Posters in Pairs
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.
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 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.
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.