In an ideal situation, the teacher would be able to provide consistent, individualized formative feedback to each student multiple times per class period, but this would be nearly impossible for a teacher to do during one fifty minute period. After all, there is one teacher for up to thirty students.
I had the pleasure, however, of seeing how Ali Sberna and Kristina Claytor were able to have students provide this kind of consistent formative feedback to one another during a Socratic Seminar. In the method they used, Socratic Seminar was modeled after the resources provided here, but additionally, they used the supplemental resources (specifically, they showed classes this video) to further differentiate the seminar.
They used the concentric circle arrangement, but instead of having all students keep track of everything that was said in a discussion, each pupil was given a rubric and note taking sheet to track one individual sitting directly in front of them from the inner circle. In addition, the seminar had “quarters,” and at the end of each quarter, the student met with his or her coach to see what skills they mastered on the rubric, where they still needed to grow, and what they could do to improve for the next quarter of the seminar.
In addition, Sberna and Claytor also had students who were not partnered fulfill the following roles:
- Quote Tracker (writing down text-based quotes used in the conversation)
- Transition Tracker (writing down transitional phrases from the conversation; EX: “I agree with…”)
- Tally Manager (keeping track of who speaks on the white board for everyone to see)
- “Big Idea” Manager (keeping track of “concepts” in the conversation on the white board for everyone to see)
During quarterly breaks, each of these roles shared out the findings and gave suggestions for how to improve in the quarters that followed.
Although all of this sounds like a lot of preparation, after speaking with the teachers, I found out that they took only one day to introduce the entire seminar concept. I was there on the first of the two-day seminar, and students seemed to “get it.” Although there were elements they were still learning to integrate (like using text evidence), they were able to provide insightful feedback to one another during the quarterly breaks.
In accordance with some of the other posts this week, this is one example where teachers are finding new ways to bring students into to the “center of the classroom.”
Here are some resources Sberna and Claytor used:
Moving from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” is a large, and at times uncomfortable, proposition. I don’t think any teacher would argue, however, that the best learning takes place when students are at the center of the classroom taking an active, rather than a passive, role.
So how can a teacher begin the process of creating a student-centered classroom? I would propose that the first shift happens within. It is about being curious and maintaining a sense of wonder as an educator. It is about asking questions when one does not already know the answer (as teachers so often do- myself included).
So many times in a classroom conversation, the teacher already knows what the “outcome” of every question “needs” to be. When a student gives an “incorrect” answer, it is not explored. When a student pauses to think, the teacher often fills in the holes.
Silence is uncomfortable. Ambiguity is confusing- to everyone. Not just in classrooms, but in life.
I am proposing a shift, however. What would happen if every time a student gave an unexpected or interesting answer (or even any answer at all) they were asked the question, “What makes you say that?” and someone really listened to and cared about the answer? Not because he or she wanted to see how it was wrong, but because they were curious and wondered what was happening in the mind of that student. What would happen if everyone became a little more comfortable with silence? How much knowledge could be gained about the ways students think? About new perspectives? How much more valued might students feel?
Note: “What makes you say that?” is a primary focus of Harvard Project Zero’s Visible Thinking research.