From January, 2014

Romeo and Juliet Socratic Seminar Part I: Teens and Decision Making

Romeo and Juliet lends itself well to discussing the effects of youthful decisions on teens, as the main characters experience the ultimate in effects.    Attribution: By engraving by James Heath (1757–1834) after painting by James Northcote (1746–1831) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Romeo and Juliet lends itself well to discussing the effects of youthful decisions on teens, as the main characters experience the ultimate cost. Attribution: By engraving by James Heath (1757–1834) after painting by James Northcote (1746–1831) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dave Watros and I have been collaborating on a Socratic Seminar for his Honors 9 classes focusing on the use of textual evidence from Romeo and Juliet combined with non-fiction text sources to answer the following questions:

  • What level of personal responsibility should teens have for making their own choices and accepting the consequences afterward?
  • What social/environmental factors might influence teens’ decision-making processes?
  • What intrinsic factors might influence teens’ decision-making process?
  • When do teens make the best decisions?  The worst?
  • What types of “bad decisions” are common in teens?  What are the consequences of these bad decisions?
  • What is unique to teens’ today that might influence the decisions they make (for better or worse)?
  • Is being a teen difficult?  Why or why not?
  • If being a teen is difficult, what are some ways individuals cope (positive and negative)?
  • Is true love possible as a teenager?
  • How might Romeo and Juliet’s experiences have been different in today’s society?
  • Is the romance between Romeo and Juliet realistic?
  • Should teens engage in romantic relationships?  What are the positive effects?  The negative effects?

I updated the Power Point I used in Renee Jackson’s classes (see post here for the Julius Caesar Socratic seminar referenced and bottom of the post for updated Power Point) to introduce his classes to the process and gave each student a guided notes sheet and the same Socratic Seminar Rubric used in Jackson’s classes.

Here is a list of the links for the non-fiction resources gathered to address the essential questions, along with some of my notes for each one (for a downloadable version of these questions and resources see the bottom of this post):

What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind- Wallstreet Journal

  • This article is a really good resource for what is happening in the teenage mind and influencing factors

Teens Brains are more Sensitive to Rewarding Feedback from Peers- Association for Psychological Science

  • Fairly short article about “peer pressure” and risky behavior

Teenage Brain Development- How Stuff Works

  • Might be a little long.  In addition, other sources seem to have similar information about the brain of the teenager

Runaway Romeo and Juliet Teens- TIME Magazine

  • Very short- only content connection is “How might Romeo and Juliet’s story be different in modern times?”

When your Teen Boy Becomes Moody, Blame Biology- TIME Magazine

  • This article describes a decrease in “cognitive empathy,” or the ability to relate to the feelings of others, in teens

Teen Binge Drinking: All Too Common?- Psychology Today

  • The article explains how 90% of teens who drink “binge” and the effects of the decision to do so.  It addresses some of the “motivation” behind the destructive decision, the effects, and how parents can influence teens

A Sense of Autonomy is a Primary Reward or Threat for the Brain- Psychology Today

  • Parts of this article might be good.  Some scientific language that might be difficult for students, but it does a good job of explaining why teens need autonomy.

Teenagers in Love, an excerpt from Sticky Bonds- Psychology Today

  • Article stresses the importance of first loves and taking teen relationships seriously

Teen Love Hurts: ABC News

  • Article summarizes the negative emotional effects of teen relationships on the individual and also highlights a few positive effects

The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain- TEDTalk

  • This talk uses high-level scientific language, but it provides a good context for what is happening in the adolescent brain (15 min.)

We are all Cyborgs Now- TEDTalk

  • This presentation deals with the effects of technology on humans- especially teens and their ability to reflect and have downtime (7 min.)

Why 30 is not the new 20- TEDTalk

  • This talk discusses the importance of preparing for adulthood in one’s twenties instead of experiencing an “extended adolescence” (15 min.)

The Teen Brain on Technology- PBS

  • This news clip describes the effects of technology on the teen brain

When Jackson and I went through this process with her students, the class read the non-fiction sources together using the Non-Fiction Close Reading sheet.  These text analysis were interspersed throughout the reading of Julius Caesar at relevant points.  In order to meet the needs of the honors students, Watros decided to modify the process by giving students the full list of resources and essential questions at once.  Students then chose the sources from the list that they wanted to use in the seminar independently.  In addition, instead of a more formalized “close reading sheet,” students were asked to annotate the texts chosen.  These changes met the needs of his more independent learners and could also add to the complexity of the discussion since the textual evidence used in the seminar would be more varied.

There will be a follow-up post on this seminar after next week when students have had a chance to participate in the process.  In addition, I believe that Carrie Eneix will also be using these resources with her freshmen in the coming months.  I would be happy to work with any other freshman teacher who has interest in pairing Socratic Seminar and non-fiction text sources with Romeo and Juliet.

Here are some additional resources mentioned in the post:

Using STAR for Differentiation, Remediation and Motivation of Students

STAR Reading

This week I am in the process of hosting one-on-one meetings with teachers to look at individual STAR (part of the Renaissance Reading program) data.  As part of the process, we examined current progress toward meeting SGP (Student Growth Percentile, or how students grew in comparison to their same peer group nationally), compared individual student achievement to student growth, and discussed potential strategies for using the available STAR data- including the use of differentiated activities for the four levels of student achievement identified by STAR (At or Above Benchmark, At Risk, In Need of Intervention, Urgent Need for Intervention).

I created a document entitled, “Increasing SGP Using STAR: Motivation, Differentiation, and Remediation.”
Here is the information from that document.


