TED talks a great motivatorCMSchool brings persuasive speech to 21st Century
By Lara Bricker
firstname.lastname@example.orgPosted Jun. 30, 2016 at 2:03 PM
STRATHAM — Eighth-grader Clarissa Gowing admitted that public speaking is not her favorite thing.
But the new format of the eighth grade persuasive speaking requirement at the Cooperative Middle School made it tolerable for her. Gone are the days of students reading their speeches off note cards or memorizing a talk. For the past three years, eighth graders have done their own version of TED Talks, known at CMS as ED talks.
“We didn’t have to do a boring essay that was long and really formatted. We could be really fluid around it and have a lot of freedom,” Gowing said. “It was my own topic and I was interested in it, so it was easier talking about it. I don’t love public speaking. I think being able to choose the topic and only going in front of a small group of my peers really helped.”
Before the ED talk approach, teachers heard many of the same topics each year. From why the school day should start later to the menu in the cafeteria. That all changed three years ago when a group of teachers at CMS decided to try something new. Eighth-grade English teacher Melissa Tobey broached the idea of having students try their own version of TED Talks after listening to the TED Radio Hour on National Public Radio one summer.
“It just kind of sparked the idea of making the persuasive speech more kid-friendly and 21st century,” Tobey said.
They found that students knew all about TED talks and were much more invested in the project that previously. The student talks have to be three to seven minutes long. The top eight talks, as selected by their peers, were presented before the entire eighth grade in late May, as a recognition of the project more than a competition.
The ED talk format invited students to really become an expert on a topic and talk without notes.
“We decided that they’re not ever going to be allowed to do a written speech because they tend to memorize and it makes it robotic,” Eighth grade English teacher Janet Prior explained.
“It really makes them absolutely know their stuff really well because they have to be able to talk about it,” she said.
Students found topics they were interested in and spent time learning about them, such as a student that apprenticed with a master blacksmith as research for his talk or another student who worked with a carpenter.
Gowing did her ED talk on reactive attachment disorder, which she became interested in because she has a family member that may have the disorder. The disorder is caused when a young child is taken away from their main parental unit, usually their mother, which leads them to be unable to build trust with adults.
“Later on they have trust issues and they can’t build loving relationships with others,” she said. “You can have therapy but there isn’t a real treatment they’ve discovered.”
Topics were varied this year from Sean Collins’s discussion about Julia Childs to Jake Flewelling’s talk about the history of basketball.
“I learned what YMCA actually meant,” Flewelling said, adding he also delved into famous players and the number of titles they had won. “I liked that we had a lot of time to prepare for it. I likes that you could vote on whose you thought was best.”
Ben Gorman, who took on the issue of time travel, was one of the eight finalists who did their ED talk for the entire eighth grade.
“It’s something that’s always interested me,” Gorman said of time travel.
Gorman took the position that forward time travel is possible.
“In order to time travel forward, when you approach light speed or greater then what happens is time starts to slow down for you,” Gorman explained. “One day for you could be 100,000 years for someone else.”
Teachers recognized the value of giving students the freedom to select their own topic.
“That makes it so authentic for them,” Prior said. “They pick topics that are their passion.”
Students also incorporated technology into their talks by selecting images that enhance, not distract, from their message.
“It’s something that every student can be successful with no matter their learning style,” Tobey said. “I think it’s less pressure for them. It’s really quite gratifying to watch.”
Prior loves the genuine enthusiasm she sees in the students when they give their talks.
“We need every day to feel like this day,” she said. “It remind you why you got into education to have a student who never shines in an academic setting getting applause and sit down feeling good about themselves.”
The project improves each year, Tobey said.
“It was so encouraging and positive from the get go. I love that the kids are excited to do it,” Tobey said. “It’s vital for our eighth graders to have such a positive experience with their first time presenting.”