What is the WIDL?
In the Wasatch Independent Debate League we are
serious about creating the most exceptional, academically
rigorous, and inspiring educational experience that a student can find.
The class is about speaking and debating, but is just as much about critical thinking, being able to organize thoughts, understanding important ideas and current events, and being part of a community of students striving to succeed. We want students to be able to debate, but it is more important to us that they develop the skills and mindsets which will prepare them to engage critically in communities, government, business, education, and life.
How the class works
Classes begin with half an hour of
discussion and debate on current
events, politics, moral issues, and big
ideas. During this time students get to
match wits with their teacher and are
challenged to think more deeply than
they ever have before.
In lessons students will gain thinking,
speaking, and debating skills and
apply them to events such as Impromptu Speaking, Spontaneous Argument, Extemporaneous Speaking, Oratory, Student Congress Debate, Presidential Debate, and Lincoln Douglas Debate.
In class, students spend their time thinking, discussing, researching, and, more than anything, speaking and debating because that is what makes the class exciting and that is how students learn best. By being in the class, students are members of the Wasatch Independent Debate League and compete in WIDL tournaments. Competitions are motivating and challenging growth oriented experiences. They also provide a community of successful people with whom students can engage.
Our Approach to Teaching
In the Wasatch Independent Debate League we take our classroom approach very seriously to ensure that we facilitate the key experiences that we want students to have. Our philosophy has four key elements:
The first approach is that we are serious about using research based teaching methods. Specifically, active learning. Study after study demonstrates that the most effective teaching methods are methods in which you can observe the learning that the student is doing. We care whether or not our teaching methods produce real results, and that is why students are constantly learning in observable ways that require grit and growth.
We invest a lot of time and energy into helping students develop mindsets and perspectives that aid them in dealing with challenges and growth. And we dedicate our classroom to teaching students to have a mindset that values responsibility, effort over perfection, risk taking over trophies, and that is motivated by the desire for self respect rather than the fear of self degradation.
The second approach is that we take, as much as is practical and possible, a viewpoint neutral approach to our classrooms. What this means is that we are serious about teaching students critical thinking, speaking, and debate and that we are not invested in using that platform that parents give us to promote a specific political or ideological agenda. You can find out more here.
Finally, we try to cultivate the same mindset in ourselves. We are willing to hear and, in fact, seek out feedback from our students because we are more concerned with doing what is best for them than with being right. We’re willing to learn and always trying to improve. We understand that great teachers are what make the biggest difference in a classroom, and we are willing to do what it takes to be great teachers.
The Core Skills of Speech and Debate
Speech and debate is often thought of as an elective subject. Something that isn't for everyone, but that is good for students who want to pursue a career in politics or law. However, speech and debate fosters and develops two core skills that are vital for all students to learn and become proficient in.
#1: Effective Communication
This first, perhaps more obvious
skill speech and debate cultivates
is effective communication. The
ability to communicate well is one
of the most fundamental aspects
of living a successful life. For
example, employers consistently
indicate that that solid
communication skills are among
the most important competencies
they are looking for in employees.
Additionally, good communication is vital for healthy interpersonal relationships, leading, and daily activities. The ability to work with others is fundamentally tied to communication. And being able to connect and understand one another is an essential part of developing deep and meaningful relationships.
#2: Critical Thinking
The second core skill that speech and debate teaches is critical thinking. Critical thinking is a set of interrelated mental skills that enable a student to deal with concepts, arguments, and mental frameworks beyond a superficial level. Some of these skills include the following:
The ability to identify and understand the structure of an argument; evaluate the strength of the evidence supporting a
claim; approach a subject objectively (or at least make a good effort to); compose an argument; and consider source and potential motives.
These sorts of skills which make up critical thinking make a student better prepared for life in a variety of ways. This includes helping students prepare for vocational life and personal relationships. But one of the most important ways that critical thinking prepares students is that it makes them better citizens. They can advocate for issues that are important to them while at the same time respectfully listen to and seek to understand opposing viewpoints. They can engage in discourse without becoming bitter toward anyone who disagrees. They can avoid getting swept up in fantastic and apocalyptic claims of all sorts, including political claims. And exposure to the sorts of subjects that make students think critically gets them interested in broader society overall. The end result is that they are better prepared to operate as an adult in a complex world.
Parents: Is My Student Ready?
For beginning classes it is recommended that
students generally start at age 13. If your child is 12
and you want to know if taking the class is a good fit,
ask yourself these questions:
Does your child want to take the class on their
own, or are you having to push them? A desire
to begin speaking ones thoughts is a good
indication that a student’s mind is getting ready
for speech and debate.
Is your child beginning to consider the world
beyond their immediate experience? If they are, this demonstrates that they are moving into the world of higher order cognition and may be ready to take on speech and debate. If they are not, then you may wish to have them wait another
year as they may find speech and debate frustrating.
Is your child ready to start doing homework every week? This is a requirement of the class, and there is little in class time to address study skills. Students who aren’t ready to do homework on a weekly basis will be more likely to flounder in the class.
If you want to consider an intermediate class, consider the following items:
Only older and more mature students are generally allowed to skip beginning.
There is content taught in beginning classes which is not revisited in later classes.
Students in advanced classes do a great deal of self directed work.