In October, students in my class prepare for their student-led conferences by reflecting on how their school year is going so far and a goal they want to achieve. During the conference, the parents and I (along with the student) create a plan for the goal to be met.
So many of my students recognized that they do not speak enough or at all during Socratic seminars. I was proud of them for noticing this struggle and I started to notice a pattern as to why they were having so much trouble sharing during the seminars. There were two most prominent reasons as to why this was occurring; one reason was because most students were lacking the confidence in their ideas and take-aways from the reading. The other students didn’t feel like they had anything to say.
After speaking with over 58 of my students in these student-led conferences, I felt like a pro at troubleshooting, strategizing and formulating solutions. I was emotionally and mentally drained by the end of that week, but it was so great. I learned a lot about my students and I learned a lot about how I can support many of them in participating more in Socratic seminars.
For the students who were lacking confidence, a lot of it came down to the fact that they were so used to being called on to speak all of the time, they didn’t know how to interject into a conversation. I came up with a few different methods of silently signaling to students that it would be a good time to share. Usually it is just making eye contact and giving a warm smile. With others, it’s a motion such as tapping my pen.
For students who were lacking confidence in simply just speaking up, it was a little more complicated. A lot of it just came down to time. They needed more time to feel comfortable in the classroom. For those students, I made a conscious effort to create a safe space for sharing and I held a lot of Socratic seminars so that it would become a sort of routine. I also like to directly ask these students questions in the circle so that they have to speak. I always make it an opinion question, such as, “What do you think about Jenni’s response as to why she thinks Maniac did that? Do you agree? Why?” Yes, the idea of Socratic seminar is to have students do this with each other and now, in March, my students do pull each other into the circle in this way, but I had to model it and I had to remind my students that it is really their responsibility to notice who hasn’t spoken and try to engage them. Honestly, they love taking this on and the students who are being called on by a peer are more likely to give an authentic and real response than when I ask them.
The students who felt like they had nothing to say during Socratic seminars OR what they were planning on saying was already said. This problem was a bit easier to solve. If students felt like they have nothing to say, I created a different type of homework assignment for them. Their job at night was to come up with questions for the group to discuss and they were to share the question with the group and share what their answer is before hearing others’ responses. I hate to brag, but this idea was like gold! The students really stepped up and became leaders in the circles. The students who felt their ideas were always already shared, I told them that they need to speak up almost right away. That way their idea could be discussed before someone else said it. This seems to work well, for the most part.
Students see me tracking who responds and how, they have strategies to tap into when they are stuck on how to participate and they get plenty of chances to practice. The growth I see every.single.year. in their ability to articulate their thinking, their level of thinking and their leadership and social skills increases significantly.
Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer