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Fear and Loathing of Standing Up in Front of the Class

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The honored tradition of the oral report is the leading cause of stress among secondary-school students--so much so that many would prefer to take a failing grade, suggests a study by an Ohio State University researcher.

The major reason, says Susan Sears, assistant professor of human resources education at the university, is that students worry about pleasing both the teacher and their classmates when giving oral presentations. "What may make a good impression on the teacher may not impress their peers," Ms. Sears explains. "The other kids may say the student is 'apple-polishing."'

Using questionnaires and interviews, Ms. Sears surveyed about 4,000 junior-high and high-school students in Ohio to find out major causes of stress at school.

Oral presentations were ranked first by both age groups; other factors receiving high rankings included the desire to get good grades, taking tests, being humiliated publicly by teachers, and trying to complete projects under deadline pressure.

Pressure to be sexually active, while not listed on the questionnaire, was also cited by many students as a source of stress.

Ms. Sears suggests several strategies to ease the stress associated with public speaking. Including more students in class discussions, teaching deep-breathing techniques for relaxation, and scheduling presentations in small groups rather than before the entire class would help, she believes.

"Educators need to do all that they can to not create situations that add undue stress to the stress students already face," she says. "Moderate stress adds to motivation, but many kids can't handle all the stress they're under today."

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