Tough Crowd

Apr 27, 2018

A small group of kindergartners huddles closely together on the carpet of their classroom, sitting criss-cross, applesauce. They inch forward all throughout the readings, jockeying for the best positions to see each book’s illustrations. Angela Billings’ oral interpretation students feed off of the children’s excitement. Each student’s reading grew in confidence and quality from “Once upon a time” to “Happily ever after.”

As a part of her course curriculum, Billings, communication studies, sends her students to the toughest group of critics around: kindergartners. Throughout the semester, her oral interpretation students read to classrooms full of elementary school students to develop their skillset in areas such as tone, resonance and eye contact.

This process is an integral part of how she teaches oral interpretation—a class she describes as pooling together several elements of a public speaking class, an acting class, a literature class and a voice and diction class. The activity presents a unique challenge to the students and reinforces their course material through experiential learning.

“One of the first assignments we do is children’s literature, because, for most of us, this was our first introduction to oral interpretation—our parents orally interpreted our books for us,” said Billings. “When my dad read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs to me, he made the characters, the sound effects and the descriptions all come alive. [Our parents reading to us] is what creates our love of reading.”

Oral interpretation is more than just reading out loud or public speaking. The presenter at the front of the room has to stand the way a character would stand, imitate their voices, act out all their movements and mimic sounds to drive home the audience experience. For some students, this can be overwhelming.

“A lot of students come into this class with high levels of anxiety. The thought of getting up in front of a classroom is terrifying,” said Billings. “But you get them in front of a group of kindergartners and eventually, they don’t want to leave.”

Such was the case on Wednesday, April 25. Billings students read and voiced characters for books such as Where the Wild Things Are, Pete the Cat: Robo-Pete, and Dragons Love Tacos. By the mornings’ end, their excitement matched that of the kindergartners’ smile for smile.