Moral Reasoning Conversation
A Moral Reasoning Conversation is a student grouping and discourse strategy that involves heterogeneous groups of 4-5 students holding table discussions about their responses to provocative questions that frame, go deeper with, or reflect on the day's lesson. This is an especially effective strategy to use when we are engaging with complex themes in the literature we are reading as a class. The purpose of Moral Reasoning Conversations is for my students to prepare the thoughts that they will introduce in a subsequent whole-class discussion or a more formal Socratic Seminar. The students are given a situation that asks them to use their individual moral compasses to determine how they would behave in a complex ethical context. They discuss these moral dilemmas with peers in their table groups. At key moments during the discussion, I introduce "wrenches" that add layers of complexity to the dilemmas and push students towards deeper critical thinking and consideration of multiple perspectives. I consider carefully how much detail to present regarding each initial moral dilemma, so that my students have the opportunity to develop their own "wrenches" for the Moral Reasoning Conversation.
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".
Socratic Seminars are one method for discussing complex texts, and they are also useful forums where students can metacognate about their learning process and even share best practices.
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.