- Collaboration for the purpose of solving a problem
- Reading, writing, discussion
- Clear, concise, fact-based oral communication
Let's look next at the third point: clear, concise, fact-based oral communication. The alum were unified in their message on this point. College professors fully expect students to be able to articulate their thoughts, ideas, arguments, beliefs, etc., orally.
This third point certainly flows from the second point. Just as college professors expect students to communicate well through the written word, they also expect students to communicate well via the spoken word. The alum cited numerous examples from their classes in a wide variety of disciplines in which the professors would call on students and expect them to articulate or explain the solution to a problem, an hypothesis based on a reading or observation, an interpretation or analysis of a piece of literature, or something else along those lines. Often the professors would needle the student who had been called upon until the professor was satisfied with the response; the poorer the communication skills, the longer the student would remain on the hot-seat.
The alum in the liberal arts and humanities, in particular, noted that professors often required students to demonstrate mastery and/or comprehension of a particular passage by taking a position and defending it. Furthermore, as with the expectation that students cite specific lines or quotes in writing assignments, professors frequently expect students to refer back to texts when speaking.
Several alum noted that when they were required to collaborate on problems or projects, they frequently had to give oral presentations in lieu of written presentations. These presentations, they explained, couldn't be canned, rote orations because the professors and other students often interrupted them to ask questions or present opposing viewpoints. The presenters were expected to then get right back on track.
The alum added an interesting footnote to this topic. Almost to a person, they agreed that students who argued and spoke with confidence and authority usually got off the hook sooner than those who floundered.
What does this mean for today's high schools? Well, for starters, the Speech class in your school that's been assigned to the offensive line coach because "it's just Speech class" needs to be taken seriously. Also, teachers in every content area should require students to participate in meaningful discussion in class. The best teachers already do this and they often use a rubric to assess the caliber of students' contributions to the class. Finally, as often as possible, students should be afforded every opportunity to speak in front of large groups of their peers; chapels, pep rallies, town hall meetings, school assemblies and other community meetings are terrific opportunities for this to happen.