Journeys March Newsletter

Myths About Speaking Instruction
by Erik Palmer, Veteran Teacher, Author, Consultant, Professional Speaker, and Journeys Program Consultant

I struggle to get teachers to understand the difference between speaking activities and speaking lessons. All of us have activities. Students speak informally (discussions, showing solutions at the board, asking questions, group work, and more) and formally (poetry recitations, presentations to the class, and more). But the problem is, making students speak does not prepare them to speak well. If you look with new eyes at students speaking, you will notice that they don’t speak well. YouTube is littered with videos that teachers have posted proving this point. The kids in front of the cool green screens are not impressive. The point: all of the activities we develop do not lead to competence. Direct instruction is needed but has not happened.

As I write this, I am running a MOOC, a massive open online course. Teachers from all over the world are participating. I started a discussion by asking, “How do you teach speaking?” The worldwide response? Most teachers admit that they don’t teach speaking. Some teachers claim to teach speaking. I say claim because what they describe is not teaching. Here are common responses along with my critique:

  • “I hand out a rubric and we go over it before we present.” Mentioning criteria warns students about how they will be scored. But that is not teaching. An example: a teacher had “presence” on a rubric and awarded up to ten points for it. I mentioned that no one would ever score something that had never been taught, and I asked to see the “presence” lessons. How do you teach presence? You don’t score capitalization until students have had lessons (e.g., use capitals at the start of sentences and for proper nouns) and practice (e.g., a worksheet with errors to correct and/or practice writing sample sentences that call for capital letters). I wanted to see how presence was taught, why it was important, and what practice activities existed. The teacher had nothing. Putting a word on the rubric is not teaching that skill.

    Related: “I explain the terms on the rubric like intonation, etc.”
  • "I model good speaking and ask them to speak like that.” Watching something is moderately useful, but it is not teaching. An example: I want students to punctuate well. I hand out an essay that is well punctuated and I tell students, “Punctuate like that author did.” No one would think that is sufficient, and no one would call that teaching punctuation. Odds are that you had a lesson about using commas to separate items in a series (along with a few practice worksheets), a lesson about commas to join independent clauses (with practice activities), and more. Speaking deserves that same level of attention. Related: “I tell them to watch great speakers.”
  • “I give students time to practice. They practice with peers and get comments.” Practice makes perfect, right? But only if you know what to practice. Comments from peers are only valuable if the peers know how to help. An analogy: I want students to become great golfers. I hand each one a club and say, “Practice!” and then I put them in groups to watch each other and give advice. Will any of them become proficient? No. Many little lessons are needed: how to grip the club, how to stand, how to take a proper backswing, how to position the ball, and how to roll your wrists at impact. Practice is useful only if you are practicing the skill you have just been taught.

    Related: “I tell them to practice at home in front of a mirror and in front of family members.”
  • “We go over organization; having an introduction, body, and conclusion; using correct grammar; and choosing a good topic.” Fine, if we are talking about writing an essay. Unfortunately, teaching students how to write a talk is not the same as teaching them how to deliver a talk. This teacher has no lessons about what to do as you are speaking and only mentions what to do before you start to speak. The truth is, how a talk is presented is more important than how it is written. Great words are lost in poor delivery and great delivery causes us to overlook weak writing. (Great writing plus great delivery? You can run the world.)
  • “I give comments after students speak to highlight good things and bad things.” How unfair. After I talk you give me ideas about what I did poorly or well? Three out of five on pacing? Teaching would involve giving instruction before the talk. Sharing models of speeches where pacing and pauses are used effectively, practicing with little speeches that call for speed variation, recording rough drafts of speeches using easily available digital tools, and critiquing pacing before performance day—that would be teaching speaking.

I apologize for being so critical, but this is a high-stakes game. In a world where oral communication is the number one way of communicating, we have to give more emphasis to speaking. In a world with digital tools designed to use and showcase verbal communication, we must prepare students to use those tools well. We have to look at our language arts instruction with new eyes, too. We’ll see that we have opportunities to improve speaking instruction, opportunities to develop well-spoken students.


Component Spotlight

Trade Books

Students need to build reading stamina and to investigate topics deeply. Journeys provides this instruction with its extended reading Trade Books and accompanying two-week project-based lessons. Available in print and digital at Grades 1–6, the Trade Books allow students to apply the skills and strategies they have already learned and practiced during Student Book lessons. Project topics are connected to each Trade Book and follow a multi-step, structured path to ensure student success: Launch, Discuss, Prepare, Present, Assess, and Reflect.

TIP: Point out to students that the routines of the Trade Book lessons will seem familiar. The lessons follow the same structure as the Journeys Anchor Text lessons.

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Technology Tips

Get the Most out of Your Journeys Digital Resources

Kindergarten children will love the iRead® Letter Videos included with Journeys. Found on ThinkCentral under Student Resources, Letter Videos have engaging animation and songs. There are 52 videos in all, an uppercase and lowercase version for each letter of the alphabet. Videos are just over one minute long and encourage children to participate by tracing letters and saying letter names and sounds aloud. Every video ends with a letter song that children can sing along with.

TIP: iRead Letter Videos have many applications, from whole-group to small-group instruction or review to independent practice.


Q: How were goals derived in Journeys K–5 Progress-Monitoring Assessments?
A: The Oral Reading Passage Fluency goals in Journeys Progress-Monitoring Assessments were derived from Hasbrouck and Tindal’s Oral Reading Fluency norms. Because the Progress-Monitoring Assessments are to be used with children who are reading below grade level, the goals provided in the assessment are lower than the grade-level norms provided by Hasbrouck and Tindal. The other goals, such as those with Phonics and High-Frequency Words, are curriculum-based. Scoring at or above the goal means children are able to demonstrate the skills that were taught in the related lessons provided with Journeys. Scoring below the goal indicates the instruction was not effective, and children may need additional intervention and practice with those skills.

Q: On the vocabulary section of the Journeys Weekly Tests, why are some of the words NOT from the weekly list of vocabulary words?
A: The Vocabulary section of the Weekly Tests assesses two different things—the words to know/vocabulary in context AND the week’s vocabulary strategy lesson. Therefore, to control the number of questions on the test, not all of the weekly vocabulary words will appear.

Q: Are there Accelerated Reader® (AR) quizzes for Journeys student texts?
A: HMH provides files of the Journeys Leveled Readers and Student Books to Renaissance Learning, who owns Accelerated Reader and creates and sells the quizzes. Renaissance Learning determines which texts have enough content to create a quiz. Any questions about quizzes, or a particular text, should be directed to Renaissance Learning.

Q: Is there an alternative pacing guide in Journeys for half-day Kindergarten?
A: Each Kindergarten Teacher's Edition Weekly Planner features suggestions for half-day programs. Look for the shaded sun icon to the left of daily lessons.

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