Lab focuses, above all else, on training students to think argumentatively. We spend most of our time discussing why arguments have the specific forms and structures that they do (rather than dictating those structures) so that students will be comfortable constructing and responding to all arguments. Much of lab, then, is devoted to de-mystifying what students might have learned only partially or confusingly during novice year. As such, lab is very rarely a lecture. Socratic questioning is common, ensuring that each student participates and follows the logic of the discussion. It is more important to us that students be able to produce good, structured arguments on their own rather than simply read pre-scripted ones.
In terms of research, we spend more time focusing on the process, rather than the result. Lab leaders will help guide the students and review their work, but we believe that, when it comes to research, the best way to learn is simply to practice repeatedly and learn through trial and error.
The lab schedule approximates the following the weekly progression. Each day begins with 15 minutes of speaking drills. We also try to do some form of speaking or rebuttal redoes every day.
The first week focuses primarily on speaking technique. It begins with flowing and basic clash/line-by-line technique, until everyone in the lab is up to speed and giving clear, flowable constructive speeches. We do lots of mini-debates, focusing on DAs and case debates. At the end the week the students will begin researching.
The second week focuses on the strategy and philosophy of each of the speeches. We go through each speech in the debate using the schema of “Purpose, Approach, Execution,” so that every student can successfully give any of the speeches. After the speeches, we move to the theory basics, starting with topicality and counterplan competition. Research continues for at least one segment of every day. By the end of the week we start to discuss kritiks and spend some time discussing philosophical foundations of important critical arguments.
In the third week, focus shifts to more advanced theory and philosophy discussion. Practice debates are common, and much of lab time is spent talking through topic specific arguments. Research shifts from article searching to block writing and file construction. Speeches and Redoes are now primarily focused on rebuttal skills and on finding and answering nexus questions.
The final week is mostly spent on tournament preparation and strategy discussion, and miscellaneous arguments that the students want to discuss.
The focus of the sophomore lab curriculum is to provide as many opportunities for direct skill development as possible. This lab prides itself in having the lab students speak every day, whether it is a line-by-line drill, rebuttal redo, clash drill, or full debate. Students get direct feedback, both verbally and on the lab wiki, on skills they should work on.
The utilization of the lab wiki to openly record feedback on student speeches has been instrumental in enhancing the teaching over the four-week institute experience. Coaches can track their students to see what skills students are focusing on and what areas they should continue to work on after their time at NU is done. The wiki also allows other teachers within our lab to continue to focus on similar skill development - i.e. what Tate may comment on in a speech on Monday, Fisher can follow-up with those skills on Tuesday, and Lee can hopefully see progression on that same skill set on Wednesday. It also allows the students to go back and process the feedback given.
In regards to research, our focus is to teach the skills in regards to beginning debate research. We start with a skeleton Affirmative file that we utilize to teach the kids at the beginning on finding specific arguments to further develop the argument. We believe this approach allows for more tailored focus on teaching research than sending the young lab students out on a large fishing expedition to start an Affirmative. Although the lab is not research intensive due to the age of the students and the focus on skill development, students will do three waves of research that will incorporate specific, targeted work on an Affirmative and its case negative, a couple of topic-related DAs and CPs, a Kritik, and a final toolbox (i.e. advantage counterplans, advantage frontlines) that allows the student to take on a mini-assignment and see it through from start to finish.
Aside from skill development, a wide variety of lectures are utilized. We believe in exposing the lab students to the specific talents that all of the NU faculty has. We often use guest lecturers from the other labs to come in and give a lecture on their area of expertise. Students will be exposed to a wide variety of theory lectures, topic lectures, as well as lectures on practical strategies to improve their debating. like ethos, cross-examination, and utilizing preparation time.
We believe we have done our job effectively if (a) every student in our lab goes home with a vast improvement on the skill set they brought to the institute and (b) every student in our lab goes home with a high level of motivation and passion for the activity to start the season.
This lab is focused on helping students make the transition to the elimination round level of the national circuit. Moving beyond the fundamentals, this lab will be dedicated to advanced areas of research, strategy, and in round execution. Lab time will break down into these key areas
Practice debates/Speech Redos/Drills-Nothing is more important to this lab than debating and as such students will be offered daily opportunities for practice debates, speech redos, and participation in various drills. We will start practice debates within the first two days of lab. Speech redos will be required after each debate. An assortment of drills e.g. extending a DA, answering a link turn, overviews, will be offered on a regular basis. Debating will be a constant of the lab experience even during heavy research times.
Research-A critical part of making the transition to the elite level of high school debate is having a high level of understanding regarding key topic issues as well as the ability to produce complete arguments. This lab will be heavily focused on both those goals. Students will be responsible for producing complete arguments individually or in small groups. Lab leaders will work with students on assignments at every step of the process giving daily updates and suggestions. The range of possible research topics will be flexible. Students will have much input into this process. At the same time core topic issues will be emphasized as it is our belief that summer research should stay focused on the primary topic controversies. Each part of the argument construction process will be taught including initial affirmative and negative waves, block writing, and updating arguments over the course of the workshop.
Theory and Strategy-The last piece of this puzzle is teaching sophisticated approaches to breaking down the topic and debate. What makes a good affirmative? How to approach the beginning of the year from the negative perspective? Complex theory debates will be explored covering the spectrum of debate argument e.g. Kritik, Topicality, Counterplans. It is the goal of this lab to teach students to be their own coaches and be able to win a debate starting with the beginning brainstorming stage of argument production, moving to the block writing process, and finishing with in round execution. Advanced theory and strategy will be woven in and out of the curriculum to help guide this aim.
- College seminar atmosphere
- Low student to teacher ratio
- House of theory
- Cutting edge argument construction based on the upcoming high school topic not on a rehash of previous college arguments.
- Practice debates and speaking drills
- Understanding argument in order to improve debate