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.
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.
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.
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.