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Interview with Ziad Jawadi about Debate Judging and Feedback

On July 28, 2011, on behalf of Rate Speeches, Nura Kawa conducted an interview with Ziad Jawadi.  Ziad is an experienced Public Forum debater; he was Harker School Debate Captain 2009-2011, 2011 National Debate Coaches Association (NDCA) National Champion, 2010 and 2011 Tournament of Champion (TOC) Octafinalist, and 2010 Martin Luther King Invitational Champion.  The interview was about effective debate judge feedback comments.


Nura:

What kind of comments make a ballot effective and easy to learn from? Give some examples.


Ziad:

Judges often make the mistake of giving each person feedback. Usually, and I'd guess (and I am very literally just straight up guessing based on my experiences and what I've seen from others) about 90% of the time this feedback is totally ignored. Most students think that they won the round for whatever reason, even if they didn't, and thus are hesitant to change their styles based on what some judge says. So in reality, what judges should do makes their lives easier and makes the students lives easier. In short, judges should simply explain what it was that caused the other people/team to win. Maybe a brief (BRIEF) comment for each person. So for a debate ballot (these are the ballots I am most familiar with), it would look something like this: Team X from School Y won because they said/did this (insert here). This was better than what Team Y said/did in my opinion because _________." For IE (based on my sister's experience, not mine): "I ranked student X 1st because they did this (insert here)/was the best because of _____," and repeat for each student.


Nura:

When judging a debate event, what are some things that judges should avoid doing?


Ziad:

Inserting their personal bias on the topic -- This is obviously incredibly difficult not to do, but judges often forget that what a student argues may not be at all what they believe. I am a fiscally conservative Republican, but have obviously had to argue in support of unions and other things that may be things that are more for Democrats. A Republican judge who sees me doing this may not really recognize I am a Republican and would side against me because they disagree with what I am saying even though this may not be at all what I believe. For instance, one time at the UC Berkeley tournament, I was judged by a Pakistani Muslim. I myself am an Iraqi Muslim. I had to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is the worst thing in the world and that they are about to launch a war against America through the January 25th revolution in Egypt. While I may personally dislike the Muslim Brotherhood and despise all forms of terrorism, it is clear that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful and had nothing to do with the Brotherhood, and I did personally support the revolution. At the end of the round, the judge told me he voted against me because the Egyptian Revolution was peaceful and had nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood. My reaction was "No DUH!! I'm Iraqi, you think I don't know this??!!!" I had all the evidence to support me and had clearly defeated my opponent, but still lost the round because of this bias. In short, judges should realize that often times what a student says in a debate round is not at ALL what they personally believe, just as your decision may not and often times shouldn't be what you personally agree with.


Nura:

What is the best possible way to avoid any judge bias when ranking students?


Ziad:

This is obviously incredibly difficult and it is a problem for just about every judge, even the most experienced of them. What you need to remember is that you are supposed to be like a member of the American Jury when you enter. You are supposed to set aside your personal beliefs and look at what is presented. Even if something is blatantly wrong, if it is better than what is done by comparison in other speeches or isn't refuted by the opposing team in a debate, it should be fair game. There was an interview with a judge from the Casey Anthony trial on ABC. She herself said that she didn't believe that Casey Anthony was innocent but that the prosecution just did such an awful job proving her guilt that she had to acquit (think OJ Simpson--"If the glove don't fit, you must acquit!"). Link to the interview: http://abcnews.go.com/US/casey_anthony_trial/casey-anthony-juror-sick-stomach-guilty-verdict/story?id=14005609


Nura:

What advice would you give parent judges in general? What techniques can judges use to decide between students what rank to give them?


Ziad:

Learn the English language. It is amazing how many times a judge who cannot speak English signs up to judge. If you cannot speak the language, please investigate other options and save everyone the trouble. Also, like I said earlier, just remember that often times what comes out of the student's mouth may not be at all what they agree with, so you as well shouldn't insert your personal bias either.