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.
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.
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.
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.