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Three Ways Speech and Debate Builds Better Thinkers
by Stacy Calfo | Back to Table of Contents
With the roll-out of two new Upper School courses this year, Ravenscroft’s Speech and Debate program has developed into a rigorous series of electives that spur Middle and Upper School students to develop essential skills.
“Speech and Debate challenges students to lead with self, lead with others and change the world,” Social Studies teacher Melanie Spransy, who led the Upper School courses, said. “Students engage many of the Lead from Here competencies as they transform into visionaries, ready to address current problems and change our world for the better.”
Here are three key proficiencies Ravenscroft students gain from Speech and Debate classes.
Ravens Reports, March 2018
The development of the Upper School Speech and Debate program
For many students, Speech and Debate is the first time they’ve presented information or made and defended an argument in such a formal manner. Learning to do it well has significant payoffs.
“At the start of the year, I wasn't very confident speaking in front of my peers, but as the year progressed, I noticed that I felt more comfortable speaking, both in front of the class and in everyday speech,” Upper School Speech and Debate student Nick Fay ’21 said of his experience.
Language arts teacher Karen Westbrook, who introduced the Middle School’s Speech and Debate curriculum in 2015, agreed. “My students see that public speaking does not have to be scary or intimidating and that we all are constant students of how to be better speakers.”
The courses also develop and reinforce strong critical thinking skills and more disciplined approaches to argumentation.
“My biggest takeaway from the class was to consider and analyze others’ perspectives,” said Grace Petrov ’24. “It allowed me to navigate debates, make assertions at the precise moments and articulate ideas that would either support or negate an argument.”
For Talia Granick ’21, the class served as meaningful preparation for facing real-life challenges head-on. “Not only does it throw you into super-uncomfortable situations and force you to think on your feet, but also it teaches you so much about understanding multiple sides to every argument,” she said.
And — particularly important in today’s fractured political climate — the discipline’s norms make a solid case for civil discourse.
“I appreciate the recognition that debate does not mean raising one’s voice or name-calling but, rather, delivering assertions calmly, rationally and with support, logic and justification,” Westbrook said. “Developmentally, teenagers are challenged to see this. I believe Speech and Debate helps with their self-awareness.”
Another key takeaway is one that can be especially difficult for perfection-minded students: accepting criticism and moving on from failure.
“As novice debaters, students are required to embrace a growth-minded perspective,” Spransy said. “No student starts as a champion; instead they must learn to take in constructive feedback from coaches and judges in order to grow.”
“We all provide and receive feedback from each other,” Westbrook said. “Collaboration and communication are essential.
“Many middle schoolers feel that they don't have a voice, but in this class they do,” she added. “I feel that students coming out of these classes can tell anyone how powerful the spoken word can be.”
Watch then-Middle School Speech and Debate II student Delaney Washington ’22 give her speech, “If I Ruled the World,” originally spotlighted in the Spring 2018 Ravenscroft Magazine.