This lesson is last in a series of lessons on literary explication and public speaking. Students wrote speeches on friendship vs. love and the importance of each in the plot of "The Knight's Tale". In this specific lesson students give their speeches and I give them direct feedback on their technique and the content of their speeches.
It's clear from the moment students walk in the room that the last place they want to be is English, and the last thing they want to do is give a speech. Only five kids appear ready, and the rest slouch in their desks hoping to disappear.
I was gone the day before at a Youth Leadership Conference, and left instructions for the sub, a retired English teacher, that students needed to practice their speeches, paying particular attention to timing. It's clear by the looks on their faces that most students didn't do that.
One student has walked in the door early to let me know that her speech times out at 14 minutes, and she's having a hard time cutting it down. Another students lets me know he left his note cards at home, but he wants to "wing it" (I tell him no).
But this is senior English and classroom consequences are a little more like the real world. Were I assigned to speak at a meeting or a conference, I would have to be prepared or suffer 3 1/2 minutes of awkward and humiliated speaking. I wonder why they are so unprepared after two days last week of productive writing, several reminders to practice at home with a timer, and an extra day of writing while I was gone.
I suppose I could make several excuses, this is a pretty introverted class; a winning football season provides for many distractions; intense bullying during volleyball practice. Seniors however should be able to balance sports and school work with sleep and social life, and some of them do well. Like the five calmest kids sitting in my class right now.
I stand up in front of the class and quickly run through the rubric that was attached to their assignment.
Then I grab my clip board and move to the back of the class.
One of the students already made prior arrangements with me to go first. She is a good student in the sense that she studies, prepares, makes the most of her time and ability. However, she also has trouble speaking and still sees the school speech therapist. We've discussed her fear of speaking in public, how she can pick one or two trusted friends and look at them throughout the speech; that she use repetition to work toward her advantage, helping her memorize her ideas, and use enumeration to stay organized. All in all she is probably the most prepared student, and she delivers a speech about the values of friendship over love. "The difference between love and friendship is that friendship can help people with things they can't handle on their own. Love can make people make stupid and risky decision." She uses references to Palamon and Arcite and basically comes to the conclusion that love ruined a perfectly good friendship.
The next student is involved in FFA which includes a public speaking component. He is obviously at ease and obviously completely unprepared. His posture and tone are relaxed and friendly, perfect for the type of speech he is giving, but he says very little of substance, and his speech is done in less than three minutes.
The next student is better prepared, makes some good connections and delivers a satisfactory speech. The student after her does the same, and then the student with a 14 minute speech stands up. Using her extensive notes she delivers a thought-provoking and well-researched speech about the similarities of love and friendship, and the importance of friendship in love. Her speech comes in at just over five minutes, and particularly encapsulates the ideas I was hoping the kids would explore in this assignment.
That friendship isn't better than love, or vice versa, but that the "bros before hos" mentality reflects the same kind of imbalance in relationships that Palamon and Arcite's fighting reflects.
With close to twenty minutes of class time left. I exhort the students to practice, practice and be prepared for tomorrow, and then I add bonus points on to the speeches of the students who were prepared.
The twelve remaining students file into the classroom to give their speeches. They look pretty calm, and I realize that the discussion we had the day before about why students should practice public speaking and the extra time seems to have had the appropriate effect.
Except no one wants to go first. I wait. And wait. One or two of the students goad the other students into going. Thirty seconds have gone by, but it feels like five minutes. Finally a student gets up to give his speech.
Student One Student One has obviously not practiced, despite my repeated inquiries as to how the speech was going. He's nervous, possibly because he was being filmed, but most likely because he's so unprepared. I realize that all the preps I spend working with youth-leadership making anti-bullying videos might have been put to better use working individually with students listening to their speeches, and coaching them.
The next three or four go much better, but those students had not agreed to be filmed.
Student Two Student Two put a lot of time and effort into her speech, coming in after school and during other classes to discuss the structure and organization with me, and flow of ideas. One on one, she seemed completely at ease, so I didn't necessarily think I needed to coach her on eye contact, poise and not reading directly off her paper. Her ideas are well-organized and interesting, and she draws on Chaucer's themes.
One of the last students to give a speech is a shy kid who isn't very involved in school at all. I've seen his notes and he has a fair speech. However, when he stands up in front of the class, the notes go out the window. The speech turns into a personal acknowledgement of the power of friendship and the lack of respect he sees between couples in school. He speaks honestly, and from the heart, and incorporates references to "The Knight's Tale" with precision. I think we all sat there a little stunned and slightly uncomfortable in a way that makes you want to run down every bully in the school and make them listen to what this student has to say.
When he finishes the kids applaud him and he sits back down in his chair a little stunned by what he has just said. I'm not sure how to grade him however, he went two minutes over time and I can't exactly say he is prepared because the speech he gave doesn't match his notes.
I realize that this student has accomplished what was hoping all of the students would accomplish with this assignment. That is, in the process of thinking about Palamon and Arcite, and thinking about what they lost and what they gained he came to a strong conclusion about friendship and then, from somewhere he found the courage to say exactly what he was thinking, but didn't want to put in his notes.
The final student to give his speech is a student who has been hostile toward school for as long as I've been teaching at Simms. He finds most assignments to be time wasters that aren't going to help him in the working world. He struggles to speak more than three sentences with out including an expletive of some sort. His sophomore year I repeatedly wrote him up for swearing in class, to no avail, and this year I've chosen to ignore his language rather than fight with him about it. In particular he finds English to be especially "boring" as he already speaks English. However, this year he has started to make some effort to at least understand why he has the assignment and readings.
The notes that he showed me before class were essentially highlighted materials from Ask.com under the heading "What is a good friend?" "Ms. Chiller, this is all I have," he whispers to me. Effort. I remind myself.He's made some effort and hasn't berated in me in class for giving him such a stupid assignment. In fact, he looks a little embarrassed, and prepared for the worst. "C---", I say, "this time it's fine."
His speech is one of the most expletive riddled, but thought-provoking speech I've heard. Without looking at the Ask.com printout, he enumerates what he thinks are the qualities of a good friendship and why a good friendship will last far longer than any relationship. And then he proceeds to explain why Palamon and Arcite were "stupid for letting (sex) come between them." His posture is comfortable, shoulders back eyes on the audience. He stumbles several times, but overall comes to the conclusion that friendship is far more valuable than love.
"C---", I say when the speech is over, "that is the most h--- and s--- riddled speech I've heard in a high school classroom, but you made your point."
He looks at me a little stunned. "I know," he says, "it just comes out of me when I have something really important that I want to say."
To be revised.....