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Amplifying Learning Beyond the Classroom: Harnessing the Power of Guest Speakers in Schools

Research shows that having guest speakers in schools can significantly contribute to students’ education and career development. A study conducted by the UK-based Education and Employers organization revealed that the vast majority of young people view guest speaker talks positively, with 77% to 91% of young people stating that these talks have been helpful to them in various aspects, including attitudes and motivation, understanding of careers, and self-belief. Importantly, guest speaker programs were found to significantly reduce the number of students who felt their backgrounds were holding them back. This was particularly pronounced for students who could recall attending eight or more talks, who were five times less likely to believe that their background was a barrier to achieving their ambitions compared to those who could not recall any talks​.

Incorporating guest speakers in classroom activities can help students connect their academic studies to real-world applications. Guest speakers can share their work experiences, which can show students how their studies relate to the world outside school. This experience provides students the opportunity to interact with professionals and create meaningful learning connections.

Teachers often assign roles to students during guest speaker sessions, such as a moderator and note taker, to encourage active participation and critical thinking​. Depending on the goals of a unit or project, guest speakers can be incorporated at various times. They can be used at the beginning to introduce new material, in the middle to provide additional insights and feedback, or at the end to provide closure and an authentic assessment. Guest speakers can also come from a wide variety of fields, allowing students to make connections between different subjects and the outside world​​, and, with the advent of video calling, the possibilities for guest speakers have greatly expanded. Video calls eliminate the need for a speaker to travel, providing opportunities to connect with speakers from around the world​​.

Incorporating guest speakers into a unit or project can be highly beneficial for both the educational and career development aspects of students’ learning. When guest speakers share their personal and professional experiences, it creates a unique opportunity for students to bridge the gap between their academic studies and real-world applications.

How to go about incorporating guest speakers in your classroom

Here are some ways to strategically incorporate guest speakers into a unit or project:

At the Beginning of a Unit or Project

Invite a guest speaker at the start of a new unit or project to provide an introduction and spark interest. The guest speaker can provide an overview of the key topics and concepts that will be covered, and also explain their relevance to real-world applications and career paths. For example, if students are about to start a project on podcasting in a media studies class, a professional podcaster could be invited to introduce the topic and discuss what podcasting involves in a professional context. This can give students a clear understanding of what they are about to learn and why it’s important, setting the stage for the rest of the unit or project.

In the Middle of a Unit or Project

Having a guest speaker in the middle of a unit or project can provide students with additional insights and perspectives that can enhance their learning. The speaker can also provide feedback on students’ work, helping them to deepen their understanding and improve their skills. For example, if students are writing letters for global change in a social studies class, a journalist or activist could be invited to discuss their experiences and offer feedback on the students’ letters. This can give students a deeper understanding of the issues they’re writing about and provide them with valuable advice on how to make their letters more impactful.

At the End of a Unit or Project

A guest speaker can provide closure to a unit or project and serve as an authentic assessment for students. The speaker can review the students’ work, provide feedback, and discuss how the skills and knowledge gained from the unit or project can be applied in a professional context. For example, if students have created children’s books in a language arts class, a children’s book author could be invited to discuss how to build figurative language and help students reflect on their final drafts. This can give students a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of how what they’ve learned can be used in a real-world context.

Incorporating Interdisciplinary Connections

The use of guest speakers can also support interdisciplinary learning. For example, while studying a novel like “Frankenstein” in an English class, a scientist could be invited to discuss the bioethics of scientific research, helping students to connect literature with science. This provides an opportunity to make numerous connections to other subjects and the outside world, demonstrating the need for interdisciplinary skills and knowledge.

Connecting with the Speaker

In all these situations, it’s important to clearly communicate with the guest speaker about the goals and structure of the session. Discuss the content that will be covered, the expectations for the speaker, and any specific topics or questions that the students will have. If possible, provide the speaker with background information about the unit or project and the key learning objectives. This will help the speaker tailor their presentation to meet the needs of the students and the goals of the unit or project.

Getting Started: A Guide for Teachers

If you’re a teacher looking to incorporate career speakers into your curriculum, you might be wondering where to start. The process is more straightforward than you might think, and the rewards it can bring to your students are immeasurable. Here are some key points to consider:

Identifying Relevant Speakers: Start by identifying the types of speakers that would be most relevant to your curriculum. Think about the skills and knowledge that are important for your subject area, and look for speakers who can provide insights into these areas.

Connecting Curriculum with Careers: Next, consider how the speaker’s career or profession connects with your curriculum. The aim is to help students see the relevance of what they’re learning to real-world applications and career paths.

Planning the Session: Once you’ve identified potential speakers, think about when and how to incorporate them into your units or projects. As discussed, speakers can be used at different stages of a unit or project to achieve different learning objectives.

Making the Most of the Session: Plan how to get the most out of the speaker’s visit. This might involve having students prepare questions in advance, assigning roles such as a moderator or note-taker, or recording the session for future reference.

Feedback and Reflection: After the speaker’s visit, have students reflect on what they learned and how it connects with their studies. This can help to reinforce the learning outcomes and help students see the value of the session.

Resources

Here are some useful resources where you can find guest speakers for your classroom:

  1. Skype a Scientist: This program connects classrooms with scientists from around the world. Teachers can choose from a wide range of scientific disciplines, and the sessions are free of charge.
  2. Speakers for Schools: This UK charity aims to end educational inequality by providing all young people with access to the same prestigious networks available to the top fee-paying schools in the UK. They provide a free talk and work experience service for state secondary schools and colleges, connecting them with influential figures from all industries and sectors.
  3. Nepris: Nepris connects educators with a vast network of industry professionals who are eager to share their knowledge with students. While some services on Nepris have a cost, they also offer a no-cost search option.
  4. SpeakerHub: This is a platform for professional public speakers, trainers, and moderators who want to share their knowledge. While some speakers charge a fee, SpeakerHub also offers a no-cost search option.
  5. Your local community: Don’t overlook the resources in your own community. Local businesses, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations may have professionals who would be willing to speak to your students. You might also consider surveying parents or other members of your school community, as they might be able to connect you with potential speakers.

Remember, the goal of bringing guest speakers into the classroom is to broaden students’ horizons, inspire them about possible futures, and connect what they are learning in school with the wider world. By carefully planning and integrating guest speakers into your curriculum, you can provide your students with invaluable learning experiences that will enrich their education and help them prepare for their future careers​​.

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