Gail Roberts, More Able and Talented (MAT) Coordinator at Challenge Award-accredited Llanfoist Fawr Primary School, was selected as the winner of our “challenge pledge” competition at the NACE Cymru Conference 2018 for her commitment to developing learners’ oracy skills. In this blog post, she outlines seven strategies to put her pledge into practice…
For me, oracy skills are among the most important skills for any learner, including the more able – enabling them to communicate effectively in any subject or situation. As schools in Wales undergo significant changes, there is widespread agreement that transferable communication skills are essential to support all areas of learning, as well as improving employability and wellbeing.

With this in mind, oracy skills will be an ongoing focus for my Year 5 class throughout the coming year. In the autumn term, we’ll focus on discussion, building on learners’ existing oracy skills and making use of self- and peer-evaluation. In the spring, we’ll use debating to encourage learners to listen, think on their feet, react and build upon ideas. And in the summer term learners will take on the challenge of giving formal presentations to large audiences; based around the topic of parliament, they’ll visit secondary schools, governors and other primary schools to deliver a formal presentation on “The people's voice”.

Here are seven strategies to develop oracy skills with your own class this year:

1. Learn from the experts

Use a range of media to exhibit higher-order oracy skills. While learners are viewing a roleplay of older pupils or a video showing oracy skills in a real-life setting, discuss the skills being used and why they are effective.

2. Start from a familiar topic 

Allow learners to choose a topic of conversation and give them time to think about key points. Once thoughts have been formulated, take their notes away. Give them time to discuss and practise sharing their ideas with peers. Starting from a topic with which learners are familiar will give them the confidence to develop skills which can then be transferred to a wide range of areas.

3. Practise a range of techniques 

Challenge learners to present ideas convincingly using a range of techniques for impact. For example: rhetorical questions, appeals to listeners, gestures responding to how listeners are reacting, adapting what they say and how they say it. Ask those listening to identify information and ideas which align with or contradict their own opinions.
Learners should be able to express their opinions confidently, reasoning and supporting their own and others’ ideas with relevant evidence. When working in a group, they should be able to recognise a range of options and reach agreement to achieve the overall aims of the group.

4. Use peer evaluation  

Peer evaluation is a fantastic tool if used effectively and modelled well. It can be used to increase learner engagement and understanding of learning criteria, and to develop evaluative and communication skills.
Set up one group of learners to complete a task such as a presentation, debate or focus group, and assign others as peer evaluators. After the activity is finished, the first group ask for feedback on their performance. I then encourage them to choose a few points from the peer feedback that they will include next time.

5. Celebrate successes

Once the skills have been taught, it is obviously imperative they are practised. Less obvious is the need for continual acknowledgement and congratulation. For example, throughout the day, ask learners to discuss ideas either formally or quickly informally. When good practice is spotted, it takes just seconds to point it out, but this will be remembered and used for life.

6. Extend…  

Extend learners’ understanding of the use of standard and non-standard English, enabling them to confidently use language appropriately and fluently in formal and informal situations. Teach language using a wide range of syntax structures and precise and effective vocabulary, including specialised terminology. Through practice, learners should be able to make significant, well-thought-out contributions, engage listener interest and sustain a convincing point of view, anticipating and responding to other perspectives.

7. …and empower

Providing opportunities for learners to use their oracy skills in “real” settings can have a huge impact. When setting up such experiences, think widely and aim high. As well as presenting to audiences of governors, parents and peers, challenge learners to join debating groups, present to politicians, universities, business boardrooms… Let them see how powerful their voices can be.
One class I was working with were following the programme for the Prince William Award. I asked about opportunities for the children to talk about the project and what it meant to them. They ended up presenting to a headteachers’ conference, secondary schools, governors and to celebrities in the Tower of London at a formal dinner in a room next to the crown jewels.
Set the bar high, but ensure the experience is a positive one. Balance risk-taking with consolidating and acknowledging the skills they have gained. After an event, evaluate and set targets for improvement. Encourage learners to take charge of their own learning and performance. Their reward will come from their own confirmatory perception of the outcome.
Gail Roberts is the MAT Coordinator, Maths Coordinator and Year 5 teacher at Llanfoist Fawr Primary School in Monmouthshire. She has worked in education since 1980, starting out as an NNEB with children with severe difficulties in basic life skills, and gaining her NPQH in 2007. Describing herself as a “quiet” child who left school “a long way off my potential”, she is passionate about supporting all learners to achieve at the highest levels of which they are capable. Llanfoist Fawr gained the NACE Challenge Award in 2017, in recognition of school-wide commitment to high-quality provision for MAT learners within a context of challenge for all.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018