8th Grade Declamation Day

Eighth grade English takes as its theme “Literature and the Self.” At several points, students focus their analytical skills inward to look closely at themselves to discover their values and passions and to explore their hopes and dreams. They even create self-portraits in pencil as part of an Arts Across the Curriculum block where they are required to look at themselves in the mirror and then transpose what they see. These portraits make a comeback at the end of senior year as a reminder of the growth that has occurred over the course of six years.

At the end of the year, their studies culminate in Declamation Day, a capstone project that combines the personal and analytical writing skills with the presentation skills they have been honing all year.  Each student chooses a published piece of writing, at least 24 lines long, but often longer. The only limits are the students’ interests and imaginations, and that the piece must be from a published work and not found in children’s literature. Such a broad array of choices has meant that in the eighteen years since the eighth grade began this project as a culmination of their studies, only a handful of historical speeches or poems have been chosen more than once. Fourteen languages, half a dozen different song styles, poems, short stories, novels, news articles, historical speeches and texts, TEDtalks, and writing by close and distant family members are represented in the list of fascinating source material. 

After making their choices, students memorize the piece and write an essay that explores a literary aspect of the writing and its personal significance. They also rehearse an informative and entertaining presentation for Declamation Day. One at a time, they take the stage, armed with techniques to battle any lingering stage fright and confident that they are the experts on this particular piece of writing. The students learn about the hidden depths of their classmates while listening to the declamations. The audience, made up primarily of classmates, though all students, faculty, and parents are invited to attend, cheers on the presenters. Tears are not uncommon. Laughter is a welcome respite.  

Having eighth-graders on the cusp of high school take a literal and figurative look at themselves is part of the larger pedagogical goal of guiding students to develop their authentic voices so that by the time they are seniors they know more about who they are and have the tools to express themselves creatively, critically, and analytically, both in written and spoken word—for, at Falmouth Academy, writing and speaking are at the center of daily learning.
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