My students have had a few days to prepare for their seminar, so I will not give them much time to organize, but we will forgo our usual reading time today to make sure we have enough time to set up the room and have robust discussion about our two main questions:
I will ask students to help me arrange the desks into a circle and will allow them a few minutes to touch base with their seminar partners about strategies before we begin the discussion.
This seminar will be a modified star seminar, which means that each student will have a silent partner to assist them during the discussion. All students will have a chance to talk if they choose to, but only half of my students will be "on" and speaking during this first round while the other half will be listening and note-taking. I will remind the class that I will be assessing both participants on their contributions, which means I will be listening to how the speakers move the conversation forward and watching/reading the notes of the listeners to see how they are doing the same thing. Both students are responsible for adding to the discussion using textual support, questions, comments, etc., but the listener will be doing this silently while the speaker does it vocally.
I am trying this new format for a few reasons. First, I want to see how some of my shy kids do with a seminar that doesn't require them to talk. I think that a great deal of being a strong communicator comes from being a strong listener. Second, I wanted to see how a collaborative element would effect the discussion format. I am curious to see how the partners create strategy for making sure that their ideas are heard.
My teaching partner and I decided to split our block into halves today, which means that I will have half of my students for each period of our block. With roughly 30 students, there will be 15 speakers and 15 listeners for each round.
As a rule, I do not intervene in a seminar, even if there is awkward silence. I will throw our two main questions out (and post them on the board for reference), then I will sit back and take notes about who is contributing to the discussion and how. I will be grading for a variety of things today, but the main standards I hope to assess student proficiency with are as follows:
I am going to limit each group of speakers to 15 minutes of discussion time. To make sure that they are constantly returning to their text to provide evidence for their claims and ideas (RI.9-10.1), I will give them a brief ten minute discussion break to allow partners to compare notes and regroup with their strategies before moving on to the next round. For a full list of the texts they are referencing, go here.
I am going to be a little unorthodox with my groupings in this seminar too. I am not going to force the partners to change places for the second round, which means that some students may not have a turn to be speak. I am going to do this because I think it is just as important for them to have the chance to decide what their best strategy is for sharing their ideas as it is for all students to get a chance to speak. I will be observing their contributions to the seminar in many ways, so their written contributions and/or their informal planning with their partners will give me a strong sense of their engagement in the learning.
After they've had ten minutes to regroup/plan, I will officially start the second round of discussion. I will only remind them about our guiding questions if the first round was getting way off topic, but I anticipate that they will stick fairly close to those questions. I have never had much problem getting a lot of traction out of a few big questions, but, if needed, I will also ask follow up questions to stimulate conversation.
I will time this second round and let them discuss for 15 more minutes. I will continue to take notes on student participation and engagement and do my very best to keep my big mouth shut.
To wrap up our time today, I will ask students to complete a brief exit slip that asks them to comment on the questions we discussed and reflect on their participation in the seminar. I usually ask students to give praise to those who they felt were specifically great in the seminar, so I will also leave the last few minutes to ask for any shout outs amongst the group.