Today will be our final Socratic Seminar of the year, for which my students began preparing in this lesson. Each student was given the same guidelines sheet, though the documents for discussion varied from class to class, as my students selected the topics and submitted the documents on their own. I narrowed down the documents for discussion to four from the six to eight documents submitted in each class, using my judgement on what the majority of my students would find most engaging.
After the homework check, I briefly review the procedures for the seminar, which are the same expectations as in the last seminar. 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 one.
When the procedure review is complete and my students have no further questions or concerns, I step outside of the circle and allow the seminar to commence. My students have approximately 50 minutes to dialogue with each other, and in that this is their third seminar of the year, I expect that they both know how to and will sustain a robust dialogue in the amount of time given.
As the seminar is progressing, I remain on the outside of the circle, listening for participants and checking them off as they contribute. 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. 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.
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 text.
With five minutes remaining in class, I call an end to the seminar, but not before checking my list of participants and calling on any student specifically whose has not yet contributed twice to the discussion. This is usually a short list, if it even exists at all, but I feel as though I owe one last opportunity to those who may be a bit more reluctant in their participation, in that the seminar format is not something that all students will master in eighth grade.
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.