Right Down the Middle
By Michael Jedrey | February 26, 2020
Returning to school after winter break is one of the best times of the year. The students are rested but not rusty, and so it is relatively easy for them to pick up where they left off, with a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm. This is particularly true for the 8th graders at RHCD. Early January marks not only the final semester of Middle School but also the beginning of their exposition presentations. It’s something they have been working toward since September and will probably become one of their most significant individual experiences during their time at RHCD.
The 8th Grade Exposition is a project, the culmination of which is a public presentation to our entire Middle School community. At the start of the year, each student chooses a topic of interest within a theme, conducts research, completes an off-campus interview, and builds an effective presentation that engages their audience. Through this process, the students learn and refine their research, design, and digital media skills. Plus, they discover the power of finding one’s voice. This last skill, finding one’s voice, is a critical and often transformational achievement for the students. It’s for this reason each 8th-grader gets to experience standing in front of a large group of students, faculty, and parents to be the center of attention most likely for the first time.
In the days leading up to their exposition, students will experience a full range of emotions. They will most likely feel anticipation, anxiety, a bit of fear, excitement, empowerment, relief, accomplishment — and finally, a sense of confidence and pride. Because they have been in the audience and watched previous 8th grade expositions while in our Middle School, each student knows full well how impressive these presentations can be. As we take time to reflect on the previous year’s presentations, we are able to focus on the skills needed to be an effective public speaker. Research suggests peer role modeling can increase motivation, excitement, and risk taking. For this reason, I ask my students to watch video clips of former 8th graders and examine how the students move while speaking, use props to highlight points being made, and convey their own interest or passion in their topic, all of which engaged them as an audience. Finally, students learn in the months, weeks, and final days leading up to their own exposition just how much work and practice goes into such a performance.
Thanks to practice and hard work, students are able to present their topics without notes to guide them. They speak with knowledge and confidence in front of a large group. They make eye contact with their audience and bring movement into their presentation, all of which are intentional and effective. These are the tools they carry with them as they head into the Upper School and beyond. Without question, students learn best through their experiences. As a seminal experience during their middle school years, the 8th Grade Exposition has had a lasting impact on our students since the beginning.
Developing public speaking skills does not require such a large forum though. Educators can plant these seeds within one’s classroom on a small scale by asking students to present to their classmates. Taking the time to dissect what makes an effective presentation, and giving the students the structure, time, and encouragement to practice, will go a long way to ensuring successful and lasting experiences.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Head of Middle School, Rocky Hill Country Day
Educator and Middle School science teacher with 30+ years experience in K12 education. Degrees from Amherst College (BA, Geology), and Tufts University (MAT, Education). Mike’s passion for science, and in particular the environment is reflected in his outdoor pursuits, including winter backpacking and bagging 4000’ summits in the White Mountains. Under Mike’s leadership, RHCD has developed many long-standing programs, such as Enviroweek and Expositions, as well as new initiatives like LEEP (Learn, Explore, Envision, Present).