One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in the past and (it still comes up now and then) with students is getting them to respond authentically to each other. I know that when we first start teaching kids how to have a group conversation, we tell them that it’s important to always recognize the person who just spoke. I practice this all the time with my students, until they get it right. In the past, I have given them sentence starters such as, “I agree,” or “I disagree”, etc.
I noticed that yes, it does help to provide those, but then I started to have kids saying things like, “I agree” and start talking about something completely different or even agreeing to an opinion that, after they start talking, I realize they didn’t actually agree at all! I remember feeling like I failed in a way because the kids were just spitting out the responses I told them to say. They didn’t really know how to respond to each other authentically and the conversation wasn’t a conversation at all.
One of the biggest struggles I've dealt with during Socratic seminars was getting students to discuss the book at the beginning, before anything interesting or important has happened yet. It always felt like there wasn’t much to say until about a third of the way through the story after already meeting for a few weeks. The conversations were dull until the main character started to be developed more or the problem/plot started to build.
Below is a list of strategies to get the Socratic seminar going before the book becomes really engaging:
Today was an interesting and good reminder for me that I need to explicitly be teaching students that Socratic seminars are not a place for debate, but discussion.
My 6th graders are currently reading Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it for all students between the ages of 10 and 12. It tells the story of Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee whose parents died and he was forced to live in the most unhappy of places - with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan who hate each other. One day, Maniac can’t take it anymore and he runs away! He crosses the racial lines that divide the city of Two Mills and quickly becomes a legend or a myth. No one is really sure.
We’ve only just begun the story, but my classes have been studying the civil rights movement, so they are already making connections and some good predictions. There is a part at the beginning of the story, where Maniac is being chased by bullies and he heads in the direction of the side of town that no white kid has ever gone. At night and for no reason, nonetheless! The bullies comment that they are going to just let him go because he will end up in worse shape, heading into a part of town that he doesn’t belong. In the book, the author writes: “He headed to a part of town that white people are afraid to go to.”
Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer