True Confession Time - There is no way that I can give every kid in my debate classroom the kind of quality feedback that is described in the academic journal, Educational Leadership’s September 2012 issue on pages 10-16. In his article, “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.”, Wiggins asserts that feedback essentials are: Goal Referenced, Tangible & Transparent, Actionable, User-Friendly, Timely, Ongoing, and Consistent. Wow. I’m pretty sure that a lot of my classroom feedback to my students is just me screaming “Clear!” over and over again. Yes, sometimes I listen to a speech or a rebuttal redo and engage in an erudite and profoundly meaningful critique of nuanced communication, but honestly, there is a lot of speaking and debating going on in a busy classroom and it is challenging to make time to give meaningful, high-level coaching to every student, every day. Usually there are multiple practice rounds happening at the same time, and I end up jumping from group to group monitoring rather than engaging deeply. I peek out in the hall at the LD round happening, jump back in my room to check on the Congress speeches going on with a student judge, then run to the other side of the hall to peek at the PF round in progress just in time to hear the crossfire. It is exciting and important to have kids up and speaking and debating most days, but I am an OLD coach, which also means that I am a TIRED coach, so I’ve worked out systems that save my limited energy for the best stuff (and sometimes paperwork.) I just can't listen to every novice debate or every struggling extemper every day, but I am a nosy old person so I like to keep my hand in every pie and I want my kids who judge each other out in the hall or in a practice room to have some accountability. With the advent of Google Forms and a handy Chrome extension called “Autocrat” I have found a way to give my debaters feedback that meets Wiggin's scholarly criteria for being truly effective feedback and my own criterion of not making me any more tired than I already am from all the midnight bus rides.
Here is how it works: My student, let’s call him Javier ( brand new to Congress) is assigned to give a speech to, let’s call him Sam, (slightly more experienced Sophomore.) They head out to the hall (or practice room) and Javier gives his speech as Sam (the critic) fills out this form:
After the speech and a peer discussion, Javier (the speaker) receives an email that looks like this:
I receive an entry in a spreadsheet of all the speeches that happened that day/week/month/year that looks like this:
This becomes a really beautiful thing when I can send dozens of pairs of students out to give speeches to each other and I can buy myself a few precious minutes to focus on that one kid who needs more very specific coaching from me. It becomes a little bit magic when Javier whispers to me that he savors all the compliments that he gets in these critiques and re-reads them the night before every tournament to give himself the confidence boost he needs. I can also see Team trends, time stamps and notice that no one is making any sense on a particular issue and I need to re-teach. I also find it to be particularly beautiful when I can pull together some daily grades pretty fast the day before grades are due while I’m at a tournament a hundred miles away from my desk just by checking the spreadsheet in Google Drive. Did I mention that there are NO PAPERS to lug around?
Please DO have a mini-lesson with your students about constructive and encouraging language, sensitivity about race or gender bias, being empathetic and encouraging to all. Please DO tell that each critique needs at least one or two compliments. Remind them that this process is transparent and that their coach is an invisible, but digitally present, observer in this process.
In conclusion, may this process bring a little magic to your forensics classroom. Kiddos really grow as humans when they perceive themselves to truly be responsible for the improvement of others on the team. I’ve found that this process helps me achieve that rare thing as a teacher that my favorite unlikely Italian educator, Maria Montessori stated, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher . . . is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”
Overview: Instruction set for learning how to create a Google Form that uses the Autocrat Add-On to “Mail Merge” a peer-to-peer speech critique via email and create an instructor tracking spreadsheet.
Instructions for Creating a Google Form Speech Critique
Autocrat Video Tutorial
Sample Congressional Debate Critique Google Form
Destination Template for Congressional Debate Critique
*Shout out to Sarah Spring, the awesome Director of Debate at University of Houston, who gave me some tips on Autocrat.
The Old Coach
We’ve all had those lovely, mature classes who sit at their tables for the last 10 minutes of class politely engaged in reflective chats about socially relevant reading material or how they can use their recent learning to help others . . . no? . . . Oh yeah, that was my description of the first few chapters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. SO. We are all friends here, and we know that debate classes are different. They are filled with gifted and inquisitive kids who love to push the boundaries and strain against the structures that bind them. We are their coaches, and we (mostly) love it when they challenge the status quo and push the boundaries of traditional thought, but we also know that in order keep these beautiful minds engaged in our classes, we need to inject lots of challenging and competitive activities into our daily/weekly plans to keep them happy and busy so they don’t grab our gavels and use them to tap each other on the head. (Yeah, I said it, you know it’s true.) Having some quick little competitive games in mind (or possibly in that bottom drawer of your desk) can help keep you running “bell to bell” and meet the learning style of those competitive kids that you most want to attract to your debate team. Here are a few items that can prevent that rowdy cluster of backpackers from gathering at your door waiting like hounds to be released by the bell.
