The View from the Classroom: Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy

Our current partnership with Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy is supported by a two-year grant from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Through this OSSE SOAR Act grant, we are able to provide more in-depth professional development and classroom support to two of the DC public charter schools who are using our program this year. For more information on OSSE SOAR, click here.

While much importance is placed on teaching reading and writing, the value of strong presentations can sometimes be an afterthought. Core academic skills are clearly an integral part of education, but there is increasing evidence of the importance of “soft skills,” such as  effective communication. At the heart of the One World Program lies an emphasis on helping students develop a strong argument supported by research, while also equipping them to convey their argument in both written and oral formats. Over the last 10 years, we have continued to see the importance of incorporating presentation skills into classrooms. Last week, we had the opportunity to join a seventh-grade classroom at Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy (Bethune), where students were entering the presentation stage of our program.

Middle school students are at a unique place in their education journey, and this class was a perfect example of the juxtaposition of youthful energy with more mature inquiry and an urge to be heard as an individual. At Bethune, the One World Program is implemented in Latin class, where these seventh graders had spent weeks digging into the vocabulary behind developing an effective argumentative essay. Today, they were going to learn how to effectively communicate their hook, claim, and warrant in an oral presentation to their peers.


Using the peer feedback rubric, students gathered  into small groups to review the “Five Ps: Poise, Projection, Posture, Pace, and Presentation.” In a team-teaching activity, our Director of Teaching and Learning, Steph Bunton, instructed each group to come up with a “non-example” of their assigned “P”, followed by an example, which they then briefly demonstrated by role play. After the class worked through the Five Ps and gained a better understanding of how their peer presentations would be evaluated, each student then refined the core statement of their argument.

 

 

Students primarily focused on school and community issues, with topics such as uniforms, cell phone use in class, school day length, and the types of food on the lunch menu. The arguments presented were well-rounded, and students clearly showed that they had thought through why their position was important to them and identified supporting statements and evidence, plus understood the counterclaim to their argument. By developing unique perspectives on these issues, this class of seventh graders felt like their opinions mattered, with some even eager to practice presenting their arguments.

 

Finally, students had the chance to stand up in front of their small group and deliver their first round of presentations, while being rated by their peers on the items in the rubric and receiving feedback on how they could improve. Their classmates offered positive reinforcement and constructive criticism, particularly encouraging the presenters to project, watch their pace, and be confident in their presentations.