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".
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.
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.
Generating student talk in the classroom is a focal point for my teaching, and it is important that those conversations happen in both high-stakes and low-stakes settings. A Warm-Up is the forum for a low-stakes conversation that can generate a high return. For example, the journey for a student to become an excellent oral presenter can be an uncomfortable one. Opening class with a conversation where students can talk with each other in anticipation of these growing pains does perpetuate a sense of camaraderie and support, although my students have referred to it as a feeling of "shared doom". Additionally, a teacher can have an influence on the energy of the class depending on what prompts are crafted for the Conversational Warm-Up.