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