In classroom presentations, your audience need to feel worthwhile. You want them to engage with the presenters so they can learn.
Audience is something that has been discussed a lot over the past few years in education and deserves serious consideration. The goal of creating more opportunities for authentic audiences is one that has been shown to deepen student engagement by allowing students to really “see the purpose of their work,” as illustrated by Monica Burns in an article in Edutopia. Audience is an essential factor in creating meaningful learning experiences, but I value reaching in as much as I do reaching out. Elevating the classroom audience means giving them a more active and purposeful role.
The class audience is often an underutilised source of learning, growth, connection and community. While students often make presentations in front of the class, the class audience needs to be emboldened to become an active audience and, through the connections made as a result of active listening and reflection, the audience becomes a community who learns with and from each other. All of this can happen outside the blocks of time and units when you use the BOB approach.
As I have written about in my own blog and in a post for Nexus Education UK, the BOB approach involves four aspects. These aspects include a sense of time where students get to present over time, select when they present, and own their timeline. This also includes choice of when and how to present a project. In addition to being an assessor, the teacher’s role is that of facilitator and co-learner. And, finally, there is the role of the community as an active audience providing feedback and next steps to the presenter while simultaneously articulating the assignment success criteria. Each of these aspects in tandem, create a high yielding approach to skill development, autonomy and much more that I call Building Outside the Blocks (BOB for short). Through this approach and even without it, the class audience has an important role to play.
When I look back on how I developed this part of the BOB approach, I recall being upset by the yawns of some students during presentations. That’s when I first decided that there were to be no more than 3 presentations on a given day- enough time before a break was required. How is it fair to the presenter who goes last in a long line up of presenters if the audience has grown tired of sitting and listening to presentations? IS there any purpose to even having them “listening” at that or any other point? I have seen some teachers spend over an hour in presentation mode. I used to call it the need for a commercial break, but that reference no longer feels relevant. When the audience matters, you must consider their experience as part of the the “user experience” in a project. If the experience is positive and pleasing, everyone will get more out of it.
After preempting the boredom factor by limiting the number of presentations, I added the feedback piece. I have seen the value of the continuity and predictability of inviting students to provide feedback in the form of questions, comments and critiques. This formula invites feedback on presentation style, content and product- all the aspects of the projects. This makes feedback easier for the more reluctant audience members, as well. Sometimes, feedback can be given through exit tickets to welcome even the quietest student into the conversation. Providing the audience with different ways to give feedback is one way to consider their needs and make the user experience more accessible and enjoyable.
When projects are presented to a classroom audience, it’s the active role of the audience that makes the difference. At the end of a cycle of BOB project presentations (days, weeks or months depending on the teacher-determined timeline), students write a reflection on the overall experience of preparing, presenting and listening to the presentations of their peers. It’s hard not to get choked up by the depth of gratitude shared by the students, time and again, for the opportunity to listen to and learn about their classmates. That’s one of the things that drives me to iterate the projects, share them and keep creating new ones. They get so much from each other- more than I could have facilitated through any community building activities. Having their role as an audience matter to them, and knowing how actively they listen to and absorb what their classmates share through their presentations means a lot to them, to me and to our classroom culture. Since all BOBs are personalising projects, they give the audience insight into the presenter in unique ways.
The audience component of the project experience adds dimension, and it helps to make everyone count each day. With BOBs being ways to share pieces yourself, you need to build a trusting audience to make presenters feel safe to share. One of the ways to do that is to elevate the role of the classroom audience by giving them a sense of purpose and highlighting why their role matters to the presenter and the community.
Audiences have the power of making a presentation into a shared experience. If the audience is listening and has a chance to interact with the content, the product and/or the presenter, we can do more with our classroom presentations, turning presenters into co-teachers and the audience into co-learners. It’s the imperative audience factor that drives me to encourage others to use the audience in the room to help build the class community around who’s in the room. Plus, if everyone deserves a standing ovation (RJ Palacio), we had better cultivate the audience to celebrate the person sharing in front of them. How much more authentic could an audience get?