Tag Archives: career education

How well do your students communicate?

A recent survey found that communication skills are both the most sought after skills in new hires as well as the hardest to find. Of course, for some, this points to the importance of the liberal arts education over fields like business and finance. Still, for K-12 educators, the lesson learned here is that we have to find ways to facilitate better communication skills in our students, no matter the discipline.

Effective communicators get jobs. Period. The same skills also allow students to thrive in their lives after high school, particularly in higher education and not just in the workforce. Remember all those papers and presentations you had to complete while in college? A lot can be said for developing effective communication skills in regards to future success.

Now the trick is to identify when or where these skills can be developed. If one teaches reading and writing, communication skills are a natural fit, but other disciplines can be challenging to communicate. Consider the following times when communication can be developed:

  • Use cooperative learning strategies to engage all students in classroom discussion. Such strategies as Think-Pair-Share, Three-Step Interview, or Numbered Heads Together all work well for encouraging discussion. [Link]
  • Journals and blogs that collect student thinking before, during, and after projects not only help them put their ideas into writing, but peer and teacher comments along with revisiting said writing can promote crafting one’s ideas into coherent ideas.
  • Many teachers point to the importance of vocabulary in every subject area. However, we miss an opportunity to use a constructivist approach in teaching word meanings. Why not allow students to identify and define phenomena for themselves? Then teachers can simply give them the formal terminology to pair with their created meanings.
  • Reflection in the form of exit tickets allows students to not only compartmentalize all the new knowledge they’ve encountered, but it also allows the teacher to conduct some formative assessment.
  • Peer feedback can be a powerful communication practice. Students can often speak more eloquently about a peer’s work than they can their own. The resulting discussion can help both those providing feedback as well as those receiving it with developing how they talk about learning. Some helpful strategies can be found here.
  • Provide question stems to spur classroom discussion. Sometimes, students don’t ask good questions of each other because they just don’t know how to begin or what they do know is very limited. Why not provide them with some question stems to get them started? Start with this helpful list of stems organized in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Still, even with these practices in place, it is important to remember that students need to be taught how to communicate. The above ideas only provide opportunities for practice and development. They only work if students know the best ways to communicate, avoiding bad habits along the way. A few ways in which we can teach students to better communicate follow:

  • Model not only how you would communicate your ideas but include your thinking. Sharing our metacognition with students helps to show them how and why we think the way we do.
  • Practice communicating their thoughts and ideas with them. Maybe start with rewording or inserting vocabulary into their explanations. Then move on to having them restate or even repeat ideas in a clearer format.
  • Tons of feedback should be given. Feedback is as simple as praising a student for expressing an idea clearly to suggesting how their message might be interpreted by others. When there isn’t time to respond to every idea communicated by your students, be sure to build in lots of peer feedback opportunities.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Have students explain everything either verbally or in written form. If this means they do half as many math problems, that’s okay. The benefits of reflecting and explaining their thinking at every step of the way helps make their work time more effective and focused on learning instead of memorizing.

If there’s one thing I can say for teachers, it’s that they are master communicators. They find all sorts of ways to deliver content to their students to help them understand and grow. The challenge now is to pass those gifts on to our students so that they can succeed when we’re not there to help them.

How important is communication in your classroom? What other ways can you help students develop communication skills? Which software features and online apps best help develop communication skills in students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Is it About Presenting or the PowerPoint?

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Having students create presentations is a very popular learning activity in many classrooms especially classrooms loaded with technology like eMINTS classes. Teachers love to have students create presentations to demonstrate what they have learned about a topic. Students are often times responsible for teaching others about what they have learned. Asking learners to do this encourages them to take responsibility and internalize content while building the necessary life skill of presenting to an audience.

But here is what is often heard when teachers are giving the assignment….PowerPoint PowerPoint PowerPoint…Is making a presentation all about PowerPoint?

There are many ways that students can show what they have learned. While PowerPoint is a great presentation tool it isn’t the only one out there and it isn’t always the most appropriate tool for everyone and every project. Assigning an entire class to use PowerPoint can make the activity easier to manage and requires a teacher to know how to use only one tool. But giving students an option in what presentation tool has its benefits. Students sometimes get more engaged in a project when they have a say in how it will be completed. Giving students choice can also begin to teach them about the benefits of using one tool over another and how the features of one might be able to help them convey their message in a more effective and meaningful way.

The biggest issue I hear from teachers is they think they need to create a different rubric for each option they give students. My suggestion…How about creating one “Presentation” rubric that could be used for all the different types of presentations in many different units. By including things teachers value like quality and quantity of information, creativity and originality of the media, and presentation skills such as clarity, focus, and eye contact, teachers will ensure that students walk away with the necessary understandings and skills they need in the future. Also creating one rubric for all presentations can save teachers precious time in the future.

Another road block many teachers run in to is the feeling that they have know how to use every tool for each option they give students. While having a good understanding of the basics of how a presentation tool works is beneficial, giving students tutorials for tools a teacher is less familiar with is another option. Another option might be to develop student experts that learn about different tools and be a resource for those using that tool.

Be aware, just like with PowerPoint, students can waste time “exploring” all of the bells and whistles and might need to be reminded that content comes first then customizing. They can easily be reminded of this by using a checklist or rubric to keep them on track.

A few alternate presentation tools you may want to offer students in addition to PowerPoint in your next project could include:

  • SMART Notebook
  • Movie Maker/iMovie
  • Prezi – “The zooming editor” create a presentation on a flat canvas and customize it with panning and zooming, imported media, the ability to collaborate and so much more.
  • Google Presentation Tool – now with drawing tools, animations, and the ability to collaborate
  • Zoho Show – Create, Edit and Share Your Presentations Online
  • Empressr – Media presentation tool. “Tell your story anyway you like. Add photos, music, video, and audio, and share it publicly or privately in an instant.”
  • GlogsterEDU – “Make your interactive poster easily and share it with friends. Mix Images, Text, Music and Video.”
  • TimeToast – An interactive visual timeline builder. “Timetoast is a place to create timelines that you can add to your blog or website.”
  • Animoto – “Turn your photos, video clips, and music into stunning video masterpieces to share with everyone. Fast, free, and shockingly easy!”
  • Extranormal – “Telling your story is easy… Choose from hundreds of actors. Type or record your dialogue. Select your background.” It’s that easy to get started.
  • Go!Animate – “Make a video online for free with GoAnimate!”

What might be some presentation tools you and your students like to use when creating presentations?

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read this and more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.