Twitter, chat and collaborate. I have a Voice.

Why are we still expecting 2oth Century Speeches from 21st Century Learners? I reckon it's time for the 'culture of continuous enquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking, and entrepreneurship' to be related to School Speeches too!

Images: (THEN)

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