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EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015


David Herrero*, Alejandro Iborra**, Gloria Nogueiras***
*PhD Candidate, University of Alcal, C/San Cirilo s/n, 28804, Alcal de Henares, Spain,
david.herrero@uah.es, **Tenured Lecturer, University of Alcal, C/San Cirilo s/n, 28804, Alcal de Henares,
Spain, alejandro.iborra@uah.es, ***PhD Candidate, University of Alcal, C/San Cirilo s/n, 28804, Alcal de
Henares, Spain, gloria.nogueiras@edu.uah.es.

While the importance of the oral presentation competence has been widely acknowledged in Higher
Education given its relation with professional demands, it remains unclear the potential benefits of the
development of such competence in Elementary and Secondary Education. This research examines the
effects of a training program aimed at promoting oral presentation skills with a group of 17 sixth
grades students (aged 11-12 years). The program consisted of 15 sessions of two hours each over a
period of one year. Data collection consisted of audio and video recordings of the sessions and the
students performances when doing their presentations, written summaries of the sessions, and audio
recordings of the research team meetings. The holistic content analysis of the data led to the
identification of three topics: 1) the importance of taking into account the cognitive development of
students; 2) the students self-regulation of emotions which appeared throughout the process of
speaking in public, and 3) the effect of peer support as a collaborative context which facilitated
students performances. The need to include and track the cognitive development of the participants,
the management of their emotions as a meaningful element of their talks, and how peer support goes
beyond the generation of informational feedback is theoretically discussed.
Keywords: Oral Presentation Skills, Primary Education, Peer support, Developmental Education, Selfregulatory Processes, Inquiry based learning, Qualitative Analysis


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

My view is that we have an universal phobia of being looked at on a stage [...].
(Johnstone, 1979, p.30)
Oral presentation skills is one of the most cited competences in the context of Higher Education (van
Ginkel, Gulikers, Biemans, & Mulder, 2015a). However, there are little explicit pedagogical designs
focused on developing students communication competence (Bower, Cavanagh, Moloney, & Dao,
2011), much less in Primary or Secondary educational levels. Results obtained in Higher Education
studies (De Grez, Valcke & Roozen, 2009) stress the importance of peer feedback, multimedia
recording support (Bower et al., 2011), the inclusion of structure and non-verbal cues and above all the
provision of opportunities of watching models and practicing to create a sense of self efficacy and self
competence (van Ginkel, et al., 2015a).
Despite the many studies that have been carried out, there is still an open question regarding the
relationship between how individuals learn to perform public talks and how to develop that
competence by providing specific training contexts (van Ginkel, 2015a). In this vein, Bower et al.
(2011) stress that there are few general pedagogical models for developing communication
competence that relate how students learn to communicate within prescribed learning and assessment
tasks. In this line, they argue that it is hard to find studies providing any underlying or formalized
pedagogical approach for the students communication improvements that they report. From its part,
Van Ginkel et al. (2015a) show, in their systematic literature study, the incomplete and fragmented
picture that still exists of the relationship between characteristics of the learning environment and
students oral presentation performance. In this connection, and as a path to describe the impact of
didactical interventions in further research, they claim the need to include additional concepts, besides
behavior modelling and feedback, as well as the need to adopt a systematic approach and a
comprehensive perspective.
While we agree with the limited potential of excessively fragmented and constrained approaches to
study how to teach oral presentation skills, we cannot agree with the purpose of adding more concepts
to the existing conceptual fog (Bateson, 1972) inherent to the empiricism and the high value set
upon prediction among many researchers. Rather, with the present research we aim to gain
understanding of how our students developed the oral presentation competence by giving a prime role
both to the observations made by the team of trainers, and the fundamentals of development theories,
in order to offer detailed descriptions of the complex interactive system of our training program.
When it comes to the inclusion of the affective or the emotional dimension, previous research does not
extend much beyond stressing a negative influence of anxiety in students performances (Brown &
Morrissey, 2004), or proposing rehearsal as a way to reduce such anxiety (Rubin, Rubin, & Jordan,
1997; Orejudo et al., 2012). In the same vein, in the literature there is no much detail when describing
how the group of students functioned in the learning contexts under study, and usually just information
about the group size or the group composition is provided. An example of recent research is De Grez,
Valcke & Berings (2010), who studied the reliability and validity of peer assessment. For us, the group
of students was not only a circumstance, but an essential aspect of our training program.

