I’m a huge fan of the Socratic Seminar, but the drawback is always getting kids involved who don’t like to speak in a large group setting. I’ve tried many different configurations with moderate results. One of my PLN colleagues, Travis Phelps wrote about using Chromebooks to create a backchannel during the discussion. (Read his blog here.)
Like Travis, I used TodaysMeet to create my chat room, projecting it on the board, so all could see. I organized my room: chairs in the inner circle, desks with Chromebooks on the outer. As students came in, I let them choose their spot, but gave them a heads up that we would be switching halfway through the period.
What I learned
- Assign seats, at least inner or outer circle. Letting students choose which circle they participated in first wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The discussions were sometimes unbalanced. Too many strong personalities in one group, not enough in the other.
- Give guidelines on the nickname students choose for the chat. I basically told them I couldn’t grade them, (I grade for participating with useful evidence or insight), if I didn’t know who they were. “Farting Burrito” had to fess up to his handle.
- Talk to them about spamming and set rules. I teach 8th graders. Writing “poop,” 14 times always seems like a good idea. I let them be silly when they first logged in, just to try it out. However, once the discussion started, the chat needed to be on task. The stream moves so quickly, if someone is typing, “Johnny is Bae,” or even, “LOL,” the other stuff is lost. Just talking about it made all the difference.
- Change the chat room for each period. This is something I did not anticipate. I had students on Chromebooks in other classes, spamming our conversation. It was done in good fun, but became rather annoying.
The Good, the Bad, and the Silly
I asked the kids at the end of each period what they thought of this different Socratic technique. Most really liked it. They liked that the inner circle was smaller, so it was easier to talk. They also mentioned that they could check the chat on the board if they were stuck for something to say. Mostly they liked that in the outer circle, they could look stuff up on the internet to add to the conversation. The biggest drawback was that the board was sometimes distracting. In some classes, the inner circle would stop talking and take to just reading the board. Plus, there was always that one kid who had to try to make everyone laugh. But I guess, that’s just what makes it an 8th grade classroom.
I’m looking forward to trying it again soon. Hoping Farting Burrito is too.