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.
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".
A valuable routine not only for my students but for my own learning as well is the use of video recording in the classroom. Key events to record are our academic discussions, their individual oral presentations, and as much as possible, their learning process as they build their skills. My students have a Senior Capstone Project and are expected to be able to present their research findings in both live and digital form. This is one example of a project where video recording becomes a necessary tool. From day one of the school year, the video camera slowly becomes a part of the village that is my classroom. Before students are recorded themselves, I show a significant amount of footage from previous years, whether it be past seniors giving advice about student mindset or a snapshot of a Socratic seminar. Students learn quickly that the video camera can be an amazing tool for helping them to become excellent presenters, and we discuss its value in capturing individual "isms" where a student has a particular presentation habit that needs adjusting. I also find it useful to record students giving each other peer feedback in addition to my own feedback. There is an added level of accountability when students know their feedback will also be recorded, which then leads students to focus on the language of the rubric to understand what is truly being assessed.
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.