What does it mean for a preadolescent to give a talk?

Although most of previous studies have worked with students in Higher Education, it is hard to find in
the literature a developmental approach to the training of oral skills. As Bower, et al. (2011) point out,


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

the oral presentation competence involves the interrelatedness of cognitive, behavioural and affective
domains. In this line, when we started to think about how to teach to give a talk to a group of
preadolescents we took into account the mentioned dimensions for the specific developmental stage of
our students.
Preadolescence could be considered as a transitional period of life since the individuals in this stage
are still concrete thinkers (Piaget, 1970; Meadows, 2012), but they are starting to be able to think in an
abstract way. This implies a shift from individuals current logic way of thinking towards a more
flexible one when it comes to consider subtle nuances when making sense of people and situations. All
this leads preadolescents to be able to express and evaluate more accurately arguments and ideas,
detecting gaps in their own thoughts and in the others. Thus, given the specific evolutionary moment
of preadolescentes, we conceived our training program aimed at promoting oral skills not only as a
space where to gain knowledge, skills and attitudes to speak in public (De Grez, et al., 2009), but also
as a context where to foster participants development.

Our training program

Our training program started as a way to develop a local TED-Ed Club51, an initiative associated to the
international organization TED aimed at supporting presentation literacy for students in school age.
Once we spread this proposal in a public Elementary School, a group of 17 sixth-grade students and
her teacher enrolled in the program. The training was guided by a team formed by five people, of
whom three of them are the authors of the present paper.
TED-Ed offered us guidance in order to organize the training. From the very beginning, however, we
considered such guidance as a mere reference, being open to emerging formative needs. Thus, our
training program consisted of fifteen sessions and a final session developed over a period of thirteen
months where the students made their final presentations. See Figure 1 for more detail.
During the first three sessions the training team had the opportunity to meet the students, their
interests, and their current ability to perform a talk. In this way, we were able to sketch the main aims
of our training program, which turned out to be the following: to improve the fluency in participants
discourse, to teach students narrative strategies that allowed them to create interest in their audience,
to increase their emotional management of critical incidents, and to foster the collaborative support
between students. Together with the above, and having in mind our objective to utilize this context as
a developmental one for the students, there were several instructional principles that guided our
teaching practice.
As a basis, along the whole training program we followed collaborative practices where dialogue was
our main tool for generating and sharing ideas. Every time the students did a performance talking in
front of their peers and trainers, they were given formative and individualised feedback (Hattie &
Timperley, 2007). Specifically, from the tenth session on, co-constructed rubrics were used to let the
student assess their peers and themselves. For us, rubrics had a double purpose: on the one hand, they
enabled students to coordinate and distinguish different personal perspectives; on the other hand, they
were a way of detecting what the students were able to notice from a talk in terms of performance. The
latter principle of tracking students development was specially noticeable in the ninth session, when

TED is a nonprofit initiative devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).
TED-Ed was launched in 2012, characterized by their short, animated videos about ideas that could spark the curiosity of
learners everywhere.TED-Ed is TEDs youth and education initiative. It's mission is to spark and celebrate the ideas of
teachers and students around the world. https://ed.ted.com/about, https://youtu.be/ZDq_pWi7dH4


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

we decided to go beyond the initial guidelines provided by TED-Ed. In that moment, we realized that
we needed to work with the participants in a more individual basis, building up from their concrete
performance instead of employing time in analyzing general video-recorded examples which
functioned as a model for them. Thus, the last five sessions of our training program were based on
working in detail around participants individual performances, including progressively feedback
provided by trainers and peers.

Research aims
This research aims to understand the influence of attending a training program to promote oral
presentation skills in primary school students. Specifically, we aim to understand how our program
facilitated participants self-regulatory processes regarding cognitive, affective and social domains as
well as the effects of peer comparison, peer support and peer assessment on participants development.

Research context and participants
The focus of this study is a training program aimed at promoting presentation skills addressed to 17
students aged 11 to 12 years. Participants, with the acceptance of their families, enrolled in the
program together with her main teacher. The program was conceived as an extracurricular activity and
it was held over 15 two-hours sessions from May 2014 to June 2015. Trainers were five people,
including the three authors of the present paper.


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

Figure 1.: Overview of the sessions of our training program.

Data collection
All sessions of the training program were audio recorded, students presentations over the training
program were videotaped and written summaries of each of them were elaborated by the team
members. Furthermore, research team meetings both before the sessions (preparation meetings) and
after the sessions (reflection meetings) were audio recorded.

