I absolutely love doing Socratic Seminars in my class because they allow the students to express their opinions in a safe environment and they open up a lot of good, whole-class discussion; but, in my experience, Socratic Seminars are great for those who enjoy talking and oftentimes it ends up that about seven of my 30 students dominate the conversation and we never really get anywhere. That was, until today.
Today in class I ran a hybrid inner/outer-circle/online Socratic Seminar using TodaysMeet and it completely changed the dynamic of the seminar. Here is the link to the blog post that I gave my students to explain how the process would go, but let me break it down for you because it was just way too amazing not to share.
Disclaimer: This activity does require each student to have access to the internet via a mobile device, tablet, laptop, or computer.
For the first two weeks of school we have been talking about cultural tolerance by exploring our views of learning other languages and studying the differences in greetings in various Francophone countries.
Learning Other Languages Philosophical Chairs
Greetings in Francophone Countries Jigsaw
In each of these activities I stressed the importance of not judging other cultures' practices as weird, but instead looking at them as simply different from our own and acknowledging that they were unique and just as legitimate as our own.
Setting up the Seminar
I like for my students to run their own Socratic Seminar, so I have to do a few things to help them to do that.
Before the seminar, generally for bell work (Le Sonneur) or homework the night before, I give my students the topic of our seminar and ask them to come up with at least five questions about the topic. I always give my students helpful sample questions because oftentimes they don't know where to turn. I encourage the students to create questions that use higher-order thinking and go beyond the simply "what" and more to exploring the reasons behind certain practices and how they effect a culture. Here are the sample questions I gave today:
Here are some of the questions my students came up with:
We began with questions about greetings and, as you can see, the conversation went in a completely different direction according to what the students wanted to discuss but all stayed within the same overarching topic of cultural tolerance.
For the actual seminar, I rearranged my classroom to have a circle of six chairs in the center of the classroom; I left the rest of the classroom in their normal four-person groups.
Finally, I had to set up a TodaysMeet chat, which is an online platform that creates a sort of chat room/feed that students can join if given a direct link to the chat. A chat can be created without you signing in, but I would suggest signing in because if you are the room owner you can access the room for as long as you leave it open. I left mine open for two weeks to give myself some time to grade my students' responses. You can also sign up for TodaysMeeet's teacher version, but that costs $5/month.
The TodaysMeet feed is where the students outside of the circle participate by either asking a question that they want the inner circle to discuss or commenting on what was said in the circle or on the feed.
Running the Seminar
For me, the goal was to not participate in the seminar at all and let the kids moderate the entire thing, so I assigned three different roles:
Moderator: Keep the conversation on-task, make sure that everyone is discussing the same thing and everybody is getting the chance to talk. There is one moderator assigned per round and he/she sits in the inner circle.
Questioner: It is the Questioner's responsibility to ask the thought-provoking questions that are submitted by the people outside of the circle that pop up on the TodaysMeet chat or note any important comments that you feel are worth discussing. There is one questioner assigned per round and he/she sits in the inner circle.
Time Keeper: It is the Time Keeper's responsibility to alert the inner circle when their three-minutes' allotted time is up and they must finish discussing the current question then return to their seats. There is one Time Keeper for the entire discussion and he/she sits outside of the inner circle. When it is the Time Keeper's turn to participate in the inner circle, his/her duties should be passed on to somebody else in the room.
I split my students up by having them draw popsicle sticks with numbers written on them, which is already a part of my classroom management. If you have a class in which you have students who don't get along with each other, or you only have about seven students who will easily contribute to conversations then you can assign the groups to avoid negative pairings or make sure that each group has a talker who will progress the conversation.
Finally, I just let the students run the conversation! While the students were conversing I was marking who was participating in the inner circle and I will go through the feed to grade participation on TodaysMeet.
Students were required to earn at least ten points throughout the seminar by speaking in the circle twice, commenting/questioning on TodaysMeet at least five times, writing at least four questions prior to the discussion, and writing a reflection at the end.
The conversation was completely run by the students (I only interjected when there was process confusion) and what happened was amazing! I am so proud of my students and I am so excited to continue using Socratic Seminars in the future.
Beware of the Pitfalls
I hope my post helped to encourage you to do a similar activity in your class and integrate more discussion in your instruction! As always, please comment or contact me if you have any questions about the activity or suggestions for making it even better!
Welcome to my blog where I share tips that I have learned as a young teacher with little to no resources seeking to create a relevant, rigorous French curriculum.
Click on the link to find resources that are useful in the French classroom!
My name is Mme Probst and I am a French teacher who, after years of struggling to find resources without a text, decided to share my resources with the world so that other teachers didn't have to do the same.