In the month of April, sophomores at Kingswood Oxford get to experience a very important part of the English curriculum: Speakers’ Forum, a competition where each sophomore selects an excerpt of literature to perform an interpretive reading of.
English teacher Ron Monroe runs the contest. He explained that the Speakers’ Forum was established in the 1990s by former English teacher Robert Googins, who taught at the school for over 40 years. Mr. Googins was also the Forensic Union coach. He took the interpretive reading exercise that is a staple of Forensic Union speaking tournaments adjusting and adapting it to the sophomore English curriculum. It has since become an annual event.
This year’s finals took place on Wednesday, April 29. It was emceed by juniors Christina Lu and Braeden Rose. Sophomore Natalia Correa earned first place, followed by Daniel Raymond, Koby Braunstein, Aidan Dillow, and Katherine Doar.
There are three rounds of competition. In the first round, students give their readings to their English class, where their classmates and teacher score each reader. The two readers with the highest average score advance to the semi-final round. English teacher Bill Martino was very satisfied with his students’ performances. “I was so impressed by the competition, and it was so, so close,” he said. “Some students missed out by a few one-hundredths of a point.”
In the semi-finals, students are judged by a panel of judges that include faculty and upperclassmen. Mr. Martino explained that sophomore English teachers are not involved in the judging process in order to keep things fair. The five readers with the highest score advance to the finals. The judging criteria are the same for all three rounds.
Since Mr. Googins established the structure of the competition, it has remained the same.
Mr. Monroe explained that having different panels of judges allows for a better evaluation of a student’s choice. “This also evaluates the student’s choice in terms of the selection that he or she is reading,” Mr. Monroe said.
This year’s competition was a very unique one, as it was the first time the competition was held online, specifically, as a webinar on the video conferencing platform Zoom. Normally, the finals would be held in an assembly, where the finalists would read to everybody in the school. Some students felt slightly disappointed that the finals had to be held online. “It would’ve been cooler to see the finals in person,” sophomore David Shi said.
Mr. Monroe thought that moving the competition online was successful. “I think that in some ways, this interpretive exercise translates well to an online situation,” he said. ‘It’s not perfect. I’d much rather be doing this in person, but given our set of circumstances, we’re doing okay, and the readings have been very good!”
Despite the challenges of moving the competition online, teachers still thought that students performed well. “The quality of the readings, I feel, have been just as good as years past even though the students, instead of reading to a live audience they’re reading to a camera and a virtual audience,” Mr. Monroe said. “Those are added challenges, but again, the students have been great about stepping up and doing their very best.”
Mr. Martino agreed that the quality of the readings was not impacted. “Overall, the readings were exceptional this year,” he said. Many students thought that having a virtual Speakers’ Forum allowed them to feel less stressed. “It was not as stressful as it would be in school,” sophomore Ben Baby said.
Mr. Martino said he agreed it was less stressful for students. “For some, I think doing a virtual Speakers’ Forum was really beneficial,” he said. “They could enjoy the comfort of their own space, and they didn’t have the added stress of being right in front of their peers.”
Moving the competition online did present some challenges. Students had to adapt to performing online in order to be successful. “I wasn’t sure how eye contact was gonna work, where I was supposed to look on the laptop,” Koby said. “I definitely needed to record myself a couple times on my computer and watch myself to give myself feedback and try to make adjustments for semi-finals and finals.”
Dan also said that adapting to performing online allowed him to be successful. “I practiced my speech in front of the screen to see how it would look like to people watching me,” he said.
Another challenge is how to publicly recognize the finalists. A tradition of the competition is that every finalist earns a plaque that has their name and placement on it. Mr. Monroe hopes that campus will be open in the fall so that public recognition and awards can be given to the students. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it in person when we’re back here in the fall,” he said.
Something Mr. Monroe enjoys about the competitions is seeing some students who are usually quiet in class excel in Speakers’ Forum. “They aren’t necessarily the best writers, or the most vocal students in discussions in class,” he said. “And yet, it’s something about this opportunity to speak, and they’re speaking but they’re reading. They just really come to the floor and it’s great to see, it’s wonderful to see, and it never ceases to amaze me every year this happens.”
Mr. Monroe thinks that Speakers’ Forum offers students the opportunity to understand a piece of literature from a different perspective. “It’s also an opportunity for a student to really develop a personal connection to an excerpt of literature, where they really get into ‘Well what’s this character thinking?’ or ‘How would this character say this line?’” he said. “They really get into that literature, and so they see it from a slightly different perspective than they might just ordinarily be reading it.”
Many teachers and students thought that this year’s Speakers’ Forum was a success. The sophomore students did not fail to impress and they still had the opportunity to have the full experience of the Speakers’ Forum, even with the challenges that came with moving the competition online.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/wGMMrbA6sLg