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.
Our classroom is committed to being in the public eye, so that our work together has real-life meaning and authentic value. Thus, it is necessary that a culture is established in which everyone looks at each other as assets in the game where constructive criticism meets the oral presentation. This is key, especially in small groups when students will be giving peer-to-peer feedback and scoring each other on the same rubric that an outside audience will be using to score their presentation performance. When students do this kind of partner assessment, I find it most effective if the group only focuses on one or two of the rubric domains rather than the entire rubric. By concentrating their feedback, they are then able to take the next step -- developing a common and targeted set of strategies that they all can practice in order to become excellent oral presenters.
A Moral Reasoning Conversation is a student grouping and discourse strategy that involves heterogeneous groups of 4-5 students holding table discussions about their responses to provocative questions that frame, go deeper with, or reflect on the day's lesson. This is an especially effective strategy to use when we are engaging with complex themes in the literature we are reading as a class. The purpose of Moral Reasoning Conversations is for my students to prepare the thoughts that they will introduce in a subsequent whole-class discussion or a more formal Socratic Seminar. The students are given a situation that asks them to use their individual moral compasses to determine how they would behave in a complex ethical context. They discuss these moral dilemmas with peers in their table groups. At key moments during the discussion, I introduce "wrenches" that add layers of complexity to the dilemmas and push students towards deeper critical thinking and consideration of multiple perspectives. I consider carefully how much detail to present regarding each initial moral dilemma, so that my students have the opportunity to develop their own "wrenches" for the Moral Reasoning Conversation.
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.