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I'm a staff member at a public residential high school for gifted students (like IMSA, or three other schools that made Newsweek's "Public Elites" list this year), and I found myself coaching the debate team. For the past two years, we've only done LD (top ranked NLD debater in the state, two years ago). Now I have some students who are interested in doing Policy debate. I was a CXer in high school, so I know the format, but there's a snag.

 

We run the team as a student organization and, while we have some of the smartest students in the state, they have a hard time committing to things outside their school work. The administration has (rightly, in my opinion) reached the conclusion that the school shouldn't have any academic teams unless they're really ready to represent us, which might make it hard for students to pick up Policy debate.

 

I want to give them a chance to explore it, if they're still interested in the fall, but I'll need a framework that fits their commitment level. My memory of Policy debate was that it required a lot of work, and I don't think my students will go for that. I've been trying to develop a curriculum that lets them decide how involved to be, but I'm not coming up with much.

 

Does anyone have a model for teaching Novices that might account for a low commitment level, and might be adapted to remove grades? That's one easy answer that I don't have access to.

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I'm a staff member at a public residential high school for gifted students (like IMSA, or three other schools that made Newsweek's "Public Elites" list this year), and I found myself coaching the debate team. For the past two years, we've only done LD (top ranked NLD debater in the state, two years ago). Now I have some students who are interested in doing Policy debate. I was a CXer in high school, so I know the format, but there's a snag.

 

We run the team as a student organization and, while we have some of the smartest students in the state, they have a hard time committing to things outside their school work. The administration has (rightly, in my opinion) reached the conclusion that the school shouldn't have any academic teams unless they're really ready to represent us, which might make it hard for students to pick up Policy debate.

 

I want to give them a chance to explore it, if they're still interested in the fall, but I'll need a framework that fits their commitment level. My memory of Policy debate was that it required a lot of work, and I don't think my students will go for that. I've been trying to develop a curriculum that lets them decide how involved to be, but I'm not coming up with much.

 

Does anyone have a model for teaching Novices that might account for a low commitment level, and might be adapted to remove grades? That's one easy answer that I don't have access to.

 

Policy debate hasnt changed from a workload perspective. If anything, its even more work now. The internet gave us access to information we never could have found previously, but the time we save from working microfiche is now spent conjuring up new arguments which then need to be blocked and answered.

 

In my personal opinion, I have never met a debater who came out of the gates as a novice and started wowing everyone. Policy debate has a very steep learning curve and so limiting external competition until the school is well represented is a disservice to the students. There is no amount of practice rounds that can replace the real experience of competition. I think the biggest driver for me personally was having my teeth kicked in and swearing that I wouldn't lose so horribly to argument X ever again.

 

My school used to do policy and after I graduated, it dropped off and then vanished completely (still do other events). Whenever I had policy kids, the first thing I did was sit down with them and explain the options. I told them I could coach them to be competitive at any level of debate (local, regional, state, national) at which they sought to participate and I would give them a rough estimate of the weekly time commitment in order to compete at that level.

 

As for preparing the students, I always prefer to start off with the true basics that have core educational value which will carry with them beyond debate - the toulmin model, logical fallacies, and learning how to critically evaluate evidence through drills on selecting evidence in order to build an argument. Next I introduce the stock issues and disads, then topicality, lastly counterplans and critiques. As we work through each segment, they learn how to apply their skills from the basics. And build from there. Some speaking drills interspersed to break up the tiresome job of coaching content. If you manage to produce a solid speaker and critical thinker in 1 year of teaching novices, you've done well for your students.

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It probably depends a bit on how competitive your novice circuit is.

 

I think at the beginning of the season research requirements are lower given that the Open Evidence Project provides evidence from debate camps. Additionally, the high school wiki case list lowers the barrier for high quality cases (in addition to the open debate case list).

 

Alternatively, getting politics disad, economy disad, and affirmative updates is important. To alleviate the time crunch you can get politics updates on both cross ex (here) and planet debate.com for about $10 to $12 a pop, which can decrease your research burden and ability to focus on increasing their skills.

 

I think the hardest part is determining how much of your time it takes. Is policy debate just going to trade off with TV time (in other words no real tradeoff) or coaching LD or something else.

Edited by nathan_debate

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There's also the question of mental breakdowns.

 

Gifted kids losing more than they're used to? I've seen that happen. A whole team of those kids going 1-4 or 0-5 at a local tournament could drive them all over the edge. Scary stuff.

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@Ankur: I suspect that our new directive about academic teams isn't meant as a minimum standard of success, but as a standard of preparation. Our students, having rarely been intellectually challenged before coming here, have a tendency to under-prepare for some of these competitions and then embarrass the school when they get blown away. In the same year that we took home the NLD state championship, I had a varsity debater who refused to read any of the in-house or professional files I gave her. She didn't break at State, but was elected captain of the team the following year (at which point she didn't even attend State). I'm less concerned with my students being the best novices at the end of a tournament, and more concerned with them being equally capable when their rounds start.

