Evaluating Speaking in the Classroom

posted Sep 25, 2012, 9:55 PM by Erin McClellan   [ updated Sep 25, 2012, 9:56 PM ]
Oral competency is something worth striving for - but since a good rhetor must practice his/her craft over a lifetime, is it even feasible to provide useful feedback for our students when we ourselves are a proverbial "work in progress"? I hope that the following may provide some pause for reflection about how I think through this consistent challenge and that the "outside" perspective of the National Communication Association (NCA) on the subject can provide a resources in the Competent Speaker Assessment Form (link below) as well.

My (in-motion) thoughts about evaluating speaking in the classroom:

1) Discuss with students the criteria by which they think they should be evaluated. This conversation (often resulting in a brainstorming "list") can be translated into larger categories of assessment that can be "umbrellas" for the specific parts of the list they themselves created.

2) Discuss oral competency in the beginning of class as a balance between art and skill - i.e., the ability to adapt to a particular set of audience expectations in a particular situation is not something that can be mimicked or memorized in the form of a "step-by-step" list of rules. This allows for discussion throughout the class about personal goals for improvement on both "sides" of the competency in direct relation to the evaluative rubric you've created together.

3) Provide low stakes, light-hearted, hypothetical, creatively-inspired opportunities for students to "imagine" how to demonstrate "strong" oral competency. Some of the best learning moments I've witnessed have been amidst the rolling laughter of the audience after a group presentation about a topic seemingly ridiculous but logically organized according to the requirements of the outline template I've provided. We "catch" the persuasive statement that slips out in an informative speech practice. Or we reflect on the possible offensiveness of an innocently made comment or depiction of "others" in the way we spoke that could mask our message completely. We also get to ask "what would you do differently next time?" Students are often harder on themselves but such reflection is apart from point values and, if taken seriously, can provide opportunities to think through "impulses" and their consequences in much better ways than a formal evaluation of a major assignment.

4) Provide more than one major speaking assignment that allows students to apply what they learn in the first assignments to later assignments. Repeated opportunities can build one's confidence and reveal patterns in need of improvement (I think the same of my teaching!). Thinking through my feedback in the same terms has proven to be useful to students looking to learn. Students who see the class as the process of "learning, doing, applying feedback, repeat" provides an opportunity to provide feedback that seeks balance in tying specific instance(s) of illustration in the speaking assignment to larger categories of evaluation present in the rubric. Such connections also provide useful beginnings of one-on-one conversations about oral competency that will inevitably emerge from such feedback.

5) Be prepared to illustrate your evaluative rubric everyday - i.e., I, too, continuously work to appropriately adapt to my audience (my students)...to persuade them that oral competency is both important and worthy of working towards. This doesn't mean that I am perfect - nor that perfection is ever even possible. This also doesn't mean that I will successfully persuade every one of my students every single time. But it does mean that I thoughtfully attempt to both explain and show my students that speaking articulately in ways that resonate with their own understandings, experiences, and goals of learning is important.

If you're looking for a general form that you could use to adapt to your specific needs, the following form (and lengthy explanation!) from NCA may be of use...be sure to note the actual form resides on pages 10 and 11. A lengthy explanation of competency accompanies it along with a larger history of the form's creation. Feel free to peruse the rest of the document as you see fit:


I would *love* to hear your thoughts, experiences, and additions (or corrections!) to my above "ever-changing" thoughts about evaluating speaking in the classroom, so please post replies when you can!