Teacher Tracking of Socratic Seminar
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".
Socratic Seminars are one method for discussing complex texts, and they are also useful forums where students can metacognate about their learning process and even share best practices.
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.
One of the most essential steps for a successful Socratic seminar is the preparation of evidence that each student will bring into these discussions. One of the ways we prepare is through Pair Posters followed by a Gallery Walk. To give context, the seminars are whole class and entirely student-facilitated. Given all of the personality dynamics at play during the actual seminar, coupled with the ever-present video camera recording their thoughtful conversation that will later be scripted, it is fundamental that the students ground their opinions and questions in the text in order for the seminar to be a positive learning experience. One method of preparation that helps them do this, and that also generates enthusiasm for this high-stakes discussion, is dividing the class into pairs to create quote posters. After each pair is assigned a literary device, they then use their Annotation Logs to select text evidence shows how the literary device functions. This involves conversation and negotiation between the pair who then have to use the device analysis to connect back to one of the themes we have been studying as a class and incorporate an image that illuminates that connection. The public nature of the gallery walk that ensues after the posters are completed ensures that student pairs also spend time polishing the final product. Their peers will then take pictures of all the posters and decide which ones they might want to use as part of their individual evidence preparation for the Socratic seminar.