Data analysis
A qualitative research approach based on inquiry based learning (Pedaste et al., 2015) was adopted. A
holistic content analysis (Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach & Zilber, 1998) was made to closely examine the
audiovisual and textual data in search of relevant topics. It encompassed the follow-up of each
participant with regards to his own personal learning process, including also the evolution of the whole


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

Our preliminary results revolve around three topics which deal with (1) the importance of taking into
account the cognitive development of students in order to promote their development of oral skills, (2)
the students self-regulation of emotions which appeared throughout the process of speaking in public,
and (3) the effect of peer support and collaborative coevaluation to facilitate students performance
when making an oral presentation.

Cognitive development of the participants really matters

Conducting a training aimed at promoting oral presentation skills in Higher Education could easily
take for granted participants cognitive development. On the contrary, cognitive development is
something that you cannot ignore when working with Primary School students aged between 11 and
12. In fact, the cognitive variation within a group of pre-adolescents is similar to the physical variation
that you can find in terms of their puberal changes. In this regard, the analysis of the students oral
presentations in terms of cognitive development revealed a typical pattern, leading us to identify three
different kinds of presenters: concrete, transitional and basic abstract.
Concrete presenters had a discourse characterized by the concatenation of fragmented thoughts
without a common thread and whose only connection was they were referred to a general theme (i.e.:
different types of videogames, different family anecdotes). The beginning of this kind of presentation
does not usually include any personal justification of the topic, and the change towards a different
topic is signaled by the speaker by merely declaring that there it comes a new subtopic. This is an
example: Hello my name is M and I want to talk about the family roles and my sister. First, I want
to talk about the roles of the family. The roles of the family are assigned in some way but they are also
assumed. They are not natural but a social and particular construction. I think that the most rigid is the
family the worst it will be. And now I am going to tell a bit about the siblings [emphasis added].
Generally, the end of the presentation comes in a sudden and unplanned way, as we can see here:
And this is my talk and I hope you liked it.
In contrast, transitional presenters attempt to introduce their topic with a more elaborated structure by
presenting it as something worth to pay attention to as: Hello I am S. and I am going to talk about a
very interesting topic: the dreams. First of all, I am going to introduce you to Sigmund Freud. This
beginning is normally followed by a sequence of arguments intertwined with examples where the
speaker positions himself with regards to his discourse using expressions such as I also think that, or
I have also done that. This kind of presenter is more likely to connect more logically the different
parts of the speech with discourse markers, such as: ...dreams are visions of desires. And as we are
talking about dreams we are going to move toward nightmares. The end of the presentation uses to be
brief and abrupt but there is a more active interaction with the audience, like in: Thank you very
much for listening to me and here it finished my talk.
Finally, basic abstract presenters provide a general frame for their topic, introduced by questions
normally connected with the speakers and the audiences interest, in a way that both the presenter and
the audience are included as we, as in this example: Hello my name is N. and I would like to tell
you about a topic that I guess everybody loves: it is Magic. Everytime we hear this word, what do we
think? What is really Magic about? Does it really exists?. In this kind of presentations, it is easy to
follow the logical thread through the use of discourse markers, which are used in a smoother way:
Ok, regarding the first question I can give you an answer. Magic is the art or science, as you prefer,
which.... As it was highlighted with regards to transitional presenters, in basic abstract presentations


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

it is even more common to find sentences including the first personal pronoun and the presenters
opinion, as in In my opinion magic does not exist. In contrast to the previous examples, this more
formal and abstract kind of oral presentation finishes in a more elaborated and personal way, as in the
following example: I would like to conclude with my own experience which justifies why I chose this
topic. (...) And in order to finish I will pose a question: why do we ask a magician how did he perform
a trick? Perhaps it is because we are looking forward to ask about it, and this is the end of my talk, I
hope you enjoyed it.
Unlike concrete presenters, transitional and basic abstract presenters show in their talks what we can
term a narrator self. They organize their presentation, ask questions to the audience and reflect on
their own ideas. In this sense, both the presenter and the presentation are differentiated, being common
to find metacognitive resources such as I think..., in my opinion... or I consider. This is not
the case in concrete presenters, who are fused with their presentations.
Attending to the former three different levels of performance, we found how most of the participants
evolved from performing an objectified and fragmented discourse at the beginning of the training
program towards a more personalized and integrative story at the end. At that time, most of the
presenters were able to talk about more complex issues, developing their ideas throughout the
presentation and attending to a common thread instead of juxtaposing ideas one after another. In this
respect, we classified the final students performances according to the described continuum of three
positions in terms of complexity of cognitive development: eight students reached the basic formal
presentation, eight students were in the transitional position, and one student remained in a concrete

