Where you put your focus has a powerful effect on the attitude of your children or students. It is often easier to see the flaws and note what was missed in a student’s work or performance than to see what went well.
As teachers or parents who want students to do well, it’s easy to forget that when children are learning something new, they can't possibly get it all right. At Rise & Shine Debating, we’ve always found that when students are learning new skills, being reminded of what they did well on their first attempt has a big impact on their motivation. Focusing on what students have achieved so far helps students feel like they have gained a new foothold as they’re climbing a mountain. Something that we do when we’re debriefing a debate with students is to encourage them to first consider all the things that they did well before thinking about what they can improve next time. When students start with what they need to improve, it’s easy for them to get stuck in listing all of the things they are still working on and adding something they did well as an after-thought with less importance placed on it. A student might say something like, “in my debate I got the audience's attention, I gave my whole talk, I wrote some rebuttal to help Speaker 3! My team and I completed a debate! What an achievement. And next time I will have more eye contact."
Even if students are not initially able to identify everything they need to improve in their debate, the more experience they gain, the more they come to understand how to improve. When teachers or parents present students with a litany of things to improve, it’s disheartening for students and doesn’t take into account that everyone has to start somewhere.
I remember a very confident first debater who proudly showed me that he only needed 3 palm cards for his first 3.5-minute debate! Despite my encouragement to make more notes, he discovered that pressure can make you forget things on the night. What we all appreciated was the way he persisted and made a good effort despite some forgetting a lot of his points due to not having enough palm card notes to help him through. We made sure his courage on the spot was rewarded and he wasn't left feeling as if he had failed, because students need to take risks to learn.
If we had later focused on all the errors this child made, he could have gone away feeling he had failed. By focusing on the fact that he had done his best in the challenge and was still learning, his courage was reinforced. Students usually know when they have made an error of judgement, our aim is to encourage them enough to help them keep going. We want to build their resilience.
Conquering the fear of presenting their first debating is often the biggest achievement for students, and helping their recognize that they CAN do it and can meet that challenge is much more important than telling students what to do better next time. The student comes to think, “okay, it wasn’t perfect but I know I can do it,” and this gives them motivation and desire to try again. The Rise & Shine system is about helping students develop their skills, rather than producing a perfect product. When students feel encouraged and supported with their first debating experiences, they gain that feeling of “I can do it!” Most students won’t go on to become doctors, lawyers or politicians, but at some point in their lives, everyone will encounter a situation where they have to speak in public or present a case for something that matters to them – and that “I can do it” experience in primary school will often form the foundation for further experiences that continue to reinforce a student’s bravery and courage.
Our experience shows that junior school debating skills can be learned in a fun way and provide important skills for future learning and life experiences. A secondary school teacher with a daughter in primary school debating once asked us, “why aren't more primary schools offering debating? It includes skills that all students will need in senior school, as well as life. I teach Year 8 students who will not speak in front of a class!" We agree with that secondary school teacher – the importance of gaining skills, confidence and an “I can do it” attitude in primary school simply cannot be under-estimated!