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.
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.