Some have a lucky charm, some picture a naked crowd. For Jennifer Ward’s honors American literature class, the key to avoiding pre-presentation nerves came from Taylor Swift.
“We dance before presentations to ‘shake off’ the nerves, to loosen up,” Ward said.
After studying important speeches throughout U.S. history in class, sophomores at Grandville High School put learning into action as part of their #LetMeSpeak assignment.
“Throughout this unit, we paid special attention to how we framed the texts we studied,” Ward said. “Early in the unit, we read, listened, and analyzed revolutionary American speeches, both from history and those from contemporary speakers.
“But this wasn’t just an academic exercise in learning rhetorical strategies, as we wanted to make sure that students recognized our purpose in analyzing speeches.”
Joining the conversation
The #LetMeSpeak project was born from a recent increase in youth activism across the nation. Ward’s students were asked to find a topic that they felt passionately about and then express that to their peers using the methods gathered in class throughout the year.
Sophomore Taylor Groothuis decided to speak about her experience moving to Hollywood as a child to pursue acting. After living with rejection and distrust within the entertainment industry, Taylor was able to speak on her motivations today.
Touching on the stresses of being career-focused as a child, she explained the inspiration behind her dreams.
“I loved the art of acting so much that I was willing to give up a childhood to do what I loved,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t for money, it wasn’t for fame, it was because I loved what I did.”
Reflecting on her return to “normal,” Taylor told her classmates that she has no regrets.
“My experience changed my life in a different way,” she said. “If I hadn’t returned to Michigan, I wouldn’t have gone to public school and met the people and friends that I have today.”
From Hollywood expectations to beauty expectations and family values, speech topics focused on relatable experiences for high schoolers today. This idea of a creating a passion-driven assignment is what brought the high school to connect with TED-Ed, a platform for interactive collaboration. Eight students video-recorded their talks with the TED community and invited staff and administrators in for a class period to watch the speeches. The #LetMeSpeak tagline was also used on Twitter to show off the work done at Grandville.
“We wanted to make sure that those that might be able to help, those that needed to hear these talks were in the audience,” Ward said. “That was the students’ idea. Not all students wanted to present to a larger audience, but those that did had an opportunity to do so.”
Communicating with students each step of the way, Ward stressed it was imperative to make sure that students felt safe sharing their stories.
“I loved the fact that I got to experience this with my classmates,” said sophomore Haley Larson. “We built up a relationship throughout the year to get here. I learned a lot.”
Following the conclusion of the #LetMeSpeak project, students will be writing notes of encouragement to each other about their individual speeches for feedback and reflection.
“This was not a speech they wrote one evening by themselves at home. This was a speech that took time to write,” Ward said. “Throughout the process we shared our struggles. I think that helped to build a sense of confidence before they every ever got up to speak.”
Next year, Ward hopes to invite not just administrators in to hear these talks, but the larger community.
“Imagine the innovative, inspiration and connection that such talks might have within our school community at large,” Ward said.