socratic seminars for societal change
Socratic seminars and sharing the air
Frankly, students at the middle school age struggle with discussions in the classroom, especially Socratic Seminars. Becoming wrapped up in the thrill of an argument and the surge of emotions fueled by hormones, it is hard not to go haywire. However, it is our duty as educators to make Socratic seminars a process where students can hone their arguments, build off one another's ideas, and generate thoughtful discussion. Ultimately, our goal is for students to engage in their Socratic Seminars with research from reputable resources that they conduct on their own. However, considering that our students are 13-year-olds, we want to instill the practice of sharing the air equitably with classmates even if their evidence relies mostly on logic. For this lesson study cycle, our class focused on solving the societal issue of homelessness in San Diego County. Our research provided us with enlightening perspectives and our classroom data gave us mixed results. However, we all start somewhere and with patience and practice, we can lead our students to empower and provoke thought in others through well-researched discourse.
Equity-Based Research Theme:
Students will be able to use evidence in self-facilitated discussions that empower all learners to engage equitably.
Evidence of student thinking
This is the audio from the Socratic Seminar. There are fluctuations in volume. There are time stamps on the document found here that mark when students show examples citing evidence or strong arguments.
For this lesson study cycle, our group was able to watch a discussion unfold between eighth grade students who posed questions and debated the solutions to a crisis that take place in their own city. The topic at hand was about the homeless population of San Diego and how the government or community can alleviate or solve the needs of those who are without shelter. During this lesson study cycle, my teammates and I were fortunate that our hosting teacher had established the Socratic Seminar discussion format since the beginning of the year. By this point of the year, the students were very familiar with the process.
After students settled into their inner and outer circles, the host teacher reminded them of community norms and then had students begin with opening statements. Each student gave opening statements that were substantiated with evidence. Following the openings, a discussion took place that lasted for approximately 20 minutes. A majority of students spoke, however, there were a few who remained quiet and refused to speak when prompted. There was very little interference of our host teacher, the activity was largely student-led and collaborative. Overall, this lesson study was interesting to watch unfold as my team got to peek into the minds of our future problem-solvers.
Insights & analysis that emerged afterwards...
After the final student had offered their opinion and our team had concluded our observation, we compared our notes. We found that students excelled at sharing their opinions but struggled at citing evidence throughout the discussion. We believe that oftentimes students present anecdotes or personal opinions rather than building off of other's arguments which would generate a discussion. A future implication for practice would be to teach various types of evidence and how to cite them during a seminar so students feel more prepared utilizing them in discussion. We also noticed that some students only participated once to fulfill the grade requirement. Possible solutions to help combat low participation would be to use sentence starters or verbally validate student's comments. Finally, an implication for future practice that my group would utilize in a Socratic seminar is to have the outside group evaluate the use of evidence versus anecdotes used by the inner circle and then discuss that with their partner as they conference.
The lesson study process itself...
During this final cycle of the lesson study process, I was incredibly lucky to be in a group of my fellow cohort members who were diverse in personality and thinking. Despite not having a classroom for the duration of this lesson study cycle, I was still made to feel as though I had pieces of integral knowledge that was useful to my team and our goal for our cycle. There were times when I did still struggle though. I did not have PDSA data to contribute to the process which thankfully my teammates did not mind. We worked well as a team and despite being quite different in personality, we had senses of humor that helped make the very long days pass by a little quicker. I found that the subject of our lesson study was something that I was directly interested in and that I was excited to see what the students would come up with. It is not often that you can see young adults take on a daunting subject such as homelessness and try to finds solutions to it within the span of a week and a 30-minute discussion! I feel fortunate to have seen the process of developing the Socratic seminar lesson study from the ground up and seeing it come into fruition with such helpful teammates.
I did not anticipate that I would get the most out of the lesson study cycle that was the most hands-off in terms of the actual lesson itself. When I first started off the year, I thought that every lesson study was going to have to be extremely regimented and planned out within an inch of its life but I found out that it does not not have to be. Sure, there needs to be planning, scaffolding, and prep but there was something very freeing about supplying students with materials and guidance and then giving them the space to express themselves (backed by evidence, of course). Some students are already capable of forming very detailed and informed arguments, however, with the right guidance, I believe that all students have the ability to not only make a point in a discussion, but also make a difference. It is going to be my journey as an educator to find the method and style of teaching that helps my students find their own voice.