Why is a Safe Space in Socratic Seminars Important?
I believe that a safe learning space is important in any classroom, whether you are doing Socratic seminars or not, but especially important here. Why? Because students need to be comfortable to make mistakes, ask questions and not feel threatened if they are challenged by a peer for their opinion or their understanding of something. During Socratic Seminars, students have to trust that they are being heard and that their voice is valued. They must also understand the importance of listening to one another.
This year is the first time I’ve ever done student-led conferences and I can tell you from my one experience that they are soooo worth it. A student-led conference is basically a parent-teacher conference, but attended and presented by the student. It’s an amazing opportunity for students to reflect on their first couple of months of school, decide on what’s working, where they need to grow and identify a single goal that they want to work on that semester. It’s great because it sets the tone for the rest of the school year and that is, their work matters and is valuable to them.
I was using Socratic Seminars before I even knew what they were and you might be, too! When I first started teaching, I was given a basal reader. A script to (I assumed) memorize and then recite to my students. There were comprehension questions that got at the surface of the 5 page story, an excerpt from a novel and then a multiple choice and writing prompt for students. I would wait for them to complete it, about a third of them would, then I’d go over the answers. After that, I would move onto math. I remember one day I was reading a story to the class and I had them make a prediction. We turned the page to see if the prediction could be confirmed and it was the end of the story! No more left. The next section went onto the comprehension questions. What? I kept flipping the pages back and forth as my students idea that school was a waste of time was reinforced into their minds. This program was seriously the least engaging program I had ever seen. The entire process of read, answer 5 multiple choice questions and write a response took away any joy there might be in reading.
This story was originally written in 2016
It's been over a week since Daniel made his way to Wilmington, NC to meet my students, me and his new buddy, Jack! The entire experience was one I am still trying to digest. I think it was a couple of days after this whirlwind, 28 hour visit that I finally took a deep breath, reflected on everything and let the moment hit me.
Daniel arrived on Sunday evening the plan was for Jack and his family, me and my family and a group of women who have been praying for Daniel to meet him, Yvonne (his caregiver from New Life Home in Kenya) and Jane Stephens (owner of Amani Children's Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC) at the Wrightsville Beach Park. It was quite the gathering and lots of fun! I had no idea when I suggested this park just how great it would be! There were so many things for all of the kids to play on and even a Bubble Soccer game going on. If you don't know what that is, just imagine a giant, blown up ball that kids can climb inside, hold onto the handles and smash into each other!
As we were waiting for Daniel's arrival, the energy was super high! Finally, when Jane pulled the car into a parking spot, we all gathered around waiting for him to get out. I kept hearing from the kids, "I am so nervous", "this is awesome" and even "I've never experienced something like this before". I felt like my heart was going to explode! After a quick diaper change, Daniel made his way over to us!! He was a bit wobbly which I learned is part of the 'learning to hear' stage he is in right now. I never knew that our hearing, or lack of hearing, correlated so much with our balance.
When Daniel walked over to the group, he fit right in! Jack brought a soccer ball and Daniel started to throw it into the air with the various people standing around. By that time, I had tears streaming down my face and was just hanging back, watching in awe.
Throughout the rest of the evening at the park, the kids played with Daniel; going down the slides, using the giant steering wheel (he loves anything that spins!) and just plain running around!
This story was originally written in 2016.
BElieve THEre is GOOD in the World. Every once in a lifetime something amazing happens and you almost can't believe it. You pause for a half a second and think that this might be too good to be true, but then snap back to this new reality of the fact that this amazing, wonderful, truly unbelievable thing is actually happening and you are there to be a part of it. Next Monday, I will get to witness the beauty and miracle of people. I will be experiencing what being a teacher is really all about - making a difference. Of course, I didn't do it alone! Sometimes I feel like I didn't actually DO anything, but I chuckle and think that is just silly. We all had a part in this: me, my students, my family, my friends, strangers, caregivers, teachers I have never met and students I have never met. That's also the beauty and miracle of people. All of the most amazing things that happen in our world are never the doing of just one person. It can start with one person, one thing, one event, one idea, one sentence, one word, one thought, but nothing truly astonishing or earth-shatteringly crazy awesome ever happens by the doing of just one single person. That fact is what I find to be so reassuring and exciting about this whole experience. The ripple effect of kindness is where we can begin to celebrate. The good deed itself? We never usually get to see where our good deeds end up, how they changed someone's life. When we do a good deed, it changes us in a small, but important way. We feel a little bit better about something. We know that we are the good in the world and move on to finish living our life until the opportunity to do another act of kindness shows itself. But on Monday, my students and I get to see, with our very own eyes, the culmination of our good deeds combined with others and how they changed someone's life.
So What Happened?! Every week before Labor Day weekend, I assign my students the simple task of going out into their world and performing a good deed. It can be anything from washing a car for someone, to leaving flowers at a doorstep, to donating to a charity, to smiling and saying hello and asking a new student to play. Literally anything that would add a little sunshine into someone's life. Last school year, my student Jack decided to take his spending money and donate to a charity called the Amani Children's Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC (a foundation that partners with New Life Home in Nairobi, Kenya to give babies care, love and learning until adopted by a loving Kenyan family). A couple weeks after Jack sent his money to Amani Children's Foundation, he received a letter from Jane at Amani. That is when my class and I learned about Daniel.
In 2013, I was teaching 5th grade for the first time and also creating curriculum for my students. It was one of the best years of teaching I have ever experienced. I came across this project I did with students when we read the book Wonder, by RJ Palacio. It's a project that many teachers do with their students when they read this book. It's called 1-2-3 Wonder where the students are asked 3 questions and can only use 1, 2 or 3 words to answer.
They then put their answers on poster board, I took pictures, and turned it all into a pretty cool video! I hope you enjoy it as well! Brings back so many memories for me <3
"The eyes behind silence get a glimpse into the realities of the unknown." - me
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Writer, Resource Creator, Curriculum and Course Developer