An UNUSUAL and none-too-helpful--WAY to RUN a (CON)TEST
By Kevin Stoda, Taiwan (and formerly working in Japan)
This past weekend I attended a speaking contest for junior high students on a neighboring island. Schools from all over the region were there. It should have been an enjoyable experience for those students I teach--and for myself, who had not observed a speech or speaking contest in several decades, even though I have taught speech and oral communication courses at the tertiary, secondary, and primary grade levels many times over the past two decades.
On the one hand, the fourteen competitors that particular Sunday afternoon each spoke for about 2 minutes on the same topic. Naturally, among those fourteen junior high student speakers, various levels of ability or levels of performance were manifested that particular day.
On the other hand, as I was the only native speaker of English observing the speakers on that day, I would have to say that the competition for the first six or seven places was still very tight. So we in the audience all waited for about 15 minutes for the final judgments to be made. Finally, when the winners of the first four places were announced, everyone especially many observing English teachers--was a bit surprised by the judges choices and by the order in which the top four student speakers were actually selected and placed by the three-man team of judges, which was made up entirely in membership of individuals from a single local school board.
Retrospectively, I should not have been shocked by the results because the organization which has run the speech (speaking) competition has historically failed to submit to teachers and students the exact criteria for their judgments in advance of the speech (speaking) competition. This lack of information means that students and faculty members across the region have no idea what the target criteria of such annual speeches are. Therefore, from year to year, the criteria may change along with the topics as far as I can discern. This makes it certainly difficult to prepare students for such a competition.
At my junior high school, for example, I had practiced with students prior to the contest date using some of the following criteria. Do the students:
(a) use basic grammar like verb tenses and word forms or word endings?
(b) use proper English sentence structure?
(c) use proper overall speech organization ˇIntroduction, topic idea, body and conclusion?
(d) use creativity?
(e) use sufficient content/details/ examples?
(f) use proper pronunciation?
(g) use proper and a good variety of vocabulary?
(h) focus on audience, i.e., eye contact, usage of appropriate gestures? and
(i) demonstrate the ability to talk for two to three minutes without hemming and hawing, i.e., without long pauses between sentences or thoughts; always trying to recall what one had intended to say?