 

@nathan_debate: I was looking at using the Open Evidence Project to develop some core files for the year and keep things simple, but I wasn't sure how to best handle that. If I were just assembling a set of files for some novice debaters, it would be easy. Instead, since I'm a staff member and the team is a student organization, I need to focus on education even more than some of our faculty do. I know the Open Ev Project (and professional research services) will save me some time and energy, but I'm not really sure how to incorporate them into my quasi-curriculum.

 

@Kunzelman: If their reactions to LD and Speech failures are any indication, a few bad loses won't break them down too terribly. I'm more concerned that, when confronted with other debaters and the utter uncertainty of novice CX debate, they will get frustrated and quit before they're really prepared to engage the activity. That's part of why I'm interested in a low-commitment curriculum to ease them into competition and help them get more excited as they scale the learning curve.

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I would give them an Aff, and then about 5 or 6 core Neg arguments and some case. Let them develop confidence with those arguments - it's novice debate, it's not like cases are going to change that much - if your kids can stay on point and be organized in their thinking, it should allow them to do quite well. Lots of academically advanced high schools field very competitive debate programs, so that shouldn't be a barrier to you. It may prove that you'll lose a couple as you go along as they opt out for other projects/programs, but I think if you give them a core foundation, you'll be OK.

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@nathan_debate: I was looking at using the Open Evidence Project to develop some core files for the year and keep things simple, but I wasn't sure how to best handle that. If I were just assembling a set of files for some novice debaters, it would be easy. Instead, since I'm a staff member and the team is a student organization, I need to focus on education even more than some of our faculty do. I know the Open Ev Project (and professional research services) will save me some time and energy, but I'm not really sure how to incorporate them into my quasi-curriculum.
There are some activities at debatecoaches.org . I searched "curriculum" and it had one for each event debate event. (note: the curriculum button doesn't seem to have anything--oddly).

 

Second, I would make a free blog--because it would allow you to save your curriculum ideas and send students to particular posts. It only takes 60 seconds to set one up on Wordpress. (or you might prefer a free wiki). It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to figure out--not really much harder than setting up an email account.

 

Why? Because it will allow you to customize and contextualize all the free content that will come out (aka videos from institute lectures). Or at the very least, it allows you to aggregate the links & resources all in one place for your students.

 

I wish I could help you more, but:

1) I don't know your curriculum

2) I can't tell 100% which arguments will be key and quality.

*****I will say that the model that emory is using with their starter pack is pretty decent.

 

Both the Emory files and the Whitman (WNDI) files tend to be novice friendly. In addition, the SDI files (from Michigan State) or the Gonzaga (GDI) files are a little more JV, but can help fill the gaps left by the Whitman/Emory files.

 

Depending on what area of the country you are in...there may be a limit on novice cases (ie limited to 5 or 7) to solve the problem you are speaking to.

 

In making the case to the administration--I think you have to be honest--they will lose for the first tournament or two, but that your previous experience with the event means that this will be minimized and by the end of the year they should be doing much better. The challenge could be good for them & in a worst case scenario its a lesson in life and humility.

Edited by nathan_debate

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I would give them an Aff, and then about 5 or 6 core Neg arguments and some case. Let them develop confidence with those arguments - it's novice debate, it's not like cases are going to change that much - if your kids can stay on point and be organized in their thinking, it should allow them to do quite well. Lots of academically advanced high schools field very competitive debate programs, so that shouldn't be a barrier to you. It may prove that you'll lose a couple as you go along as they opt out for other projects/programs, but I think if you give them a core foundation, you'll be OK.

 

I would go even more basic than that...an Aff and TWO basic Neg arguments: Hegemony Good and Hegemony Bad. Emphasize that they cannot run both in the same round :) and then make sure they know which one applies to which casdes. Once they understand those two, then move on to a couple more wide arguments.

 

Good luck to you; we need more schools and teachers like you.

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Second, I would make a free blog--because it would allow you to save your curriculum ideas and send students to particular posts.
Thanks for the insight. I'm looking through the NDCA stuff (it's all in the Curriculum sub-menu, if you hover over Curriculum and look to the right), and the blog sounds like a good idea. I'm a bit skeptical about the Emory files, though. I read through the Aff packet, and noticed that there is a lot of underlining in the 1AC. What I read looked completely legitimate, but I'd rather use complete cards when students start out. I'll see what WNDI, SDI and GDI produce in the way of starter packets.

 

I would go even more basic than that...an Aff and TWO basic Neg arguments: Hegemony Good and Hegemony Bad.
I had been thinking about teaching them a basic Politics DA, which they can expand with new scenarios and internal link packages. Now that I think about it, Heg Good/Bad might be a better way to help my students keep learning about the topic. I remember the Deterrence DA from the WMD topic, and I imagine that Heg Good might fill the same role.

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What I read looked completely legitimate, but I'd rather use complete cards when students start out. I'll see what WNDI, SDI and GDI produce in the way of starter packets.

