Top ten reasons to teach with Socratic seminar

10) Engagement

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.

9) Scaffolding

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.

8) Inquiry

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.

5) Argument

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.

These are my Skinny Standards paint sticks – at the end of a PL session we used them to reflect on what seminar could do for student learning

What’s your favorite reason for using Socratic seminar in classroom instruction? Or, what’s stopping you?


Book Review: The Choreography of Presenting

Choreography of Presenting

I attended the 2018 Learning Forward conference with the intent to learn more about PLCs and how I could help our district implement them more effectively. While I learned many valuable lessons regarding leadership and teamwork, I came away with an overall sense of how every presentation I sat through was excellent, and how it all came down to the presenter. Now, my background is in English Rhetoric so it should come as no surprise I value a good presenter. That said, the conference and it’s participants reminded me of how important presenting skills are, and they are skills. No one is born a wonderful presenter. Fast forward to the other fun part of conferences for an English teacher, buying books, and I was delighted to see The Choreography of Presenting by Kendall Zoller and Claudette Landry.

“Like a great dance partner, an excellent presenter leads others with ease and confidence. By showing how verbal and nonverbal communication shape every aspect of a successful presentation, this engaging book helps readers develop the underlying skills for polished, successful public speaking.”

This book uses the metaphor of dance to educate those who don’t know the first thing about presenting as well as remind those of us who could always stand to improve upon existing skills. Along with narratives of both positive and negative experiences from the authors’ presenting past, there are useful charts that provide step-by-step practice on certain elements. Have a presentation coming up? There are places in the book to reflect on your practice. The parts of the book I particularly enjoyed were those focused on movement- hand, eye, and even full body. The “dance” you do while presenting really does matter.

“A still hand gesture is the visual correlation to an auditory pause.”

While this book is meant for educators, I plan on utilizing it with my AP Capstone Seminar students next year. It’s applicable and understandable. New presenters and old alike, I encourage you to read the 124 pages. You won’t regret it, and you’ll come away a more effective presenter.

Speaking to Share

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.

Professional Development

Recent Presentations for Professional Development

Literacy Conference 2014 – High Tech Timelines
ASD Literacy Conference 2014 – Flipped and Blended Learning
SAHS Staff Meeting 2014 – Turnitin
ASD Literacy Conference 2013 – QR Codes

ASTE 2012 – Infographics
ASTE 2012 – QR Codes
ASD Writer’s Conference Digital Writing – conference flyer
ASTE 2011 – Flashmob Research

ASTE 2008 – Seminar
ASTE 2007 – Wikis