I begin class today with a quick check of my students' homework, which was to arrive to class today with 15 questions for potential use in their second Socratic Seminar.
When homework has been checked, I give my students a few reminders, based on the guidelines that we reviewed during the previous lesson. I remind them that it is up to them to present one or some of their questions to the group, and that whomever responds must be mindful of not speaking over someone else. I remind them to avoid interrupting each other, and that their goal is to "dialogue" about the texts, not debate. I remind them to link their responses to the texts as much as possible, and that if the dialogue starts to wander off-topic, that someone will need to pull it back into focus. Finally, I tell them that with the number of questions that the group is prepared with, they should not have to suffer a lull in the conversation--if a question seems sufficiently discussed, then it is up to someone to introduce a new question.
I likewise remind them of the requirement of contributing at least twice to today's seminar, and explain to them a method I will be introducing in order to encourage participation by all, which I explain further here.
Our first seminar ran for approximately 35 minutes; today I have allotted 55 minutes, in that my students have grown more confident in their class discussions by this time in the year, and that the core text and supplemental readings provide my students with more material to discuss than in their first seminar.
As the seminar is progressing, I remain on the outside of the circle, listening for participants and checking them off as they contribute. Each time a student makes an extended contribution (and not just an "I agree with what ___ said") or offers one of his/her questions, I put a check in my grade book, maxing out at the required two checks. I have found this to be the easiest way to keep track of participation without distracting me from what is being discussed. Additionally, it is very simple to scan my list of checks at any point and see who has yet to contribute. I have the small rock in my pocket, should the need arise for me to place it in front of any students, to remind them to invite a peer into the dialogue who may not yet have joined in. I make a point to keep my eye contact away from that of my students', as I want them to engage with each other and not perform for me.
The format of the Socratic Seminar is by no means new to education, but it is very much a practice that supports certain key shifts in the Common Core Standards, through the structure of student-led inquiry and text-based answers. If the seminar is conducted properly, then students engage in rich and rigorous evidence-based conversations about the texts.
I like to close with a few shout-outs to students who performed noticeably well during the seminar. This is an especially good opportunity to highlight any students who may not often participate in less formal class discussions, in that they were required to participate today. For example, this is an opportunity to offer such praise as ""I loved the way you referred to the text to support your answer" or "I hadn't thought of that before!" Maybe, just maybe, such praise will pull those students out even more in future discussions and seminars.
Before my students leave, I let them know that we will more fully debrief on the seminar at the beginning of our next class session.