Moral Reasoning Conversation
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.
In the "Google DOCtoring" strategy, a Google Document is shared among the members of a small student group or with the whole class. My students will then collectively annotate text evidence and/or give responses to questions about the class text. This strategy pushes each student's sense of accountability to the whole group, and it challenges all of my students to be clear in expressing their thoughts in writing. Early in the school year, I use the collaborative notes from Google DOCtoring sessions to assess my students' understanding and to push individual student's thinking. Once students become accustomed to working on Google Docs together, this strategy is also an efficient way to collaborate and build text analysis together that can later be used for Socratic Seminars and essays.
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.
One thing students can always count on in our Socratic seminars is that they will be recorded. Preparing for the Socratic Seminar involves watching film footage of the previous seminar discussion. Students can participate more effectively if we acknowledge what they are doing right, and they buy in more deeply to the idea of using evidence to back their claims when I do the same during this preparation process. In this case, I use evidence in the form of recorded footage to demonstrate their success with some key aspects of a quality academic discussion.For this strategy, the purpose is twofold. First, though I do not re-play each and every single video, I do feel that there is value in capturing student talk that can be made available for those students who can benefit from listening to their peers. This is why I upload and share the videos to all of the students. I have often used recordings of classroom discussion to inform how I will revise the same unit for the following year.The second purpose of this strategy is so that I can script verbatim the exchanges between the students that happen in the seminar. I then provide the students this script, and they can see what we call their “isms”. For example, a student might notice that they say the word “like” or “ya know what I’m sayin’” repeatedly in the seminar. These “isms” affect how people listening to them might respond, and by capturing them on paper, it gives the students evidence of what they will want to work on in terms of the way they orally present themselves. The scripts are also a useful resource for when students are constructing analysis through writing because they or their peers might have cited a strong quote or made a critical connection on which students can build their own analysis.