A Note about Middle School Judging

One problem we have become aware of through the first two Middle School tournament has been a shortage of trained judges available, meaning a number of byes received by Novice debaters.

There are two main explanations for why we’re at this point:

First, the CMSDL has doubled in size this year.

Second, the CMSDL has required all high school debaters to undergo a specific judge training prior to being allowed to judge. In prior years, any high school debaters could sign up to judge regardless of whether they had been prepared in the CMSDL format or how to communicate effectively with middle school students. Based on strong feedback from CMSDL coaches, we instituted this judge training requirement, one we won’t budge from and one which we understand as being important in improving judge quality and attentiveness. This training will continue – we’re aware that there are a couple of judges who didn’t meet our standard at the last tournament based on coach feedback and we’ll make sure these judges receive the training they require to be constructive and helpful to CMSDL students.

We’ve received some initial feedback that coaches are generally happier with the quality of judges, while being frustrated about their Novice debaters sitting for part of the day due to not having enough of them.

We’ve come up with a few solutions:

First, in addition to having additional trainings for high school judges before CMSDL T3 on Saturday, January 21st, we are going to ask our mentor coaches (experienced high school coaches who have worked with CMSDL schools) to lead CMSDL judge trainings in areas of the city where students have a hard time getting to Loyola Water Tower Campus for a training. We will announce these trainings once they’re set, but this will enable us to reach more high school Varsity student judges and ensure they’re trained and ready to judge at CMSDL T3 and T4.

Second, we are going to ask our mentor coaches to work with us to provide more student judges that can be trained and judge at CMSDL tournaments. We will continue to let high school coaches know of the opportunity for their Varsity debaters to be trained to judge and receive $40/day pay.

Third, any parents, faculty colleagues, and family members interested in judging in the CMSDL can contact David at davidsong@resources.chicagodebates.org about your interest in becoming a judge. We pay our judges $40/day at CMSDL tournaments and can schedule a training on-site at a school if there are 3 or more adult judges present. We’ve had some parents who come to observe already become judges and welcome any parents who would have interest in doing this at future tournaments.

Finally, we want to remind coaches that inattentive, inappropriate, or unhelpful judges do not meet our standards for contributions to student development and we want to know which judges we need to be concerned about in this regard. The proper, and only, formal channel for pursuing a complaint about a judge is by filling out a Notice of Concern. We have these at the Judge Table at every tournament.

Coaches don’t need to and shouldn’t handle poor judge conduct by confronting a judge, nor should they accept judges not taking their job seriously as something to be expected – whether coaches or paid judges, we entrust adults with facilitating student knowledge and confidence and take that seriously. We need to know if judges are not making the debate about the debaters but instead about themselves through distraction, interruption, rudeness, or indifference. Filling out a Notice of Concern for a legitimate reason doesn’t make you a whiner or sore loser – it helps us to identify which judges we need to work with to remedy a problem that affects multiple other schools and students.

I follow up and investigate every Notice of Concern – we’ve suspended a judge for a tournament this year already for poor conduct and gave warnings to judges that have led to better and more attentive judging behavior. Repeat offenses can lead to longer suspensions or being banned from judging in the Chicago Debate League altogether.

The Notice of Concern is for judges who don’t present an opportunity for students to enjoy a fair debate and don’t conduct themselves in a way that allows students to learn and improve. Judges who text, don’t flow, say unhelpfully critical things in the oral critique, and make students feel less confident about their improvement should be noted through a Notice of Concern.

Finally, as a constructive reminder that you should please share with your high school judges and any others you think would benefit, good judges do the following:

  • Flow to the best of their ability
  • Offer positive but substantive praise to debaters (particularly in JV debates)
  • Offer usable constructive criticism for how debaters can improve
  • Leave their personal politics, social views, debate philosophies, and biases out of the debate – save it for your blog and leave it off the ballot and out of your oral critique
  • Allow the debaters to prove what is “true” about the arguments in a debate
  • Allow the debate to be about the debaters and their ideas
  • Use the oral critique to increase students’ knowledge about a subject area or to lead them to further exploration
  • Have humility and a sense of humor about themselves, no matter how vast their debate legend or importance otherwise
  • Refrain from insulting students or criticizing them about things they can’t control (stuttering, accents, appearance) that are beyond their academic performance
  • Offer balanced comments to both teams rather than praising one team and tearing the other team down
  • Offer balanced comments to both partners on each team rather than simply blaming one debater for everything that went wrong in a debate
  • Offer specific suggestions for how to improve upon the execution and strategy in the debate, no matter how lopsided it might be for either side
  • Refrain from using silly, extreme language like “dumb,” “stupid,” “awful,” “hate,” “terrible,” etc. You’re not Charles Barkley, Gordon Ramsay or Simon Cowell and this isn’t your chance to be like them – making yourself big by making others feel small never works out for the petty cartoon villains of the world (especially the British)
  • Are honest about their expectations and abilities – don’t tell debaters to “talk as fast as you want, run whatever you want” if you’re a relatively inexperienced judge who would prefer that debaters speak slowly and clearly.
  • Know when they’ve been helpful enough and information overload is imminent – you can’t teach students everything about debate in a 5-minute oral critique. You win if you give them 1-2 things they can use going forward
  • Encourage students to use more effective teamwork and give ideas for things students can work on with their coaches
  • Offer encouragement for students who are doing things most students their age could never do
  • Help teachers to make students want to come back the next tournament and do it again, but even better

Please contact us with any questions or thoughts.

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