Can People Teach Themselves?

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

On Saturday, I spent a few hours at Ethos Debate's Nationals Intensive Training Camp. Fifty-odd high school debaters gathered for two days of drills and practice prior to their National Championship this week. You have to admire kids that have just spent an academic year debating to qualify for the championship and then take the weekend before the big tourney for yet another round of practice and instruction.

Also, I bestow upon Isaiah McPeak genius status. He provided some of the best in-round feedback I've ever heard.

So when the round was over, I was trying to figure out what I could say to these elite debaters. They've practiced more this year than I did in my collegiate debate career!

Instead of giving them feedback, I gave them the reins.

They wrote down two personal lessons learned: one thing done well and one thing to improve. Then, each debater shared their two things while I wrote both on a whiteboard. I looked at the eight lessons learned on the whiteboard and realized: they were right on.

The normal thing is for coaches or judges, after listening to 90+ minutes of debate, to give feedback for at least a few minutes. But just because I'd been listening didn't mean I needed to do the talking.

I'd wager that the paths forward they created will result in more effective practice, and more success, than any instruction I could have provided.

The best thing I can do, as a coach or teacher, is to help people realize how much can teach themselves.

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