The last three weeks, the class I teach this semester, Written and Oral Communication has focused on the oral communication part. We have spoken about Rhetorics and its ancient beginnings, sustained importance, watched Patrick Awuah’s TED speech from 2007 and analyzed it rhetorically and after that, students crafted their own speeches with themselves and an artefact that represents them in some way as the topic.
I adore this assignment designed by my anthropologist colleague Joseph Oduro-Frimpong and revel in the intimate group meetings I have with my students. In short five minute speeches, students get up in front of their peers, practice rhetorics, and open themselves and share – and my do they share!
We are invited to hear about family tragedies and lost opportunities, crazy love stories and incredible triumphs, supportive siblings and bouts of sickness, but also books that change lives, sporting equipment, diaries and bibles, instruments, or even little trinkets and everyday objects are loaded with meaning. The speeches are sometimes inspirational and other times funny, and as the assignment dictates, most often supported by all three corners of the Rhetorical Triangle. Only confidence is missing sometimes! We address this with love-bombing the presenting student with “what worked well here?”-feedback. And only after highlighting the good we discuss what can be improved in the delivery.
Every year this is my favorite assignment as it allows me to meet with a smaller subsection of the bigger class of 47-48 students and get to know them a little better. This year, I was especially impressed. After just two months in university, these first-year students’ are able to speak with wisdom, bravery, and authenticity, and they reminded me that when students are given the chance, they can indeed be teachers.