Student Standards for Speaking, Listening Issued

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At the ripe age of 8, Sean Long is an impressive public speaker.

The red-haired 2nd grader from Arlington, Va., held forth here last week in a short show-and-tell about an object he likes: his globe. As part of a demonstration on speaking skills, Sean was asked to give two reasons why he enjoys the globe. Sean said he tracks his parents' travels and "can see where other countries are."

Sean's answers were clear and concise, and he delivered them without apparent stage fright at a news conference here in a room full of adults--though he later admitted to being a tad nervous.

The Annandale, Va.-based Speech Communication Association wants more students like Sean. To that end, the international group of scholars and teachers last week unveiled national voluntary standards for what K-12 students should know and be able to do in speaking, listening, and media literacy.

"The classroom is primarily an oral environment," James Gaudino, the group's executive director, said in describing the need for such standards. Speaking and listening effectively is essential to personal, professional, and school success, he said, yet the subject is underrepresented in the K-12 curriculum.

"It is a mistake to assume," the standards document says, "that because students can talk and hear when they enter school, they require no systematic instruction in understanding and using communication skills."

Though reading and writing are the forms of communication that educators most often insist students master, "we believe the other forms are at least as important," Mr. Gaudino said.

According to the standards, effective speakers should be able to communicate to a variety of audiences, use different strategies for formal and informal settings, and overcome any anxiety or apprehension about communicating.

To be effective listeners, the standards say, students must be able to show that they know how to identify and manage barriers to listening. Students also must know how to receive, interpret, and respond to messages.

And, Mr. Gaudino said, students must be critical consumers, as well as adept participants in electronic audio and visual media. That means knowing the difference between a television commercial and a news program and successfully negotiating the Internet.

Across the Curriculum

Unlike other sets of model academic standards issued by groups representing the various academic disciplines, the speech guidelines are meant to apply across the curriculum. The standards aim to influence mathematics and science instruction as well as debate and journalism courses.

The list of 23 standards, which runs barely two pages, intentionally is brief and general, SCA officials said. About 175 experts in the field crafted the guidelines so that they could be applied, in developmentally appropriate ways, to all grade levels.

The 7,100-member SCA plans to follow the standards document with two related reports. One, due out within a year, will cover specific learning objectives and grade-appropriate activities to aid educators in designing curricula and in teaching toward the standards. The other document will present means for evaluating and testing student progress.

Officials from the speech group said requests from educators prompted them to release the standards now. States are scrambling to assemble academic standards in order to apply by the end of year for federal funding designed to help them in the effort.

The association underwrote the cost of developing the standards and distributing them. A Topeka, Kan.-based publisher of language arts books, Clark Publishing Inc., paid to have the eight-page standards document printed.

View of Standard English

Association officials said their standards are set apart from previously released language standards because they focus on the spoken word, rather than the printed word.

In March, the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English released the English-language-arts standards, which include communications skills. (See Education Week, March 20, 1996.)

The standards for English language arts also specifically said students need to know standard English. But speech-communication group officials said they decided not to endorse standard English over other forms of English or other languages.

If a student's purpose in speaking or the engagement of the audience was enhanced by the use of the phrase "ain't no good," for example, "we would not say you spoke incorrectly," Mr. Gaudino said.

The Parts of Speech

Among the speaking, listening, and media-literacy standards are the following:

Effective communicators can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of: The role of personal knowledge and the knowledge of others in the nature and quality of communication.

Effective communicators can demonstrate the ability to: Identify and use communication strategies to enhance relationships and resolve conflicts.

The effective speaker can demonstrate: The ability to use language that clarifies, persuades, and/or inspires while respecting the listeners' backgrounds, including their culture, gender, and individual differences.

Free copies of the standards are available from the Speech Communication Association, 5105 Backlick Road, Building E, Annandale, Va. 22003; (703) 750-0533; fax: (703) 914-9471; e-mail: [email protected].

Vol. 15, Issue 38

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