Throughout its history, The Webb School has placed great importance on teaching students to speak confidently before a large audience. While this requirement has taken many forms over the years, the most traditional assignment is the declamation, a memorized piece of literature with an original introduction written by the performer.
Each 9th-grade student presents a declamation to the student body during a chapel. In their subsequent years of high school, students build on the foundation of their declamation performance with an oration in 10th grade, a creative public performance in 11th grade, and finally the presentation of their original research in their senior year. This process enables students to leave the Webb School ready to share their ideas and findings with the world with poise and conviction.
[Dating to the founders, The Webb School has placed great importance on its public-speaking curriculum, especially regarding declamations and chapel talks. The Columbia Herald, on June 13, 1873, summarized the commencement ceremonies and makes mention of the speaking program: “The declamations were good, the selections were in the main unexceptionable.” ]
Throughout its history, The Webb School has placed great importance on teaching students to speak confidently before a large audience. While this requirement has taken many forms over the years, the most traditional assignment is the declamation, a memorized piece of literature with an original introduction written by the performer. Just as small children learn to speak by repeating the words of the “giants” who surround them, Webb students begin to find their public speaking voices by repeating the words of great authors, poets, and statesmen. Middle School students present a declamation to the middle school each year. Ninth-grade students present a declamation to the student body during chapel. On occasion, new students in the junior year choose a declamation as well (see notes about new Juniors and project selection in the Junior Project section below.) The expectations for each year increase in length and difficulty.
To maximize the Juniors’ participation in The Webb School’s Emerging Voices program, the following is a succinct summary of the evolution of the Junior Class’ public speaking requirement. Faculty who were active in the process of changing the way Webb emphasizes public speaking through a change from each grade level presenting a declamation to each grade level offering a different and “escalating level of public performance” were queried to learn the genesis of this change. For several years before the 2008 Strategic Plan was adopted, grade level advisors painstakingly sought to find different and more “real world” applications to the Webb tradition of teaching public speaking. The Junior class level was given the task of crafting a public performance which would allow students to express their individual creativity, to improve on skills they already knew or to learn a new creative endeavor and to share that creativity via a public presentation to include not only their creative project, but also to emphasize the public presentation of that project through effective public speaking. This new presentation plan was implemented in 2012.
During the years of Junior Project Presentations, several revisions have been made to the overall rubric and process of completing the project. The driving force for many of the changes arose due to the difficulty of “grading” creativity. Rather than focusing on mastery of a particular creative endeavor, greater emphasis has been placed upon the effort put into the specific project. Proposal outlines are required to be submitted to the advisor and coordinator early in the Spring. These proposal outlines are viewed for creativity and for an analysis of the work involved in the creative process. Each proposal is individually evaluated for elements which will comport with the rubric. For example, finding a video of someone doing something similar to what the student plans to do (making a duct tape bridge versus a failed duct tape hammock) would not satisfy the creative element. On the other hand, writing a movie and videotaping and editing it the video satisfies the creative element.
Once the project is approved, the students are given a strict timeline during which they must complete various aspects of their project. A survey of all students presenting their projects in the winter of 2014 yielded the same response: the single most helpful aspect all advisors required was adherence to the deadlines. While the dates specified by individual advisors are left to the advisor and their group, specific due dates are triggered by the actual performance schedule. Two weeks prior to the performance date, the student must have an informal run-through of their performance, including the technology they plan to use. They must also inform Mr. Pryor of the exact technology they will need at this two weeks prior date. Three days before their presentation date, they must have completed their first chapel rehearsal. Whether the student needs additional rehearsal time is at the discretion of the individual advisor.
Many students struggle with deciding on what project they should attempt. The goal is for the student to either attempt a new creative endeavor, such as learning an instrument, attempting a new art medium, or to physically make something creative such as pottery, clothing, furniture, elaborate cuisine and the like or to advance a creative skill already known.
With the Junior Project, students begin to explore their passions and creativity. We want to continue this work by contemplating the question “On whose shoulders are you standing?” Although it is essential to create works of your own, it is equally important to realize and research the works of others. Even Isaac Newton acknowledged, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The Senior Capstone Project is the culmination of all of the previous Emerging Voices projects with the addition of in-depth research, accountability, and reflection. In both, the paper and the presentation seniors should explain the research question or thesis statement, show extensive research and critical thinking, provide appropriate and supportive details, and remember to keep language academic and appropriate for the audience.