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Common Core Update

Speaking and Debating Open Doors for New Standards

While the goal of the Common Core initiative is to establish clear, measurable standards for K12 students, an educational change is imminent. And speech and debate are considered the kinds of skills that will help students meet or master the standards.

These skills can be mastered in part through the National Forensic League, a nonprofit organization founded in 1925. The league’s goal, according to Adam Jacobi, a league staff member responsible for Common Core standards alignment, is to help middle and high school students become effective communicators in 21st-century society. The league believes speech and debate will lead to mastering critical thinking skills, including analyzing, synthesizing, and critiquing the content they are taught.

Aside from the league’s program, there are also software programs, like Reading Assistant, a speech recognition technology program, that help strengthen oral reading fluency for struggling students to meet Common Core requirements in all core subjects. The league holds teacher training courses and nationwide forensic competitions, which are contests between teams in argumentative and advocacy skills, where students are tested on proficiency in debate and public speaking as well as interpretive performance of literature.

Derek Yuill, head coach of the debate team at Gabrielino High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District and 2003 National Forensic League coach of the year, says that having students give speeches “puts accountability on the student” and ensures they fully understand the material. Yuill adds that children prefer alternate teaching methods. “Students want to be in classrooms full of discussion, not with teachers lecturing,” Yuill says.

The league works closely with the Common Core State Standards Initiative to assure the alignment of their own standards. The league’s standard in reading calls for students to delve into deeper, more informative text, such as biographies, as opposed to just reading fiction. The writing standard moves away from narrative writing and focuses on how to form an argument, expository writing, and research. The new literary standard is to test children on listening and speaking skills, as opposed to just reading and writing analysis.