Anna England-KerrSenior Discover Your Voice Officer

Sustainable oracy through our Discover Debating CPD sessions

Friday 03 Nov 2017

Teacher training is at the heart of the English-Speaking Union’s Discover Debating programme – we find out how the first session of the autumn term went

I’m standing at the front of a classroom in Sheffield looking out at a roomful of teachers and I couldn’t be more excited. These are the people who’ll be responsible for educating the next generation of debaters. And the one after that, and the one after that…

When we announced funding for over 100 sustainable debating programmes in primary schools across England and Wales last year, we knew that a key part of our success would be our teachers training sessions. On signing up to the Discover Debating programme, every primary school receives a year-long lesson plan resource pack, a method through which they can track the progress of pupils and, the support of our fantastic mentors like Catrin.

However, without equipping teachers with the tools necessary to anchor the oracy skills in their classrooms and debate clubs, we could never achieve the same degree of impact.

Which brings us back to the classroom in Sheffield. Today, we’re kicking off the Discover Debating programme here, with a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshop. Two or three teachers from 10 schools across the region have joined us, and we begin by discussing the state of oracy in their classrooms. Some teachers explain how they are struggling to find the time to implement their ideas or that they’re still figuring out what works best with their pupils, whilst some are already committed advocates of improving speaking skills.

This workshop provides an opportunity for teachers to share good ideas and best practice. We talk through the theories that underpin all of the English-Speaking Union’s teaching programmes, and explain methods through which more complex oracy activities like debating, can be broken down into smaller, manageable games.

Next on the agenda for the session are a few quick debates to demonstrate how well some of the formats work for whole classroom discussions too; also providing the chance to attempt to settle the reoccurring debate of whether teachers should wear school uniform!

It’s always great to see that adults can get as passionate about the age-old false dichotomy between cats and dogs as they can about the idea of linking their pay to the performance of their students!

Once the passions have returned to calmer levels, we take a look through the resource pack that every school is sent, containing a whole year of lesson plans, games, vocabulary prompts and speech scaffolds. For the first term, the ESU mentor will be leading the lessons, but afterwards it’ll be up to the teachers in this room to keep the lessons going and on track.

At the end of the workshop I pack up, and as a result of being the last to leave, I get trapped in the playground since the main school building has now been locked up. When I’m finally rescued by a sympathetic teacher, I filter sheepishly through the school’s reception only to hear the echoes of a speech in ‘Ooga Booga’ (one of our public speaking games). It’s clearly made an impression!

Over the next two years, we will be running lots more of these workshops, giving as many teachers as possible a firm grounding in oracy education as well as quick and easy, but more importantly – sustainable, teaching methods.

If you’d like to be part of developing the next generation of confident communicators and critical thinkers, there’s still time to sign up your primary school for the 2-term programme this academic year. Find out more here.