The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Value in Complete Sentences

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
 In addition to my other professional work, I've enjoyed teaching music theory classes for 30 years as an adjunct professor at a regional campus of Ohio University. Many of my students would best be described as nontraditional college undergraduates - and definitely non-music majors.  For some, perhaps because they've already experienced some of life's tough knocks and limitations in the workforce, they've enrolled in college with aspirations of positioning themselves for better opportunities. Many of them know all too well the hardships of poverty. Most are recent high school graduates, and for numerous reasons (most always poverty-related issues) have chosen the regional campus college experience. In general, most of our community's more advanced and privileged high school graduates attend college elsewhere. Yet, what I find in my classes are hard working students, but they've probably never been considered to be stellar students by their former teachers. 

Read more as to why I think they've come to be perceived that way.

As they present themselves, it’s apparent to me why their peers outshined them. Many do not know how to effectively communicate. They have weak verbal skills. They lack command of sentence structure. More often than not, informal social skills and cues necessary for success in the middle class are lacking. And most can't put a sentence together without using the word “like” and other forms of verbal graffiti. Added to those gaffes, they often fail to make good eye contact. And when they shake hands, they expose their lack of self-confidence. I hate wet noodles.

Besides providing them with an introduction to music theory, I also teach ‘Communication 101’ to help address these issues and provide them an advantage. Some get it, others don't. Those that don't work to improve will be perpetually held back and continue to fall to the bottom of the class or any other professional setting. They will fail to reap the rewards of their college training, not because they can't master the basic content, but because they can't express themselves during important high stakes, middle class conversations, such as a job interview.

One of the most important gifts we can give our afterschool program participants is an awareness of the importance and mastery ability to speak in complete sentences – in English. Teaching and modeling proper verbal communication skills should take place every minute of every day in every afterschool program. It won’t cost anything extra. It simply requires a staff with a clear vision and commitment of purpose to equip kids with one of the most important and essential life skills. But achieving the desired outcome requires focused teaching, modeling, and relating language and communication experiences to the real world. It demands persistence over time. Kids can learn how to properly shake hands. They can make eye contact. They can speak with proper inflections, nuances, and grammatically correct usage of nouns, verbs, and adjectives if they are continually encouraged and reinforced by caring and nurturing adults.

I'm convinced that many of my college students will eventually become fantastic workers. But they'll pay a huge price and wait a long time to see a return on the investment of their training if they don't learn how to speak. I recognize that many possess a warm personality and intelligence. But without self-confidence (which comes from teaching and practice), their verbal skills will hold them back.

Please provide your kids with that time to practice and gain confidence speaking in complete sentences. In the end, that may be more of an important edge for them than mastery of content knowledge or a high test score.

Don't let kids leave your programs until they can confidently talk their way out of it.

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