Updated: Feb 3
“When a team of individuals share the belief that through their unified efforts, they can overcome challenges and produce intended results, groups are more effective. For example, in schools, when educators believe in their combined ability to influence student outcomes, there are significantly higher levels of academic achievement (Bandura, 1993).”
In working on my new workshop above, I reached out to several of my former colleagues from 2016 DuFour Award Recipient, Mason Crest Elementary School. At the end of the workshop my goal is to paint a picture of what it looks like for a team to ensure, relevant, differentiated, scaffolded and targeted access to Socratic Seminar for each and every student (ALL)! I was not surprised by the responses I received, and it made me a bit nostalgic as a reminisced being a part of a school that created this haven for high levels of learning for every single student.
Below are excerpts of the emails responses I received from classroom teachers(Eric Burrell & Liz Scheurer), English Language Teacher(Kimberley Matthews) and Special Education Teacher (Laura Waggoner) who threw out their titles but shared their knowledge, skills, experience, and expertise to enhance the collective wisdom of the team. My question to them is first and then their answers:
How did you decide with your team when to do a Socratic Seminar? Was it tied to a certain standard or unit or subject?
As a part of the workshop, I want to have teams use Socratic seminar to engage in the experience of planning for all learners but wanted to know from start to finish how it was decided including how you co-planned and taught background knowledge and pretaught vocabulary etc. to ensure all students had access.
“I remember our team choosing to do one around Sonya Sotomayor because she was a great example of perseverance and how working hard can help you to reach your goals. Given the large Hispanic population at Mason Crest, I think we also thought she was a great role model as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.
Additionally, we wanted to develop discourse. At the time, we were doing a great job as a team with supporting oral language with sentence frames for our ELs (I think we were doing something called quality talk?) but wanted to add in some opportunities for students to have meaningful conversations. Socratic seminars are great for getting students to have a position and support it, pushes them to elaborate and clarify, and synthesize all the ideas that are getting thrown at them.”
“Liz’s response to the Sonia Sotomayor Seminar was spot on. At one point Kimberley was pulling a group of English Language learners and providing some background knowledge and an additional text (I think) to help all students have access. The buildup and formal discussion of the Socratic Seminar directly correlates to the FCPS standard “Demonstrates Active Listening Skills” (Citizenship Skill) as well as “Listens and speaks for specific purposes” (Language Arts skill).
Later, when I was still teaching 4th grade, I created a seminar based on the theme of sportsmanship. It seemed that 4th grade became a year where some of the competitiveness at recess was leading to some emotional outbursts that would carry back into the classroom and hinder the learning of some students during the afternoon. I also started putting together multiple resources (speeches, photos, videos) for students to synthesize as part of the seminar preparation. So instead of completing the general “Seminar Packet” I created a document that specifically addressed these various resources.
So, the following school year in 5th grade we used this seminar to discuss “Growth Mindset” and the idea of “Failing Up”…again this preparation involved reading an article, listening to a podcast (with pictures showcasing some of the ideas from the podcast), and exploring a Google Site (Polak had made). Both the sportsmanship and “Failing Up” seminars were done within the first quarter as lessons for the students to carry out throughout the school year.
There are some more seminars that were directly connected to the content that we were teaching at the time. We used “The Blue Between” poem for a discussion during our poetry unit and “Was the Code of Hammurabi Just or Unjust?” after teaching Mesopotamia.”
“The Advanced Academics Recourse Teacher(AART) Morgan Huynh would suggest that we do a seminar and share some ideas. At that point a member of the team would build on that idea or share another idea that was more directly related to the curriculum content or a situation that our students were facing (like not playing nice on the playground). From there we would brainstorm the resources that students could use to develop the background knowledge and critical questions. We would choose articles at different Lexile levels for multiple access points, read aloud picture books, video clips, shared readings, etc. At that point the ESOL teacher (and SPED teachers) would create materials that contained simplified language, sentence starters, word banks with important vocabulary, and other scaffolds and supports for the documents students would use to prepare for the seminar. We’ve all heard this before, but we would then realize that what was good for Els was good for all and often use those materials for everyone. For instance, the book about Sotomayor was chosen for Els in mind because it offered picture support and pages were both in Spanish and English. Laura and I pulled a group of students to read the book separately from the rest of the class – but to Liz’s point, in later lessons, we used that book instead of the one-page article for the entire class because it was more engaging. In addition, it brought our students closer together as a class community because native English-speaking peers were in real time observing their Spanish only speaking peers have access to the content and interacting with it – everyone having connections together. It was a beautiful thing. With this learning happening together, students were more willing to take a risk during the discussion part of the seminar and participate and others were more willing to give the needed wait time for their peer to explain their thinking. The real magic of a seminar is the discussion when students are listening to each other, having that meaningful conversation, but also being emotionally and cognitively connected to the learning and the opinions they have developed over the course of the seminar preparation. I love co-teaching and running a seminar with a new teacher that has never done it before. I hear comments like, “what if no one talks?” “What if students don’t get it?” “This seems really silly moving the desks,” but afterward they are always floored and amazed that ALL students could reach such high levels of learning.”
The only way to make good on the promise of “ALL” is to ensure that we create teams of teachers who take collective responsibility for each other’s learning as teacher teammates and the learning of the students!
“In schools with strong collective teacher efficacy, students learn more and their academic achievement increases. More than any other factor influencing student outcomes — for example, socioeconomic status, parent involvement, motivation, home environment, and concentration — collective teacher efficacy impacts student achievement the most
In other words, when teams of teachers truly and fully believe in their collective ability to improve the learning of their students, their students do better and learn more.” .(Gradecam, 2020)
Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117–148.