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.
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.
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.