I could have written this. Ask a Tech Teacher’s post of the top ten myths about tech is perfect and accurately captures all of my frustrations when talking to other teachers about how to integrate technology into high quality instruction.
A well-structured Socratic seminar, and the learning that leads up to it, helps keep students excited and engaged in learning. Classroom discussion has a .82 effect size on John Hattie’s “list of influences on achievement” because dialogue itself is engaging. It gives students opportunities to interact with one another that are sometimes rare in classes.
Most of us scaffold work for students so that they have incremental steps to take in order to achieve a goal (note: you can over-scaffold – think of how annoying really shallow steps are). The steps that culminate in a Socratic seminar support skills in close reading, inquiry and question writing, short written responses, small group discussion, and even text selection.
Questioning has an effect size of .48. When students have the opportunity to dive deeper, through posing open-ended questions, they usually become more attached to a subject. The Question Formulation Technique supports the process of asking questions – these questions can become the discussion questions or the seminar or be used and investigated at any point in the learning.
7) Differentiation of tasks
Educators have students with a wide-range of abilities in classes. Differentiating tasks that lead to a Socratic seminar helps ensure that individual needs are met and that student small groups have diverse resources to support preliminary discussion (aka coaching groups). The diversity of experiences makes seminars rich – not agreeing creates more productive discussion.
6) Close reading
Socratic seminar depends on students reading and understanding a text in order to discuss aspects of the text with others. Teaching close reading, a skill that is essential to success in other classes as well, is a vital scaffold. Using annotation to get students to cue into what they think and feel, not to mention what they say, is engaging and helps support other learning.
Reading closely and answering authentic questions through inquiry supports students as they learn to build arguments. Being able to cite text in order to support an opinion (kind of like I did above when I cited Hattie) is a necessary skills to getting ready for college and careers. Supporting an opinion with text evidence makes seminars an academic task that goes beyond a regular old class discussion of a topic.
4) Analysis and Synthesis
Socratic seminars require analysis of at least one text, but bringing together multiple texts, and discussing them together, requires synthesis skills. This means more prep time leading up to the seminar but the combining of texts is extremely dynamic and the takes students have on those ideas will make you proud. Often discussion is a great way to build skills in analyzing and synthesizing because students get to hear from their peers and learn how others approach complex topics, making students engage rather than just comply, with tasks.
3) Change it up!
Your Socratic seminar does not have to look the same every time. You can use the Harkness method (this provides students clear & high expectations, an effect size of 1.44), a fishbowl discussion, open chair, BRAWL, and any number of other techniques. Changing up your approach keeps things fresh for students and helps to differentiate instruction to include more students. Find methods that challenge students and methods that embrace them – they may be the same method!
2) Build relationships
In some classes, but especially large classes, students might go a whole year without knowing one another’s names. Socratic seminar can require that students respond directly to classmates (making nameplates for desks/tables helps) so that, over time, they learn the names of students who sit across the room or are in different cliques. The discussion itself can assist in building connections and empathy for others, not to mention help the teacher know the students in order to better meet their needs over time.
And, the NUMBER ONE reason to use Socratic seminar? It meets ALL the standards
When I look through my “Skinnied” CCSS I can see that seminar, and the tasks that build to seminar or extend it further (like using the questions for research), meets every. single. standard.
What’s your favorite reason for using Socratic seminar in classroom instruction? Or, what’s stopping you?
Speaking and listening support for students is essential – the skills support all of the other work kids need to do when they are reading and writing. But most people have a fear of public speaking, including teachers, so we can forget to scaffold the skills with smaller tasks.
A great way to use to give students practice speaking in class is to let them read aloud a short selection of their reading for class. If the expectation while they read is to mark the text, then marking something they loved – a turn of phrase, a descriptive detail, imagery, etc. – can easily be shared. As a teacher, you are then assessing reading while assessing speaking.
Once the passage is chosen, have students whisper read to themselves, or read with a partner. Practice reading out loud in different ways helps avoid embarrassing mispronunciations or other issues that would reinforce public speaking as a scary experience. Practicing also helps student read more fluently over time, demonstrating to them the need to practice in order to improve.
I often have students record themselves since I had a BYOD policy in effect. That way they can troubleshoot their own voice performance through an audio recording, or record with video in order to critique themselves or critique with a partner.
Finally, have students read their passage to the class! You can create a specific list so they know when their turn is or you can have them “popcorn” read so they can jump in. More than one student can have the same favorite passage and passages can be read in any order.
This activity is great because it’s informal but gives students exposure to reading and public speaking. There are lots of ways to extend it as well: FlipGrid readings, writing a rationale for the selection, found poems from the passage, pastiche, etc.
I’m so excited to announce that my friend Traci Espeland is going to start blogging here with me. In her final year of graduate school, Traci started her teaching career with me, as my student intern. This was seven years ago and, even early on, she brought with her a solid training in pedagogical methods and English/language arts, along with great energy and enthusiasm. Traci brings exciting new ideas to life; I’m confident that she will continue this momentum as she seeks out new challenges and opportunities in this blog.
Traci impresses me with her commitment to lifelong learning. She successfully collaborates with other educators in the school, and takes advantage of professional development opportunities offered in the district. She was the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator, representing the needs and talents of teachers throughout all of Alaska with PBS. This year she has been an integral part of the Innovations Team here in the Anchorage School District, supporting educators in technology integrations and innovations. It’s this commitment to growth and the well-being of her students that makes Traci an outstanding educator who empowers her pupils and those around her.
I know a lot of people only see how technology wedges in between people, noting how groups will sit together and stare at devices rather than speaking. It’s a problem, I get it. But I am a proponent of using technology to bring people together, to see how it can be used to connect, and I love stories about how that happens.
I was lucky enough to catch a story on NPR’s Morning Edition with Rachel Martin and Newberry Award winner Kwame Alexander. Back in January, the segment asked teachers to share a prompt with students. It was just a simple “Love is…” but the show received responses from over 2,000 classrooms across the country.
And then… magic happened. Like he has in the past, Kwame Alexander wrote a crowdsourced/paella/casserole/GUMBO poem for Valentine’s Day. “‘Kids finding their voice and lifting it up, for love,’ he tells NPR. “Nothing more powerful than that.'”
From a simple prompt to a love poem for families, teachers, pets, movies, food, and expectations. This prompt, and this technology, a radio program, brought people together and made connections through words and feelings. It created a shared experience and published creation for students and teachers across the country.
Listen to the poem – or read it to your class – and see how your students connect to the writers and the common experiences.
Google’s Applied Digital Skills lessons for students are amazing. They just released one on annotating (note taking) with Google Docs that teaches students WHY and HOW to annotate. This is a great resource if you are working on creating a paperless classroom or if you just want students to develop their annotation skills in a variety of ways (because they can also annotate paper, annotate on sticky notes, take 2 column notes, etc.)