(These suggestions are based upon teacher posts on the PLSD managed site dedicated to STAR testing and motivating students with STAR)

  • Sharing Information with Students
    • Share progress with students via the “Annual Progress Report”
    • AND/OR share students current placement via the “Diagnostic Report” and select “Show Skill Area” scores so that students have areas of improvement on which to focus
    • Have students keep this information in a folder and reflect upon their progress via a “reflection sheet” after each STAR test where they can set individual goals and have them share their goals with you (conference or turning in the reflection sheet)
    • Share (general) class progress with all students.  For example, the median growth and percentage of students who met SGP can be shared in order to set class goals
    • Teachers can also show the “Growth Proficiency Chart” as long as they don’t hover over bubbles so that names can be seen
  • Setting Goals and Providing Rewards
    • Set class goals and class prizes for raising median SGP and percentage of students who met SGP by a pre-set amount determined by the teacher (or with the class); Some teachers suggested an improvement goal of 30-40 points
    • As an additional incentive, extra credit (or other extrinsic rewards) could be provided for increases in student’s STAR scores


Students are tiered into four groups in STAR: at or above grade level (green), at risk (blue), in need of intervention (yellow), and urgent need for intervention (red).  These categories can be seen in the “Instructional Planning” (by student or class) reports.  From there, you can run an instructional planning report that will show skills for each group, identifying “essential” skills.  One note, make sure the date selected for the report within 30 days of the STAR test or student data will not show up.

  • Teachers can use this information to cater activities and questions for those groups when developing in-class reading activities or even separate homework assignments
  • Teachers can also use the instructional planning information to create tiered reading groups based upon ATOS levels.  (There is a post about doing this on the blog, but I can help.  It is time consuming if you try to do it alone.)


  • Use the “Record Book” to find questions and activities focused on individual standards.  In “Record Book” you can select individual students by clicking on his or her name and then select “View Suggested Skills.”  Doing this will take you to the actual standards, highlighting needed areas.  Then, you can select the area you want and see “skill probes” (questions) and “activities” that could be used with that student, or any student, at that same level
  • Teachers may require students who did not meet SGP to meet independently or during a remediation group time in or outside of class in order to review diagnostic information and/or work on additional practice to strengthen skills in needed areas
  • Teachers may choose to group students with others within their same tier and then provide activities or questions that meet the needs of those specific students

Here is a downloadable version of this same document.

In regards to the four tiers and activities for each, these resources are not available for download within the program, so if you would like hard copies, I would be happy to provide them.

The information able to be mined from STAR is quite interesting, and the feedback I have received from teachers about these meetings thus far has been that the data is informative and the resources useful.

Julius Caesar Socratic Seminar Part II: Violence in Society Discussion

If you are interested in the modern interpretation of Socrate's method of discussion outside of the classroom, check out Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips.

If you are interested in the modern interpretation of Socrate’s method of discussion outside of the classroom, check out Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips.  Image linked here.

Renee Jackson and I worked for a number of weeks to prepare for a Socratic Seminar using the method outlined in this post about students coaching students in Socratic Seminar.  In class, we showed students this video called “Teaching the N Word” from the learning channel first.  In addition, we used this Introductory Power Point outlining the roles and rules for the activity.

Before the seminar, Jackson had students read multiple non-fiction text sources (linked here) relating to essential questions for the unit.  Here are additional questions we gave students:

  • What are the causes of violence in society?
  • What social factors increase the chance of violence in society?
  • What personal factors increase the chance that someone will be violent?
  • Is violence something that some people can’t help?
  • Is violence ever justified (especially as a means to fight against oppression)?
  • What does it mean to be oppressed?  Give examples from the texts read.
  • Do you support violence as a means to fight oppression?  Why or why not?
  • What effects might violence have on society?  The individual?

Students prepared by reading through the questions and reviewing the articles and literary pieces (Julius Caesar and Lather and Nothing Else) to gather textual evidence.  For credit, students had to record five pieces of textual evidence to use in response to questions of their choice before participating in the discussion.

Each student had one day in the inner circle and had a student-coach on the outer circle who recorded the points for participation.  At “half-time” students met with their coach to get feedback.  The next day, students switched roles with their partner.  If a partner was absent, students were assigned duties for the day such as tally keeper, transition tracker or “big idea” board.  These roles also shared out and gave feedback during half-time.

This activity took about one class period to introduce.  Then, students were given 1-2 days to prepare notes.  The seminar itself lasted 2-3 days.

Jackson was interested in improving students speaking skills and use of textual evidence.  We were most surprised by students ability to use the texts in the context of conversations and use transitions to build on previous ideas.  In this way, we both found the seminar very successful.  I think with more practice, the depth of ideas would improve as students become more comfortable with the process.  We plan on trying this again later in the year.

Here are some resources used in the seminar:

Here are some additional resources for the duties in the seminar:

Lastly, this nameplate was created by a junior high teacher and given to me by Ellen Weibel to use on student desks:

Student and Teacher Blogging Resources: Directions, Assignments and Tips

For waiver day, I presented a class on creating blogs and using them in the classroom with students.  The following resources were created for the class and might be helpful to teachers

This handout is for students and is about writing for a blog and is organized by sections on style, content, and editing of blog posts.

This handout is for teachers.  It is an accumulation of ideas for using blogs in the classroom to practice creative, informational, response, and research-based writing.

This resource covers the technical aspects of blogging and provides instructions for creating blogs, posting, linking media and other basic skills.  There are step-by-step instructions for many procedures.  It was intended for teachers, but it could easily be modified for students to cover the basics of blogging.

Here is an example slide from the Power Point that covers tips for inserting media (see below).

Insert Media Pic