When Rumson Country Day School fourth grader Grant Chin won a race at the Orange Bowl Youth International Regatta in South Florida this year, he wasn’t hesitant to be interviewed on camera by the press box. When asked where his stage presence came from, he simply replied, “I used my Book Talk points.”
The Book Talk is a process that Grant’s teacher Sarah Ahmadi created to make the classic book report more meaningful and interactive. Rather than simply logging reading hours, fourth graders in Ms. Ahmadi’s class are tasked with analyzing, writing, and presenting Book Talks in front of their peers. The assignment encompasses more than just reading comprehension. Students focus on public speaking skills – stand up straight, remember to make eye contact, be aware of your volume, expressions, pace, gestures, and tone of voice. These are the guidelines that Grant says he kept in mind during his interview.
“I know that I mostly have trouble with eye contact,” Grant explained. “So I really wanted to look at the camera. I tried to use volume in my voice, but I didn’t really have to try too hard just because I’ve done this before. I was already pretty comfortable speaking.”
Grant and his classmates have completed three Book Talks so far and Ms. Ahmadi hopes they will add two more to their toolbox by the end of the school year. The Book Talk starts as a simple assignment in the fall and becomes more challenging and independent as the year progresses.
“The students have different strengths and weaknesses, but every student is challenged and nurtured throughout the process,” said Ms. Ahmadi. “Children who are confident in front of an audience may need to hone their writing skills and those who may be timid on stage have a safe space to practice presentation. The students are so supportive of one another and because the experience is recurring, the consistent practice builds confidence. It also stimulates peer discussions and entices students to explore new genres of reading.”
A strong emphasis on life skills like public speaking is an important part of the RCDS mission and curriculum. The ability to articulate a message confidently in front of an audience is something students begin practicing at an early age. In addition to performance opportunities in the classroom, all Lower School classes – Beginners (Kindergarten) through grade four – produce a class play. As children move on to Upper School, co-curricular programs such as Model U.N., Debate, and Drama reinforce the fundamentals of public speaking and give students the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities under pressure. RCDS graduates are regularly recognized for their poise and powerful public speaking when they move on to secondary school and beyond.
Grant recognizes the value in practice. “Just doing it more and more helps,” he said. Because he is starting to feel more prepared, Grant says he is looking forward to competing in the upcoming Geography Bee and any other performance opportunities that come his way.