Communication in the Classroom

COM 103 students give a speech for students at Peoria's Whittier Primary School.

By Frank Radosevich II
November 9, 2012

Bradley students gathered in a Peoria classroom recently to put their communication skills to the test. But instead of practicing their public speaking skills on campus, the students stepped into a local grade school to mentor its pupils.

Students in Communication 103, a general education public speaking course, are hosting collaborative lessons with first through fourth grade students at Peoria’s Whittier Primary School. Groups of Brad ley students offered lessons to Whittier students on topics like bullying, respectful communication and listening.

“The class is very orientated toward civic engagement, so we wanted students to use their communication skills in the real world for civic responsibility and community involvement,” said Laura Bruns, a lecturer in the Department of Communication who teaches the course. “My students get live, out-of-the-classroom public speaking experience, and the Whittier students get real-life communication mentoring.”

The collaboration between the two institutions was made possible through Whittier's Professional Development School Partnership with Bradley.

Elena Miller, a sophomore in biology and chemistry, said the class offers a new twist on the undergraduate communication class that normally has students giving speeches by themselves in front of each other. Talking to fourth graders about respectful communication forces them to rethink how they interact with the young students.

“They have a different vocabulary and attention span. We have to actively participate with them to keep them focused and communicating,” she said.

Bruns piloted the assignment last semester with two classes presenting to second grade students at Whittier. The feedback was so positive she expanded the program to all section of the course and is considering reaching out to other institutions in the Peoria area. This semester, four sections are visiting first through fourth graders at Whittier.

“It really gives them perspective on the community around them, “Bruns said. “Once they get connected, a lot of students begin to realize that there is a larger community outside of Bradley, and they see that with the kids here at Whittier.”

Whittier students weren’t the only ones to benefit from the presentation. Working in groups, Bradley students are learning how to speak on the fly in front of an atypical audience.

“They are preparing what they want to say but not memorizing it,” Bruns said about the COM 103 students. “They have to walk into the classroom and adapt to a young, live audience with its own challenges.”

Many students did not know what to expect the first time for their speeches but said they enjoyed working as a team to engage a new audience and get their message across.

“Normally we would just give these speeches by ourselves,” said sophomore Lynnese Frost, a nursing major. “I think this is a creative way of doing this class, and it gives me more confidence.”