I actually managed to make this happen - a Socratic seminar via Zoom with a bunch of 6th graders.
I am not sure where you stand, but I am going to be brutally honest and run the risk of sounding like (to some) a complete brat. But....here it goes.
It's taking a lot out of me to teach online. It's not like I am teaching online all day, but it feels like I am, and it's not like I don't have a space to work, I do, but it's not my classroom. And even if I spend 2 hours online, I am spending much more time than that planning and figuring out things I really don't want to be figuring out in the first place. Then I have parent emails, virtual meetings and collaboration with colleagues to decide how we are going to do this for (the worst part) the unforeseeable future. After all is said and done, I am checking and double checking which students I saw online and who was missing and who hasn't been doing their work and why. Is there something else we can do to help them get things done? Am I not trying hard enough? I am exhausted like this is my first year teaching, though most of it might just be the impending depression I feel from this entire situation in general. There is absolutely nothing I enjoy about distance learning, expect seeing my students faces each day. But that's hardly been much because it was mostly fragmented conversations whenever I could get them online with me.
Today, all of that changed. I did something that gave me joy in teaching again. I carved out 2 hours and planned 4 half hour sessions on Zoom with 14 students in each meeting and was determined to give the students what they've been asking for, an opportunity to chat with each other and what I've wanted, an opportunity to do some teaching the way I used to, using Socratic seminars.
I read an article with tips on how to humanize digital teaching and it was suggested to create opportunities for dialogue and discourse. So I feel like I am on the right track here.
How did I make it happen? Well it wasn't perfect, but it wasn't half bad either!
Student Preparation. First, I had to prepare the students with something they would almost all do and something that would be interesting and educational. As part of a larger assignment, I tasked them with watching a PBS documentary on the 1918 Flu and provided guided notes to compare COVID19 and their experiences to those of 1918.
My team and I created 4 student teams, each team named a virus from the past to add a little fun into the mix. We use Google classroom for everything we assign and each teacher has a permanent Zoom link. I assigned each group to meet with me for 30 minutes. I asked them to watch the documentary and bring their notes to the meeting. Out of 14 students, about 10 came to each of the meetings.
Teacher Preparation. In order for me to be prepared, I had to think about and construct my goals for the meeting. Ultimately, I wanted kids to have a place to feel connected with each other, but I also wanted to help support their learning in comparing the science and technology of 1918 and that of 2020 and ultimately how that puts us in a better place than those who experienced the Spanish Flu.
Whenever I run a seminar in the classroom, I always make sure to have a list of questions to ask in case the conversation dies out or nothing is sparking much reactions. I also like to give kids a task to bring to the conversation (make a list, come up with discussion questions). I actually forgot to do this and not surprisingly, the first 2 groups did not have as good of a conversation as the second 2 groups that were prepared with notes to discuss.
How to do it Online. So talking to a computer screen is hard enough, but doing it as a 6th grader and about school, well that's even harder. I started the meeting out by sharing my screen with the Socratic seminar norms poster that usually hangs in the classroom. I have since updated it to reflect norms that might work better for online and can be downloaded below by subscribing to our site.
Next, I asked students to share either what surprised them or discussion questions they came up with. Out of the 4 groups I met with, I feel that 2 were really successful. The other two weren't bad, but I think if I had remembered to assign for them to bring specific things they wanted to talk about, it would've been much better. (Note to self for next time).
What went well. Students were engaged and some even shared research they had done on their own since watching the documentary. My hopes are that when they go to write their comparison paper, they will remember what was discussed in the seminar and draw conclusions based on that, their reading and the documentary.
What now. Although it's not the same, it IS better than not being in school at all. Students are going to be in front of computers now more than ever, so I truly believe running these seminars, even if they are online and even if not all students show, is crucial right now. I am still planning to provide them with opportunities to be social and practice their skills of verbalizing and discussing thoughts, ideas and questions. This won't be forever, but for now, I will continue to do what I can to support my students emotionally and academically during this unprecedented time in our lives. They might be in front a screen, but if we can replicate one thing like we used to in the classroom, then maybe they will still continue to learn the skills I am hoping to teach them.
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Blogger, Resource Creator, Curriculum Developer