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".
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.
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.
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.