A Middle School Tradition: Declamation
Thayer Academy Middle School’s Declamation Celebration is a tradition reaching back more than three decades. Held in March, it features memorized oral performances by 12-15 outstanding Middle School declaimers before an enthusiastic audience of peers, older Upper School fans, and adults.
Though only a small group performs in the final celebration, all students in Middle School English classes perform a declamation before their classmates each year.
Preparation for the March celebration begins late the previous fall. Students consult with teachers, librarians, and family members before finalizing their selections. Students receive teacher approval in early January and then begin memorizing, so much so that students can often be heard practicing their performances for one another in the hallways.
Early in February teachers organize student performances in their classrooms The most successful students go to the declamation finals; in recent years, the declamation finals has had more than 50 declaimers (about a quarter of the school) who perform before a panel of judges.
The judges' task is to select a representative and balanced program of male and female students from each grade (5-8) who will perform varied types of declamation. After the judges choose declamers for the Declamation Celebration, declaimers have about two weeks to further polish their performances.
Students learn oral presentation skills that help them communicate to a large audience (articulation, volume, poise, eye contact, phrasing, inflection, and pace). Through the experience, students gain confidence. By memorizing well-crafted language and then learning to deliver it well, students improve their own language facility. Declamation is a traditional educational method, no doubt, yet it involves student choice, authentic assessment, opportunities to collaborate, and public presentation — components of current best practices in educational theory. It is an important building block in creating the Middle School’s educational community.