Melanie AplinHead of International Programmes and Cultural Exchange

ESU EVENT: International Oracy Symposium

Wednesday 07 Jun 2017

Sharing best practice from oracy agendas around the world

From formal external teacher training, to everyday colleague-to-colleague based interactions, it is widely acknowledged that the sharing of best practice between teaching professionals is one of the most effective forms of continued professional development.

Based on these learnings, on Friday 30th June, the ESU hosted its first international oracy symposium. We brought together teachers and educators primarily from the UK and US, but also welcomed a handful of attendees from elsewhere, including India, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. The afternoon featured facilitated discussions from: Harriet Goodman (SAPERE), who spoke about Philosophy for Children (P4C); Andrew Fitch (Highbury Grove School), who discussed strategies for whole school oracy development; Leela Koenig (ESU), who considered how and why one might want to debate difficult topics in the classroom; and Ameena Khan-Sullivan (ESU Mentor), who offered practical solutions to integrate oracy in varying subjects across the curriculum.

The purpose of the day was to gather practical solutions which teachers could take back to their own classrooms, putting oracy centre-stage, in order to create a fuller and more rounded curriculum for their students.

What were the key learnings?

One of the key messages of the day tackled the common misconception that oracy skills are only relevant to English and Drama lessons, or perhaps to the humanities more widely.

The tools of public speaking and debate, which so ably promote the development of oracy skills more broadly, are already used to a certain extent in subjects where presentations are commonplace or where there are topical issues to be discussed. Yet subjects such as Maths and the Sciences still rely heavily on written formulas or methodologies.

Techniques to counteract this include taking topics which require a certain level of scientific understanding, such as climate change, and facilitating a class debate around this theme. Or asking students to discuss their methodology for solving a particular algebraic equation in small groups, before sharing this with the rest of the class. This way, students are encouraged to use and must also understand, the scientific language when discussing the topic. They have the opportunity to present something in their own way and a way which they and their peers are likely to find most comprehensible, as opposed to just regurgitating words and phrases that they have learnt but may not fully understand.

In order to implement these techniques across the school and curriculum it is imperative that individual teachers feel fully equipped to do so. In a system where teachers are under such pressure to get their students to the required standard suitable for national examinations (which, coincidentally, focus almost entirely on written assessment), it is important to recognise how integrating oracy into lessons can in fact complement, as opposed to detract from, the skills required to succeed in today’s school system.

An international outlook

Different countries and different cultures all have different ideas of what constitutes a ‘good’ education and each, in turn, will have a different system to which its teachers and educators must adhere. But one thing was clear, at least from the nationalities represented at this symposium – education systems still put an inordinate emphasis on literacy, and use the development of reading and writing skills as the major tool for cognitive development. Yet teachers and educationalists know that when a student leaves school they will have to attend job interviews,  speak to large groups of people, or simply ask for directions in an unfamiliar city. And succeeding in these every day events relies on a person’s oracy skills.

Regardless of country or culture, the techniques and topics discussed at this symposium can be applied in classrooms around the world to ensure that we fully prepare young people for the world that awaits them after school.

To find out more about Continuing Professional Development opportunities for teachers with the ESU, read about our scholarship:

More reading on oracy in education: