Opening Journal Warm-Up
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.
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.
Although I can not predict when great insights will come up during a Socratic seminar, I can be assured that they will happen. I film the seminar because I then play back the footage to help me create accurate scripted notes that students can use as an additional resource to support their analysis writing. I have also found that using clips from the seminar to build a Gooru collection or to share during a moment of direct instruction is a very engaging way to teach. It also acknowledges what my students know and it allows them to, in essence, help me teach the class.