 

Underlining will be endemic through all the evidence. The notion is that this focuses....and students can still highlight (either with tech tools....I wish I knew how to do this....I imagine its in the Word toolbar) or in traditional paper mode.

 

I think their arguments on both sides of the give them allied prolif or politics debate.

Edited by nathan_debate

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For what it's worth:

 

1 - I am always acutely aware that debaters WILL embarrass themselves in their first debate (or, probably, their first few). Our team goes by the philosophy that since they embarrass themselves, they should do it in front of us because at least we like them! We do a 3-round novice warm-up with our varsity debaters and coaches as judges before we ever take them out into public. This could be adapted for you slightly by either paying a few local college debaters to come in and judge or by getting some varsity debaters from another local team to come judge.

 

2 - Explore the possibility of getting another coach from your local league to help mentor you. This relationship could help provide for the judging for the previous idea as well (maybe that coach's team provides the judging for a day and your team buys the pizza for lunch?) and it can also help you get some expectations about what the local competition level is like at the novice level as well as introducing you to the local bureaucracy.

 

2.5 - Your name says LA. Are you just in the greater area or are you in the city? If you're in the city, there might be an Urban Debate League which could help you. Also, lots of colleges have relationships with UDL schools to help coach (assistant coach). Find out what's out there for you and take advantage. Even if it's just a normal NFL and/or NCFL chapter in your area, they may already have a system in place for helping new coaches get oriented or mentored etc. At a minimum, the league officers might be able to recommend a coach/team near you who is successful and personable enough to provide you some help & guidance.

 

3 - I know the camp I'm working at this summer is going to be running a "baby lab" with some absolute novices in it (starting from zero). We will be putting a lot of stuff online which will be freely and publicly available. Of course, that's not as helpful as actually coming to camp, but it could be helpful to your kids. Gimme a shout at josh (at) capitol-debate (dot) com and I'll happily give you links to where things will be posted when I get it all figured out.

Edited by Teddy Ruxpin

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I've been judging CX rounds for the past two years, so I'm familiar with the local novice circuit and I've been regularly reminded of how embarrassing novices can be. I'm not worried that my students will be just like everyone else, I'm concerned that they will be actively less prepared because they're less engaged than their opponents may be. I can't organize the team around a class, and my students regularly get a little arrogant since they attend a selective high school, which is why I'm looking for a model/curriculum that starts with low buy-in and gets them engaged over time.

 

And, sadly, I'm in small town Louisiana rather than Los Angeles. We don't have access the the UDL, and we have to travel at least an hour to the nearest school with a team. The local coaches have been very supportive (and there are local college debaters that I could call on for general help), but I think I need a teaching strategy to start things off and build engagement before I tell anyone else that my students want to meet them.

 

Perhaps the appropriate thing to do is just take our time getting everyone up to speed on the format, and start officially debating later on. Next year they can start faster, when we have some experienced and committed students to act as the core of the CX side.

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And, sadly, I'm in small town Louisiana rather than Los Angeles.

 

Oh! Haha...my bad for not being aware enough to notice your location.

 

Regarding the other, though, it seems like their arrogance is at odds with the idea that you don't want them embarrassing themselves or you. Maybe that's exactly what they need! I've already argued that it's inevitable, anyway. Maybe you should explain to your admin that novices are gonna suck inevitably and, assuming they aren't rude to other teams or jerks in round, it's nothing that will actually embarrass the school. Then take them to a local invitational, enter them in novice with whatever prep they're willing to do (I'm sure SOME will work harder than others) and let them get romped. You'll lose some who think getting romped sucks and who fail to see that they can work harder and keep that from happening again, but you'll also have some who will be like, "that's fun! I bet it'll be even more fun if I work harder so I can do well!"

 

BTW: The offer of any help I can provide via email is certainly still open, regardless of whether you're in LA or L.A., haha!

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I have to agree with the "warning your admin" advice.

 

About 20 years ago, I coached at a very exclusive private school. We did LD debate as I only had 5 kids. Anyway, when the topic changed for January, one of my kids just didn't get ready. We went to a tournament and he went 0-3 (predictably). I had no problem -- the first tournament on a new topic by a novice is usually a "learning experience." However, the parents and the student went to the head-master and complained that I had "allowed" him to compete unprepared and that I hadn't prepared him well enough. It took a while to explain to everyone's satisfaction that the results at a single tournament weren't going to blemish this student's possibilities of going to a college of his choice.

 

Make sure your school administration gets the idea that sometimes these very bright and exclusive students will fail and that failure is not a bad experience.

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Two theorists should support this:

1) The founder of "flow"

2) Clifford MM (1990) Students Need Challenge, Not Easy Success. Educational Leadership, 22-26

 

The link is to eric--not the actual full text. You may have more success on Google academic. Also, its contextualized within "at-risk" students, but I'm sure a very similar argument could be made in the context of gifted/talented/excelerated/high achievement students.

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