Opening Journal Warm-Up
While I often use a Google Form survey or an opening conversation to start class and set the tone, there is also tremendous value in having students write their individual thoughts in their Writer's Notebooks. Ours is a mostly paperless classroom despite the fact that it is an English class, so these pen-to-paper moments are significant ones. Students understand that these journal entries are silent reflections meant to put them in the frame of mind needed for the day's lessons.
Socratic Seminars can be amazing learning experiences for students when they take the time to prepare what they will contribute to the conversation. Once the seminar prompt has been clarified, each student gets ready by reviewing their Annotation Logs to identify what evidence and analysis addresses the prompt. This preparation often takes 15 minutes, and during that time students use a graphic organizer to develop the key points they want to contribute. Regardless of how many Socratic Seminars we may have already done in the class, we always review the norms to ensure that the time we spend in dialogue is useful and inclusive.
My students have a high-stakes oral defense of their senior research towards the end of the spring semester, and we prepare for that all year. The Video Diagnostic is a recording of each student’s starting point in the oral presentation process and an opportunity for students to see a snippet of their presentation "selves," what their peers see as their current strengths, and what their teacher sees as their current challenges. Each Video Diagnostic includes these three parts -- the oral presentation, peer feedback, and teacher feedback. These are then packaged into one short Video Diagnostic, uploaded, and shared to the student. The student watches it all and gets a clearer sense of how they appear to an audience in terms of their tone, inflection, pacing, and eye contact. I also have them watch these diagnostics a few weeks before the high-stakes presentation as a confidence booster because all of them will have made tremendous gains in their oral presentation skills from that first diagnostic to months later when they are finalizing their presentations at the end of the year.
Generating student talk in the classroom is a focal point for my teaching, and it is important that those conversations happen in both high-stakes and low-stakes settings. A Warm-Up is the forum for a low-stakes conversation that can generate a high return. For example, the journey for a student to become an excellent oral presenter can be an uncomfortable one. Opening class with a conversation where students can talk with each other in anticipation of these growing pains does perpetuate a sense of camaraderie and support, although my students have referred to it as a feeling of "shared doom". Additionally, a teacher can have an influence on the energy of the class depending on what prompts are crafted for the Conversational Warm-Up.