By Brett Netkin and Greta Magendantz
U+ Education offers online language learning for students across the globe, with courses in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Korean.
One of their programs, in particular, allows students to connect via language in a way that is essential to their future success. U+ Education Gavel Club is a nonprofit organization that pushes students in eighth grade or younger to strengthen their public speaking abilities. This initiative presents a potential solution for one of the many anxiety-provoking activities that students face each day.
Gavel Club facilitates a safe place for U+ students to practice their public speaking skills on a weekly basis. Participants complete activities including hosting meetings, speaking in a group on randomly-assigned topics, writing and practicing speeches with the advice of experienced teachers and speakers. The program begins with one-on-one coaching with public speaking sessions and eventually works up to group sessions.
In 2017, LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor) John Montopoli of the National Social Anxiety Center stated that the National Institute of Mental Health found that “public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73% of the population.” Also in 2017, Assistant Professor Farhan Raja of the Journal of Education and Educational Development found that after completing a quantitative research study on 50 students using convenience sampling technique from a business school in Karachi, “75% participants admitted their fear of public speaking and 95% participants agreed that if proper counseling, instruction and coaching is provided, this fear can be overcome.” This further illustrates why public speaking has been classified as a subtype of social anxiety disorder.
For types of social anxiety, an approach called “flooding” is used by many therapists. A type of exposure therapy, “flooding” introduces participants to a vast amount of aversive stimuli from the beginning of therapy. In psychology, adverse stimuli is defined as an “unpleasant event that is intended to decrease the probability of a behavior when it is presented as a consequence (i.e., punishment). However, an aversive stimulus may also increase the probability of a behavior when it is removed as a consequence, and in this way it will function as negative reinforcement,” (2011) according to Professor Josh Pritchard of the University of Nevada’s Department of Psychology. The idea of flooding is to allow the patient to experience situations that might be upsetting or overwhelming in an environment that is safe for them. In a case where a person is anxious about public speaking, a therapist might have the speaker “attempt a speech in front of a large crowd”, requiring repetition of the same act “until the speaker showed no signs of anxiety.” (Marshall, Parker, & Hayes, 1982)
Solutions and Limitations
The aforementioned flooding approach is just one of several different solutions that the U+ Education Gavel Club can utilize in order to create a “safe space” for its participants and ultimately improve their public speaking skills. This will require time and testing to perfect just exactly the amount of stimulus that is required for certain types of students to show improvement. As it is related to flooding, the Gavel Club must also create a metric to measure student growth over time. One example could be a grading system in which students receive scores administered by instructors at the beginning and end of every session based on a previously curated checklist. This would provide quantifiable evidence to prove student improvement. As a result of the aforementioned procedures, the U+ Education Gavel Club should see significant growth in their students’ public speaking skills and overall confidence.