Emotions are around the corner when presenting in public

The expression and self-regulation of emotions appeared as a key issue in our training program,
although it was not formally expected beforehand. In this regard, we differentiate between two
different emotional experiences: those emerged during the exploration of a personal topic, and those
more related to the process of speaking in public but not to the content of the presentation.
With respect to the content of the experiences presented, students had to learn to manage emotions that
emerged as they connected with sensitive meanings arising from their topics, what was common when
they were related to family issues, such as a relatives disease recovery, or the premature death of a
brother. Connecting with these meaningful experiences usually led participants to the expression of
sadness or some kind of temporal despair. In those moments, the flow of the presentation was
interrupted, providing students an opportunity to manage those emotions. Instead of ignoring or
repressing the experiences connected to the emotions, participants were encouraged to connect with
them in order to acknowledge why that topic was important for them, and also in order to let it go
while they paid attention to their natural breathing. After several examples of experiencing this twostep process, the elaboration of the topic was lived normally by students, without interrupting the
presentation. In this kind of emotional management, it is also interesting to mention joy, because it
used to influence the process of talking about ones experience by increasing the arousal of some
participants. As a result, some of them provided too much detail, spoke too fast, or lost the structure of
the general script that they followed. In all cases, emotions were understood as part of participants
experiences, without labeling them as positive or negative, and therefore included naturally to make
their stories more relevant for them and for their audiences.


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

With respect to to the emotions linked to the process of speaking in public, it is worth noting that they
were less frequent than we expected. Experiencing shame and anxiety because of being exposed to
others was not a big issue. This was explained because most participants paid more attention to their
willingness to share their ideas and stories with others, than to be judged or evaluated by others. There
were just a couple of exceptions illustrated by two participants who showed less confidence in their
capacity to talk in public. As a result, they used to talk in a low voice, showing little expressiveness in
their non-verbal communication, and interrupting often their discourse while losing the thread of their
topics. In order to normalize these situations, we simply used to wait until the participants were able to
proceed with their presentations. It is also interesting to stress that sometimes it was the opposite
experience of feeling too much confidence what needed to be managed. Although less frequent, it was
also important for participants to be able to acknowledge what could be the effect of such
overconfidence in their audience. As a result of the inclusion and normalization of the emotional
dimension, most presentations became more fluent and meaningful as cognitive and socioemotional
resources were integrated.

Getting self-support through peer support

Support is a two-way path. In our training program we encouraged and witnessed how the whole
group supported every participants effort to explain himself in front of others. Small groups were
formed from the beginning of the program where participants could share their understandings, ideas,
strategies and experiences. These natural small groups worked as a natural scaffolding to generate
trust in ones performance competence. As a complement to these small groups, the participation of
the individuals within the whole group was also encouraged. Sharing their ideas, questions, doubts,
conclusions and contributions of any kind was normal for the participants from the very beginning
when talking with the main trainer of the session. Talking in the big group was also a subtle
experience of expressing themselves in a more informal situation. In any of these situations, every
presentation was encouraged and normalized as a good example of sharing ideas so that participants
became used to exposing themselves to others.
However, from the tenth session on we developed a more formal evaluation of participants public
presentations. We introduced the use of rubrics in order to evaluate every presentation. Rubrics were
created including criteria provided by every member of the groups in order to understand why they
preferred a presentation over another. Some of these criteria were the following: non-verbal gesturing,
managing physical space, interest of the topic, coherence, maintaining a steady gaze or degree of
organization of the speech. The use of rubrics to evaluate others and ones performance contributed to
emphasize the key elements that participants could take into account to enjoy and also control their
own performances. As they internalized these criteria, it was easier for them to focus on the experience
of sharing their topics. Both informal and formal support based in the information provided by others
was key in the creation of a standard of performance that participants could use in order to measure
themselves and others, generating a higher control of their own sense of competence. Those
participants who experienced an initial lack of confidence demonstrated a clear improvement in their
public performance. Measuring oneself through the measuring of others performances resulted to be a
good complement to the formal and informal social support experience throughout the program.

