2.2 Teachers create and maintain a challenging learning environment
2.3 Teachers assess and review student learning and plan for future learning
At the beginning of the Year 2000 as I mapped out desired outcomes/ projection for my 5/6 class literacy program, I decided that a paramount aim would be to develop proficiency in speaking and listening so that the children in my care would become effective and efficient communicators. How would I begin to achieve this goal?
First, I employed lots of community building strategies to create for my students a classroom climate in which they would feel unthreatened and comfortable, sharing their thoughts, fears, ideas, etc. I consider it very important to signal to the children that my role is not just the teacher but also a fellow member of the classroom community. I have made it a set practice at the beginning of each year to write a personal letter to the students telling them aspects about my teaching experience, sharing information about my family members, my hobbies, my fears, etc. I also express my hopes for the classroom community in the year ahead.
Besides writing this letter I bring photos and items of sentimental value to share with the children. In turn, the children bring in special items to share in partner interviews and writing activities. This year we produced a classroom yellow pages directory, which was the result of partner interviews. The directory contained information about each student, not only noting physical characteristics and personal statistics, but also special talents, particular fears and areas of learning in which they would like to improve during the year ahead.
A 'Spotlight Person of the Week' classroom feature was established. This has proved to be a very powerful vehicle in cementing desirable classroom relationships and creating a climate conducive to the sharing and exchanging of personal experiences.
While establishing the foundations for building an environment where caring and learning would prevail, I introduced my daily Morning Presentation Sessions which form a much enjoyed and fruitful element in my language programming. These morning presentations include a variety of vehicles through which children can learn to articulate ideas in a logical, fluent manner that is readily understood by listeners. Presentations include News, Picture Talks, Show and Tell, Book Reviews, Writing/Poetry Shares, Jokes/Riddles Shares, What/Who am I? Twenty Questions, Teach a Game, Instructions - How to..., Mystery Box, Mime, Current Affairs, Reports and Individual Project Presentations.
Each child is allocated a presentation day and chooses a particular item from the Presentation Menu which is permanently displayed in the classroom. The children are encouraged to attempt a variety of presentation types and keep personal records. Each child has a grid for keeping track of presentations. In this way, the children assume responsibility for selecting a variety of presentations.
An essential ingredient of daily presentations is time for constructive criticism. Children and I suggest how the presentations could be improved, as well as noting good points. Recently, for example, after a student gave an oral presentation on a frog project, some comments included:
"I loved the way you introduced your subject by dressing up as a frog and jumping out from behind a book stand."
"You prepared your subject well and got the audience involved."
"I liked the way you used palm cards to keep you on track."
"It was good the way you used the wooden stand to display your project so that we could all see it clearly."
"You had a clear voice."
"You had good eye contact so you weren't just looking at one or two people in the audience."
"You had an excellent conclusion."
On other occasions some typical comments have included:
"I enjoyed your 'How to.... ' presentation, but perhaps it could have been improved by making the steps clearer on your easel sheet."
"Perhaps you could have disguised your palm cards by putting them behind the book you were reviewing."
"I think you have improved a lot in your presentations. You are much better organised, but I think you need to project your voice more so people at the back of the group can hear clearly and not tune out."
Additionally, children are encouraged to prepare written 'back-up' information where appropriate. This is put in class display books to be revisited during silent reading periods. As we approach the end of the year, we now have several Morning Presentation Display Books in our classroom. These along with other class books are greatly valued and well used by the students. For my assessment purposes, I keep a simple written record of presentations so I can effectively track children's progress.
As I look back over this year, it is very gratifying to note the great improvement that has been made in the students' general oral language skills. Children who initially lacked confidence in expressing ideas to a class group now willingly and effectively contribute to class discussion.I have noted that some children in the written reflections on the year's learning journey have made very positive statements about their improvement in their oral language skills and how much they have enjoyed Morning Presentation Sessions in particular.