Socratic Seminar Prep
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.
The Socratic Seminar is completely student-run in my class, and I alternate between the inner/outer circle format and a single-circle format. As the teacher, I play the role of videographer and when there is only one circle, I publicly track the quality of student comments on the white board throughout the conversation. This is an effective way to let students know when their thinking is becoming more and more insightful. I use the colors green, orange, and red to color code the tally marks I make on the board. Green means that the student offered a comment that made sense and was explained well. Orange signifies that the students cited evidence with their comment, which is the goal for everyone to reach at least once in the seminar. Lastly, a red tally mark next to a student's name means that the student not only used evidence when they commented but also offered a keen insight using that text evidence. This kind of in-the-moment tracking encourages the students to really think about how to share thoughts in the Seminar that will allow their peers to dig deep into the text and create meaning. They strive for the red tally because it means their brain and their contributions to the Seminar are "on fire".
As with the Warm-up activity that gets the brain going at the beginning of class, my students end class with an activity that lets them feel closure with the lesson and their work for that day. The activity is almost always an online reflective journal or survey, and the purpose is to have an impact on and inform my planning for the next class. Sometimes we end the period with a whole-class conversation instead, especially after a Socratic Seminar day, because we use the conversation to debrief and think metacognitively about our discussion process as a whole group. Students should develop metacognition skills as a way of understanding how they learn. The debrief looks at the learning process for the day and is that opportunity for me to point out how different students learned well because they have certain strategies they used effectively. In this way, more students can benefit from that reflection. Literacy development requires so many strategies that operate differently given the text. When my students can benefit from understanding how they each learn, a strong sense of community and collaboration develops.
Just the Facts asks one to two students to summarize quickly the reading that will be used in the day's discussion. We follow a simple protocol of "Who + What"--citing which characters from the text did what significant actions in order to move the plot forward. When the initial student is finished sharing key facts from the reading, another student might be asked to fill in any other details. If there are plot details that are incorrect, it is an opportunity for other students to correct the errors. These "police report" type of summaries can be audio or video recorded, quickly edited, and then posted on to the class website as a more engaging way for students to review significant plot points from our class texts. Although there is an ideal reading pace at which I want students to move, some will be ahead of the reading calendar and some will be behind. Also, many students are anxious or reluctant to share out loud when it comes to analysis of the reading. Given that the Just the Facts reports the text's plot and simply the facts, more students are enthusiastic about sharing because the strategy allows different students to be the experts in relaying facts.