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Thinking on Your Own – Part 2: Speech and Debate (Activities to Build Reasoning, Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills)

This is the second of a five part blog series in which we're reviewing educational activities that should be introduced (and strongly emphasized) for paradigm shifting increases in reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking skills. We covered Chess and Complex Board Games in part one. Today we're covering the benefits of speech and debate practice and competition. We’ll also be covering Coding, Building Toys to Makerspaces, and Sports in later blog posts. Let's set the stage for why we're pursuing this blog series in the first place.

We live in the most abundant period of human history. But that doesn’t mean our problems are all solved or that everything is easy. Every day we face a flood of information, misinformation and disinformation. And with even a moderate level of perspective we should be grateful for what we have, yet realize how much is uncertain - or simply not known. Skills that aid in navigating these waters are paramount.

Education is classically described as “learning how to learn,” or that a great education “prepares you for a lifetime of learning.” Being able to “think” or to “think on your own” has never been more important. Three core components of thought are reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking skills. So let's dive in to the benefits of Speech and Debate...

Speech and Debate

Speech and Debate take you out of your comfort zone and a set perspective. Given a specific topic, you need to articulate ideas, generate understanding, make convincing logical arguments and try to win the affirmation of others. You may have to work with a topic where you have little to no current knowledge or perspective. You may need to take up an idea or viewpoint with which you strongly disagree. That's a perfectly fine and an empowering set of skills to develop: to see things from other perspectives and reason out rationales for viable alternatives.

Speech and Debate is also great for quickly spotting logical fallacies, learning how to counter them, and arrive at decisions based on sound reasoning and facts. In Speech and Debate you quickly understand the need to "do your homework" with adequate research and prioritizing your time to cover and prepare for competitive environments. Speech and Debate teaches you plenty about overcoming fear and becoming more confident.

I enjoyed debate in middle and high school. Winning in the arena of ideas is satisfying, and losing gave me a thirst to improve my skills. Win or lose, competition was intoxicating and preparing - being deeply educated on a topic, was a valuable life skill to develop. Grace, grattitude and seeing things from the perspective of others (especially those with whom you disagree) were valuable (and sometimes hard) lessons learned that have served me very well.

In society today, we need more open debate and greater ability to have perspective from the viewpoints of others. There is excessive intolerance and a seemingly constant need to bully and silence others. If you can't make your case on solid reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking skills, then you're probably not advocating the right solution.

Speech and Debate educate you in many ways as they:

  1. Strengthen your ability to see things from another’s perspective;
  2. Develop excellent critical thinking skills;
  3. Develop excellent oral and written communication skills;
  4. Enhance analytical, research and note-taking skills;
  5. Enhance the ability to structure and organize thoughts;
  6. Improve your ability to form balanced, informed arguments based on sound reasoning and evidence;
  7. Help overcome fears of public speaking and develop confidence, poise and self-esteem; and
  8. Foster the synthesis of broad, multi-faceted knowledge across several disciplines.

Here’s your takeaway:

Speech and Debate is not about being argumentative - grace, grattitude and seeing ideas with which you disagree from the perspective of others is an important aspect of Speech and Debate. You have to be able to thoroughly understand and advocate all sides. You need to understand and avoid the pitfalls of logical fallocies. And you need to know your topics and research them inside and out.

Try having students make short speeches about some aspect of your class this winter. It could be on any topic of the moment related to the subject being covered in your class. Once they can make a fair speech on a topic, introduce two sides to a topic and you've got the makings for a great debate!

Up Next: Coding

In our next blog of this series, we’ll cover the benefits of learning to code. But you don’t need to wait for me! Feel free to research ahead on your own and make progress teaching reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking skills through Coding.

Guest Blogger:

Bill Franklin, the CEO of Internet4Classrooms, is our guest blogger this month. He has been on the faculty at The George Washington University, has years of platform instructional experience, was a career Army Special Operations officer and also has decades of experience as a youth sports coach.



Internet4classrooms is a collaborative effort by Susan Brooks and Bill Byles.




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