Presentation skills

I think we can all pretty much agree that most students dread the idea of presenting in front of the class.  Many of us dread this part of the curriculum.  We dislike seeing our students so stressed out, and so often we dislike listening to student presentations because so often they are so bad.  Nevertheless, speaking and listening is a piece of the common core state standards.  As a public speaking teacher, I have some expertise in this area, so I thought I’d offer some quick tips to make public speaking less painful for you and your students.

1. Make sure students know everyone in the room.  This is not something that can happen over night; you’ve got to work up to it, but trust me.  The more comfortable students feel with one another, the more comfortable they will feel presenting in front of the class.  This is one of the cornerstones of all my class and especially my public speaking classes.  A simple strategy is to include icebreakers at the start of the year or, if you aren’t willing to sacrifice some curricular time, increase group work but change up group members often and make them introduce themselves to each other.  Then I make them go one step further and introduce each other to the class.  It’s an easy way to make kids feel more comfortable with each other without being too stressful.

2.  Work up to big presentations.  If the only time students are asked to present in front of your class is a major assignment, of course they are going to freak out.  Build up to it–even if it is just asking them to stand in front of the class or 1 minute for something.

3.  Teach them how to use visual aids.  There is nothing worse than a presenter who simply reads PowerPoint slides to the audience, but, in my experience, students don’t know how to use PowerPoint effectively.

4.  Offer meaningful feedback.  I know that is easier said than done, but I’ve seen so many students give terrible presentations and get wonderful grades with very little descriptive feedback or only positive feedback.  We don’t do our students any favors when we  do this.  Let’s be honest in our feedback just as we would with any other type of assessment.

5.  Talk to students about stage fright and anxiety.  Think of it as energy that they can use.  This is one of my favorite Ted talks to show about speaking:

6.  Educate yourself about teaching this.  A simple google search yields tons of good information.  Let’s stop trying to wing it.


5 PD books that changed my teaching

Every teacher has had to read books about teaching (in college or otherwise) and every teacher has been forced to attend PD workshops, but often times teachers walk away from these with little in terms of new and lasting ideas.  On that note, I decided to reflect on the PD books that changed the way I teach.

1. Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

This is one of the first books I was assigned to read for my undergrad, and it transformed the way I thought about teaching.  To be totally honest, until I read this, I had never thought that good teaching required such intentional lesson planning.  Now backwards design is second nature to me, and I couldn’t imagine approaching lesson planning in any other fashion.

2. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

I discovered Kelly Gallagher a few years back when I read this book.  As an English teacher I often struggle with how to teach kids reading and great literature while trying to instill a love of reading.  While it’s certainly an uphill battle, this book confirmed many of my thoughts and gave me many great new ideas for my classroom.  This is a wonderful book that presents theories and ideas clearly while offering practical and meaningful advice as well.  I have since read other material by Kelly Gallagher and all his work so far has been helpful, but this is the first I read.

3.   Fair isn’t always Equal by Rick Wormeli

When I first saw Rick Wormeli present a few years back I was only familiar with a few of his articles.  Seeing him present and reading this book transformed my views on grading considerably.  While I had always been a bit uncomfortable with the traditional grading system (especially in a differentiated classroom), I never knew what to do about it.  This book gave me practical tips and the courage to start making changes.

4. What Great Principals do Differently by Todd Whitaker

This is one that I happened to pick up while completing my masters in Administration.  It is a quick and insightful read about effective leadership.  What’s really great about the book is that Todd Whitaker has another book titled What Great Teachers Do Differently which includes many overlaps.  Great principals build relationships; great teachers do the same thing.

5.  School Culture Rewired by Todd Whitaker and Steve Gruenert

Another great one from Todd Whitaker–this time with Steve Gruenert.  This is a practical guide to what makes up a school’s culture and how to go about transforming it.  Since reading this a few months back, I find myself constantly referring back to it as I examine my own school’s and my own class’s culture.


As a young child, we were all taught to say thank you, and we expect our students to do the same.  It’s basic human nature to feel good about yourself when people thank you for doing something.  That common courtesy is something we pretty much all wish to instill in our students, but how often do we say it to them?  I’m serious–how often do you thank your students?

I don’t mean this in an insulting way, but I have watched many teachers do their thing and never say thank you when students work hard.  It seems to me that students will be more willing to work with teachers when they feel their efforts are appreciated.  A simple thank you can do just that.

As I type this, I have 7 kids in summer school sitting before me and all of them are typing away powering through my assignments.  None of these students is the stereotypical “good student;”  every single one of them admits to not completing their assignments, and yet here they all are typing away.  Almost all of these students have discipline records and have been known to cause problems for their teachers, and yet they are all typing away.  Obviously why they are willing to work here is a multifaceted question, but I’d posit that at least a piece of it is because I continually thank them for their effort.  Every day I thank them for coming in early; I thank them for completing their assignments; I thank them for revising when I ask them to; I thank them for staying focused throughout the 2 hour session.  I general, I thank each kid individually as well as the class as a whole.  I honestly believe this makes a difference.

Last week I wrote that how you phrase things makes more of a difference than what you say.  Today, I say that what you say matters when it comes to saying thank you.

So thank you, readers, for taking the time to read my musings.

PLCs with a purpose

I don’t know many schools that haven’t implemented PLCs.  In theory they seem like such a great idea–teachers collaborating to improve student achievement.  What is not to like?  Unfortunately, I don’t know many people from elementary teachers to high school teachers who actually like PLC time.  In my department, we moan and groan about them: “Another PLC?!!?”  Why is it that something that seems so amazing just isn’t working?

I would argue that, at least in part, PLCs aren’t as effective as they could be because their purpose isn’t clearly defined.  We are assigned PLC groups and then refer to ourselves as the “grade 11 PLC” or the “Biology PLC” or something similar.  What is the driving purpose of the grade 11 PLC?  For the PLC to be effective, for teachers to want to band together after school, we must have an actual purpose.  To discuss grade 11 issues is not a purpose, so what we end up doing is sitting around saying “what do we do?” until the time is up or a task is assigned to us.  That is not meaningful time.

PLCs could be used extremely effectively, if we determine our true purpose early on and all our work connects to that purpose.  If we define our PLCs as necessary means to further engage students, we can then use our time to do that better.  The key though is that the members of the PLC must all come together on that purpose and have ownership of the time.

An inspiring leader can help lead us this way; an inspiring leader can constantly remind us what our true purpose is.  Otherwise the purpose of the PLC becomes to complete work assigned to us.  How is that meaningful?