2nd Attempt – Socratic Seminar

Today I made my second attempt at a Socratic Seminar.  The kids seem to really enjoy these as they are the ones running the show.  This time, different from the first time, I had the students generate the questions.  We used three sources for our discussion about wealth and consequences.  The first source was the character Bob from The Outsiders (we read this novel as a class).  Our second source was an article about Ethan Couch from NewsEla.  Our final source was the story by Anton Chekhov called “A Problem”.  After reading the three sources and discussing them in class to make sure the students understood the content, these were the questions they generated:

1. Put yourself in the shoes of the victims’ parents.  How would you feel about the decision made in court?

2. If you were one of the uncles of Sasha Uskov, what side would you take and why?

3. Why would the adults try to defend the child after they made bad choices and caused bad things to happen?

4. Do you think people with more money get away with more things just because of their wealth?

The students all participated in creating the questions and posted them to Verso (a virtual board where students can post answers and thoughts anonymously to peers) so that I could see all of the avenues of inquiry.  Quite a few were the same so I knew they wanted to talk about those specific ideas and so I chose those questions and amalgamated their wording into one question.

Before we did our Socratic Seminar, the students were able to have access to the four questions and then did some preparation in class and at home annotating the story and article to find evidence to support their answers to the questions.  They needed to prepare to answer all of the questions.

On the day before the seminar, I had student create groups of four.  That means that they were in charge of answering one of the questions, but they didn’t know which one they would get until seminar day.

On the day of the seminar, we reviewed the rules:

Socratic Seminar Rules

  • This is a comfortable discussion, not a debate.
  • Pilots must speak at least 2 times. Wait for 2 people to speak before you speak again.
  • Do not dominate the discussion.
  • Co-pilots must contribute at least 3 times.
  • You are in charge of your learning. Do not look to the teacher for help.
  • No right or wrong answer.
  • Cite where you are getting your info.
  • Support your statement with textual evidence.
  • Look at others when speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer screen.

Then we got the desks set up so that the pilots would be in the center circle and the other three team members (co-pilots) were in the outer circle (see images below).  The pilots in the center are in charge of speaking on behalf of the team.  Then after about ten minutes of discussion led by them (I am not involved at all…no reactions, no comments, etc.) we go to question number two and so on.  Each time we switch questions a co-pilot becomes a pilot.

While the pilot is speaking, the co-pilots are sending them quotes and ideas to share through Today’s Meet.  This is an online source like a chat room that you can set up for each team in advance.  I provide each team with a QR code so they can get to their specific chat room and they log in with their first names so I can follow their conversations after the seminar has concluded.  The conversations can be looked at on the screen or can be downloaded as a PDF.

I keep a tally sheet of who is talking so that I know who might not have spoken at all and who is dominating so I can address that issue, if needed.

This is a rubric I use to grade the students.  This was the rubric I used for the first Socratic Seminar, not this second one so that is why the title is a wee bit different.

The students did a really nice job answering the questions.  I had to jump in a couple of times with reminders that they needed to provide evidence with their answers as they find this a struggle.  Which I totally get…it’s difficult to do!  After the reminders they were much better about stating their opinion and following it with evidence.  Some students were able to connect to social studies from 6th grade, which was awesome!

As I went through their Today’s Meet feeds I noticed that some co-pilots also mentioned Lindsay Lohan, but their pilot did not share this information during the discussion.  Another great real world example of somebody of wealth not facing the proper consequences for their poor actions (totally my opinion).  Another thing I noticed was that a few students did not prepare and announced this on Today’s Meet.  This was evident during the discussion.  The co-pilots had to prop their pilot up a lot and build their confidence in what they should share because they were not ready.  I was sorely disappointed when I saw these confessions.

These are two images of the students as pilots in the center (blue chairs) and the co-pilots around the outside.  Some of the co-pilots are hard to see as they were sitting on the floor.  I have many different seating options in here which I will share in another blog post. 🙂

If you have any questions about running a Socratic Seminar in your class…I would be happy to help out!  Give me a shout!

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