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".
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.
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 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.