Finally, may you have many happy hours playing games with your kiddos. So often, I’ve found that even a few minutes of sitting down among my students engaged with them in constructive play pays many dividends. It helps me remember to see them as human beings in my care, it helps them see me as a gracious winner or loser. I’m reminded of a quote from my favorite sweater-wearing pedagogue, Fred Rogers, who said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Game: Debate Taboo
Game: Debate Would You Rather
Game: Pictionary for 2017-18 Policy Topic
Pro Tip: This is an unsolicited product recommendation for The Metagame. It is good for throwing in your bag and playing at a tournament while you’re waiting for results. History Buffs will enjoy it and it will enhance cultural literacy for your kids who need it (like all of them.)
Greetings! Welcome to the newly launched Veritas Debate Library Blog for Forensics Educators. Now that Nationals is over we can all begin working in earnest on next year’s topic. I have heard some educators refer to some kind of “Summer Break,” but Debate Folks don’t seem to have those endless days of tourist travel, lakeside lounging or lazy days at the pool. Debate Folks are different - some of us pack up and spend weeks at summer camps with the very students everyone else is trying to escape from. Others of us will begin to create from scratch educational materials for this crazy class we teach that has a constant kaleidoscope of changing topics every year, every semester, every two-months, every month. My non-debate-coach colleagues think it is absolutely crazy that the students of the nation will vote on what I will teach next year. But this is also what we love about the craziness that is Debate Pedagogy.
As a means to that end, while also pondering the famous statement that "golf is a good walk spoiled." I’ve created some materials to help the novices that I will soon meet to quickly develop an understanding of some of the seminal legislation and court rulings that govern education policy. Like many of you, I won’t start introducing this material when school starts, I’ll start a few weeks before that, in August, at a summer camp explaining the foundational concepts of education policy. My colleagues also can’t believe that debate students work all summer for the upcoming year. I like to imagine that they are jealous of my students’ enthusiasm. I suspect that they actually think I’m a workaholic.
SO, let me set the scene . . . its summer, kids are wearing flip flops, shorts, neon things. Outside, the sun is bright, inside we are beginning to delve into the fabulous world of education regulations. A lecture from me would be pretty dull compared to all the joy of summer, so I’ve made a US Education Regulation QR Gallery Walk. Just Print and post the Gallery Signs around your room or down a hallway. Give each of your kids 8 sticky notes and have them download a QR Reader to their phone or ipad. They scan the QR Code, watch/read the related link, and write their response to the question on the sticky note and stick it on the wall. That’s it. You can sit at your desk sipping lemonade (yeah, right) while the kids browse and get a quick intro to the topic.
The nice thing about the QR code is that it can link kids to written sources, videos, podcasts, songs or any media that is more interesting than me talking at the front of the room while they take notes.
Best of luck with your summer teaching, prepping, and camping,
The Old Coach
Welcome to the Inaugural Entry of The Old Coach’s Blog! And welcome to the newly launched Veritas Debate Library! It is odd, but somehow appropriate, that we are beginning here in June, where so many of us hope to end our year, at Nationals. It is at this time of year, when so much is at stake for our most dedicated students that our skills as coaches are often tested. Coaching the September debater and coaching the June debater are very different propositions. The September Debater is fresh-faced, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and the job is to get that kid to as many tournaments as possible while answering their millions of questions as fast as possible. The June debater is a tough, tournament veteran, who has traveled a million bus-miles and needs deep wisdom, not the quick fix. In June, they’ve done the work, they’ve polished, they’ve buckled down and the coaching that’s needed is really something more, something beyond the norm. We really have to back up, avoid the myopia, and see something more.
And so, it is in June, when a kid needs to reach deep down to get that extra inch of quality against the very intimidating opponents at Nationals, that my mind turns to other Old Coaches for some wisdom. One legend that I have drawn some wisdom from is an old football coach who was facing a rival who had never been defeated on their home field. (Yes, I know this is sports, but the longer you coach, the more that you realize that coaching is coaching whether it is debate or curling.) So this coached faced extremely powerful opponents. His young team was intimidated by the undefeated record and couldn’t get past that mental hurdle no matter how hard they prepared, how ready he knew they were. So, he hatched a plan. And let me just say here, that this was long ago, in time beyond time, when coaches were unquestioned, long before the days of permission forms and litigious parents. So, at the last practice before the big game, as darkness fell, he told his team that they should get shovels from behind the fieldhouse shed, and each dig up a big shovel full of dirt and put it all in the back of his truck. His stunned, but still obedient team, followed his strange request and gathered a goodly pile of dirt from their own home endzone in the back of the old coach’s truck. The team then jumped in their cars and drove an hour through the night to the stadium of the undefeated team. They sent their skinniest kid squeezing through the gate to let them all in, and there, under cover of darkness, they sprinkled all the dirt from their own home endzone, invisibly, all over the other team’s home turf. When the game day came, they crushed their opponents, giving them their first loss on what only they secretly knew was now truly their “home turf.”
I tell this story to say that sometimes the coaching that you must do for nationals, for your June Debaters, is very Zen. It is about giving kids the means to access that feeling of confidence to do what they already know how to do while feeling that they are on their own “home turf.” I’m not necessarily advocating that you pack a shovel full of dirt from your hometown into your suitcase for nationals, but I’m not ruling it out either. You will have to find your own “home turf” for each of your June debaters if you want them to imagine that they can do something that’s never been done before.
Best of Luck at Nationals!
The Old Coach