As my students went on stage and presented their speeches in a school auditorium in Haarlem, I sat in the audience filled with nervous excitement. My second year student gave a witty speech about speeches and my third year student shared a reflective talk about the little things in life. These were their thoughtful responses to the subject of this year’s Junior Speaking Contest, “What makes the world go ‘round?” This is a speech contest for second and third year pupils of bilingual schools in the Netherlands. Not only do the young Dutch students have to write an essay in English, they have to present that composition to an audience and answer impromptu questions from a panel in English as well. That’s brave.
I had the pleasure of working with and preparing two students from OSG Meergronden for the regional round in March. I assisted the English teachers in selecting the two students that would enter the competition and then worked closely with those individuals throughout the Autumn and Winter. The students and I had the freedom and flexibility to develop our own schedules and goals. We progressed from discussing themes and inspiration to playing with organization to editing and selecting vocabulary and, finally, to public speaking and pronunciation. I also presented them with possible panel questions and encouraged the students to think more deeply about their topics in the context of the larger world. In the end, the students crafted impressive two and a half to three minute speeches.
During the competition, I sat in the audience with the students’ teacher and families; I was part of the cheer squad! All participants were judged by a panel on specific criteria: link to theme, content/ structure, language and delivery, contact with audience, originality, handling of questions and time management. My favorite moments were greeting my students with a wide smile and positive attitude before the event, calming their nerves and congratulating them on their achievements afterward. During the short breaks, we cracked jokes and laughed while munching on classic Dutch treats, such as stroopwafels and apple pastries.
In reflection, this was such a positive and memorable experience from my time teaching as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. I had the opportunity to work individually with students, learn about their personal aspirations, broaden their skill sets and help them through a challenging task. They improved right before my very eyes and I was so impressed by their courage. It takes grit to write and present a speech on a weighty topic in your second or third language. With my background as an English-speaking American, a scholar and a teacher, I was able to build-up their confidence and provide unique support. The joy that I felt as a result of such a positive outcome will stay with me forever!
Written by: Kaitlin Biagiotti
Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Almere, The Netherlands