Up for Debate
Through Congressional’s Speech and Drama curriculum, middle school students engage in specialized training to refine critical public speaking skills that they will carry forward into high school, college, and their careers.
While Congressional students practice public speaking skills at all age levels (even in the Early Childhood Program), the first formal instruction begins in 5th grade when students work on verbal and nonverbal communication techniques and learn more about the use of voice and body through dramatic improvisations, broadcast journalism, and other public speaking opportunities.
In 7th grade, formal team debates are added to the Speech and Drama curriculum as the students venture into the world of persuasive speaking. Building on their public speaking experience in the previous two years, the 7th and 8th graders participate in parliamentary-style debates using the Middle School Public Debate Program (MSPDP) format. The debate topics can be rigorous in nature, but students have some buy-in on the topics to be tackled.
“They get to vote on the topics, and once selected, they are randomly assigned to the debate teams,” states Derek Bowley, Middle School Speech and Drama Teacher. The debate teams include the Proposition Team and the Opposition Team, each with three student members. “The teams have about four weeks to prepare for the debates, including two class periods. The rest of the preparation is done outside of class,” states Mr. Bowley.
On the day of the debates, the members of the Proposition and Opposition Teams take turns to present constructive and rebuttal speeches, each of which is timed.
- First Speaker, Proposition Team 5 minutes
- First Speaker, Opposition Team 5 minutes
- Second Speaker, Proposition Team 5 minutes
- Second Speaker, Opposition Team 5 minutes
- Rebuttal Speaker, Opposition Team 3 minutes
- Rebuttal Speaker, Proposition Team 3 minutes
DID YOU KNOW... Congressional School will have its very own debate team beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. The team, coached by Mr. Bowley, will compete with other middle schools in the Nation's Capital Debate League.
During the debates the students are encouraged to use parliamentary procedures called Heckling and Point of Information. Responsible heckling involves team members interrupting a speaker during a presentation by applauding, cheering, or slapping a hand on a desk to show support for team members or opponents.
A request by a team member to a speaker to use some of their speaking time to make a point is called a Point of Information. The speaker can either accept or reject the request and the interruption can last no longer than 15 seconds. Anyone who has watched debates in the British Houses of Parliament will know that these techniques can make a debate very entertaining!
At Congressional, the student debates are watched by a panel of faculty judges who use a rubric to provide feedback and determine which teams won. Students who are not participating in a debate also practice being judges using the same rubric, although their score is not used to determine the winning team.
“The students work on skills such as how to formulate and refute arguments. They learn that it isn’t enough to only research their own side of the debate; they must also anticipate the arguments the opposing team might put forward,” states Mr. Bowley. “They learn to think on their feet, and how to take notes during the debates to prompt them to offer counter arguments based on what the opposing team has presented.”
“Once the debates are over, the learning continues,” said Mr. Bowley. “We talk as a group about who the students think won the debates and why. There’s a lot of reflection and self-evaluation. I ask them if they agree with the judge’s feedback, and to talk about what they might have done differently.”
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