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Helping students understand the power of words

by Lauren McCool, on 4/5/18 2:03 PM

If you explore almost any educational blog or professional development website you’ll come across the phrase “student voice.” This art term has come to mean providing opportunities for students to have choice and provide input in the classroom.

So often, we teachers are challenged to help students "find their voices," when in reality, each person already has a perspective and their own worldview. 

We don't need to help students find their voices—instead, we need to provide them with a platform in which their voices may be heard.

As teachers, we should strive to help students develop their communication skills so they can speak and listen effectively. This is one of the first steps in helping students understand that their words matter.

In order to support us in our efforts to train effective communicators and provide platforms for their voices to be heard, the National Speech & Debate Association is offering a professional development course entitled, Words Matter: Speaking and Listening for Diverse Learners. This course asks us, as educators, to first reflect upon our own use of language and our own listening skills, and then to explore strategies dedicated to helping students feel safe in sharing their ideas, overcoming stage fright, and assessing these speech and listening standards for meaningful improvement.

Before we can help students know that their words matter, we must evaluate our own word choices. Our words matter, too.

As teachers, there are several different areas in which we need to be conscious of our word choices, and some may be easier than others. You may be thinking that you would never purposefully say anything that is hurtful or harmful to your students, but sexist, racist, ableist, heteronormative, and xenophobic language permeates society. There are many ways these kinds of words creep into our curriculum, our conversations and our daily lives, often unintentionally.

As educators, we cannot allow such language to be part of our classrooms and schools. Demonstrating security and respect to our students in the classroom is one way to start building a platform in which students can share their voices.

We hope this course sparks new thought and collaboration among educators, helping us all consider the power our words have to create positive learning environments.

The National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) is the largest interscholastic speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school and collegiate students in the United States. The Association provides competitive speech and debate activities, high-quality resources, comprehensive training, scholarship opportunities, and advanced recognition to more than 150,000 students and coaches every year. For 90 years, the National Speech & Debate Association has empowered more than 1.5 million members to become engaged citizens, skilled professionals and honorable leaders in our society. It is the mission of the NSDA to connect, support and inspire a diverse community committed to empowering students through competitive speech and debate. 

Lauren McCool (@Mrs_McCool) is the Education and Recognition Coordinator for the National Speech & Debate Association, based in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Topics:Professional developmentTeaching resources

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Participate creates Communities of Practice that engage and empower educators with meaningful professional development around a common purpose or goal. This blog provides resources on professional development and social learning.

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