Classrooms in the U.S. often focus most attention on literacy and math, largely because those skills are considered foundational and are tested. However most people will also need to communicate their thoughts and ideas to other people through oral language, and yet effective communication strategies are often not taught with the same precision and structure as other parts of the curriculum.
School 21, a public school in London has made “oracy” a primary focus of everything they do. From the earliest grades on up teachers support students to find their voice, express differing opinions politely, and challenge one another’s thinking. These are skills called for in the Common Core, but can be hard to find in many classrooms because students haven’t been taught how to make “turn and talks” truly effective.
The Edutopia team visited School 21 and captured some amazing videos of students practicing their communication skills with support from teachers.
Another key element of the School 21 program is “well-being,” a social emotional learning curriculum that is once again embedded throughout students’ experience of school. In the following video, the communication skills teachers have helped foster become supremely important as even young students grapple with difficult topics like race, difference, diversity and kindness.
Because oral communication is a core tenet of School 21, students continue to build on their skills throughout school until arguing an opinion and defending with research are almost second nature to them. The school also tries to help students see the progress they’ve made by offering culminating moments when they can show off their public speaking skills in front of real audiences.
Speaking is a part of almost every classroom, but it can be easy to assume that students already know how to do things like challenge an idea or back up an argument with evidence. In reality, those oral communication skills must be explicitly taught like other core skills in school. And a well-spoken, confident young person will have occasion to use those communication skills throughout his or her life. Peter Hyman, School 21 cofounder and executive head teacher, says, “We need to elevate speaking to the same level as reading and writing.”