Socratic seminars, Common Core, and eyes opened | Mentoring in the Middle

Socratic seminars, Common Core, and eyes opened

Always looking for new ways to engage kids in deeper, more analytical thinking, I decided about a month ago to have them read a short, two-page passage and be prepared to discuss it in Socratic Seminar.

I was trained in this method years ago, but never used it much.  This year, with the depth of knowledge required for the passages my students are reading, I thought it might help.  And it did.  Some of the time.  And some of the time, it just blew up.  Let me tell you what happened.....

The first time I did it, we discussed the rules of engagement and kids, for the most part, were totally engaged.  I had one class (of my three) where I felt like more kids needed to be drawn out, but for the most part, I was blown away by the depth of understanding, their willingness to go back into the passage to explain their thought process - it was all pretty cool!

So I decided to do it again, a couple of weeks later, with a similar piece of text.  My first class was knock-your-socks-off phenomenal!  Not only did the kids pull apart the piece and discuss their opinions with evidence cited, but they engaged quieter kids by asking their opinions and inviting them into the discussion.  I was really blown away.

....and then came my second class.  This group of kiddos has some with strong personalities, and boy, oh boy, did those personalities come out!  A couple of kids tried to take charge. I had to intervene and remind kids that Socratic seminar is a sharing of thoughts and opinions based on text but that it was neither a debate nor was there only one right answer.  And that kid who wanted to take control needed to relax and give room for everyone to express their thoughts.  A girl said that she felt like every time she tried to speak, so did other kids, and although they were all good about backing off, she felt like she never got a chance to get back into the discussion.  I saw heads nodding.  Uh oh.

How to create a more equal playing field?  I thought quickly and came up with checkers pieces that I handed out.  Every time you presented an opinion, you used a chip.  That seemed to help, although I wasn't thrilled with having to resort to that.

....and then came my third class.  In this one, four or five kids talked and many, many kids seemed truly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their ideas.  When I stopped the discussion midway to ask why, they told me that the group was too large and they would prefer something smaller.  "How small?" I asked.  Four or five kids.  What?  Wow!  That was a real eye-opener for me, since my first class had been about 25 students!  We finished up the next day as they had requested.  My largest group had eight kids but most had only five.  You could feel the relief!

What an eye-opener this second session was!  I love how Socratic seminar forces kids to think more about what they're reading and how they learn from each other's explanations.  I will need to tailor the seminars to each class, and I suspect there will be more trial and error along the way.  But I'm committed to keep going!

Have any of you used it?  For what?  What do you do with kids who want to monopolize, or conversely, with kids who are reluctant to talk?


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