Keynotes, Classrooms, and Communication – Reflecting on What Works

Statistics show that over 41% of people have some level of fear or anxiety about speaking in front of an audience. I imagine that statistic might be generous. Who doesn’t get a little nervous right before any kind of speaking opportunity? It’s daunting. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a risk. Yes, it can be great. You might nail it and receive raving reviews, but then again – you might not. If you fail, if you fall flat on your face, if you become lip locked, start giggling, and forget everything… the entire audience is there to witness. This is scary stuff.

On the other hand, teachers must prepare students with the skills they will need to be successful in the changing global workplace. Being able to communicate effectively is one of those vital skills. As scary as public speaking can be, it must become commonplace in our classrooms.

The middle school where I teach is home to one of the first 1:1 iPad programs. As I began creating assignments that incorporated the use if the iPad, I realized that Keynote, Apple’s version of PowerPoint, was a great resource. The program is very intuitive. With very little help, the students could create presentations to highlight what they were learning. This has been a great way to pull together a unit of study together. For example, the students create and present a ‘Keynote’ at the end of a chapter or novel as a creative response to what they learned and discovered.

Individual students used presentations to report to the class what they were learning. In addition to a written report, for example, a short talk summarizing a book or primary document was a fun way to spark further interest and promote shared knowledge in the classroom. At the same time, having students who are working in groups collaborate on a presentation helped promote teamwork and problem solving.

We have a number of multidisciplinary project based learning events that we run each year. Often we invite experts from our community to come to the school to work with our students. The students gave short ‘Keynote’ presentations to update our visiting experts that included goal setting, data, and questions. As groups present, the other students in the room listened to provide feedback, take notes, and evaluate how they might be able to use the information. At the end of a project, more polished presentations were given, as a culminating reports, describing how their group answered the project’s driving question.

At the end of our seventh grade fuel cell project, a group of students was asked to present at a citywide meeting of leaders who wanted to know how technology was changing their everyday learning. This group’s goal was to explore ways to improve local education in order to draw new businesses into our community. The students listened to the invitation and immediately began working. I was hearing things like, “We have to remember our target audience,” and “Remember to make the slides easy to read. Put the details into the speaker’s notes.” It was fun to watch them work and even more fun to hear them present. In fact, they did so well that they were asked to speak two more times including an event with three hundred local CEOs, politicians, and business leaders.

They were a hit. I was proud. Best of all, I know that what that what we are doing in the classroom is meaningful preparation for their future and what can be better feedback than that?

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