Even when it has been widely acknowledge the influence of the cognitive dimension when developing
oral presentation competence (Blunck, 1997), research based on Higher Education hardly specifies the


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

implications of the developmental cognitive stage of individuals under study. According to our results,
we state the need to include the specific developmental cognitive stage formally when working with
Secondary and Primary Education students. Far of remaining stable, most of our participants showed a
cognitive evolution during the year that our program lasted. This evolution had a clear direction of
getting more complex presentations as an evidence of a more complex cognitive state that we have
described as beginning from a concrete performance and evolving towards a more abstract way of
presenting their talks. The analysis of their performances throughout the program provides interesting
information about the developmental nature of this cognitive change. Issues such as how fragmented
or interconnected are their arguments, the growing presence of logical discourse markers, the
emergence of what we termed as a narrator self able to reflect on his discourse, are good examples
of the higher complexity that we found in our participants at the end of the training program, but also
along the whole process. Learning to make a public presentation goes beyond a technical approach
which stresses how to structure a discourse and how to manage verbal and non-verbal cues (Hardison,
& Sonchaeng, 2005). This kind of complex competence can also promote cognitive development, and
simultaneously it is also constrained by the cognitive state of the participants. Although this is clearer
in Primary and Secondary School, it should be included in Higher Education as well.
Regarding our second result focused on the need to include emotional experience in order to learning
how to regulate it, we agree with the definition of the competence of public presentation as a complex
integration of cognitive, behavioural and affective domains (Bower, et al., 2011; Van Ginkel, 2015a).
According to our results the emotions which arose around the promotion of a public presentation
competence provided a key meaning to the learning experience. Far of considering such emotions as
an epiphenomenon of the program or merely part of the non-verbal communication (Hardison, &
Sonchaeng, 2005), we defend that it is fundamental to include them from the beginning. The
distinction between emotions related to the task and emotions related to the content of the talks
revealed itself as a very useful way of learning how to take advantage of this emotional experience.
Emotions related to the task such as shame, fear and anxiety are part of the learning process and they
may be found in several studies (Brown & Morrissey, 2004; Rubin, et al., 1997; Orejudo et al., 2012).
However emotions which arose through the exploration of a personal topic needed a closer
examination in order to manage them properly. The management of these emotions (sadness, despair,
joy) is part of the ongoing process of the participants in the program and understanding the implicit
advantage of these supposedly vulnerable states is one of its most valuable insights (Brown, 2012).
Beyond considering some emotions as negative influences for the students performances (Brown &
Morrissey, 2004), they can be conceived as a way for the students to connect with and to make
meaning of their own experiences when presenting.
Both cognitive and emotional experiences could not be accomplished without taking into
consideration the influence of peer support. Most of the programs which promote a competence of
presenting in public are biased as they are generally oriented to promote the competence of their
participants focusing on their individual performance (De Grez, et al., 2010). Although paying
attention to the individual performance of our participants was important in our program in no way
was the most important feature. Individual performance of the participants of the program relied upon
being an important part of others performances. This was formally achieved by including others
feedback about each individual performance from the beginning in line to the work of Shaw (2001).
The use of shared and formal rubrics to make explicit what was important to include in ones
evaluation is key in this respect (De Grez et al., 2010). However, it was more important to include the
whole group not only as an informational resource (van Ginkel, Gulikers, Biemans and Mulder,
2015b) for every participant, but above all the idea of considering peers as a relevant context in two
different ways. On the one hand, the group provided enough variability of performances to compare
and to be compared with. This variability was important to create clear limits of what was possible or


EAPRIL Conference Proceedings 2015

desirable in terms of public performance. On the other hand, the whole group provided an emotional
social support to maintain the meaning of the activity as something which was worth the effort. In
addition to this, the informal social support generated a context to learn from others how to deal with
similar challenges when presenting their topics. Trainers as facilitators could be included as
meaningful others as they created the conditions where sharing information about each performance
was possible.

Cognitive, affective and social elements are key dimensions to be considered when working with
Primary or Secondary Education students. However, Higher Studies programs could benefit as well if
they integrated these three dimensions in their programs. According to this, oral skill training
programs could be something more than a context where to develop a competence. They could also be
an opportunity to promote the individual and social development of the participants.

The authors are grateful to the students who participated in the present study and to the other team
members who made this research possible. The first and the third author were generously funded by a
grant from the University of Alcal.

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