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ALL Improvement TeamsEquitable Groupwork (2017-18)Student “Driven” Socratic Seminars
Student “Driven” Socratic Seminars

Change Package
Student “Driven” Socratic Seminars

11th at High Tech High Media Arts
By Jorge Cerna

This change package outlines having more participation and choice/voice in socratic seminar discussion topics. In order to engage students during socratic seminars and give them more choice into what is discussed, a system of student led socratic seminars was developed. The changes implemented attempted to get more student involvement in socratic seminars by allowing students lead their own socratic seminar and be responsible for the preparation documents for other students. This allowed each student to have a choice in the topic discussed and the questions asked during the socratic seminar. By allowing student voice into discussion topics it opened up more connected conversation for students.

Impact on Teaching

The core idea explored in this change package was developing a system to encourage students to participate in socratic seminars by allowing them to lead the seminars as well as choose the discussion topic.

Impact on Students

This change idea has had mixed results with some socratic seminars providing intense and full participation from the class, while others still yielded minimal participation and group engagement. However, one unexpected result was in student preparation and limited distractions. Early on in the development of the change package, 100% of students would complete the preparation materials for the socratic seminars and we would have little to no students on their electronic devices during the conversation.

Prior to the Socratic Seminar:

  • As a class create a “living” set of socratic seminar norms that can be adjusted and altered as the semester goes on. This allows student voice into setting the protocols and changing them when they feel it is needed. Socratic Seminar Protocols
  • As a class develop a Socratic Seminar document that records each “Leader” and topic as a reference. This will give the students an idea of when their preparation materials need to be completed and also a reference to not have the same topic discussed in different socratic seminars. Socratic Seminar Schedule
  • Socratic Seminar “Leaders” will create the preparation document for others to complete before the Socratic Seminar. Preparation document will consist of 2 articles (with contrasting viewpoints of topic) and 5 questions related to the topic. Socratic Seminar Preparation Document
  • Assign partners to each student for them to observe and critique about how they participate and followed the discussion “norms:

During the seminar:

  • Students will keep notes about their partners participation and ability to follow the Socratic Seminar Norms.
  • “Leader” will be in charge of guiding conversation and asking questions to the class.
  • Teacher will keep a participation sheet to keep track of who is engaged in the discussion and what students need some more “coaching.”

After the seminar:

  • Have students share the their critique sheets with their partner.

Students will individually complete a self-reflection document to grade themselves and give feedback about how the conversations can be improved moving forward. Self-Reflection Document

It will take time and multiple conversations to create a positive socratic seminar environment. Be prepared for it to take a while to get full participation from the class and be prepared to make adjustments to your original plan. Get student input and feedback about to learn what will work best for your class. I found that the inner and outer circle wasn’t beneficial to the class discussion. Having a one-on-one check-in will each student about their level of engagement, participation, and ideas about socratic seminars is helpful. Hearing their own voice and helping them set goals for themselves in each socratic seminar can improve the conversation. Teacher should always be prepared to input questions or ideas into the conversation to present a new perspective or “stir the pot” a bit.

Teachers will be able to observe student level of engagement in the conversation by listening to the conversation and recording amount of speaking each student did during the seminars. Student feedback will also assist the teacher in understanding how well the socratic seminars are working and if they feel like their classmates are following the protocols established. The 3 focus student work demonstrates their ability to prepare and reflect on the socratic seminars. Each student was able to demonstrate an understanding of the topic and acknowledged the need for improvement in future socratic seminars. Overall, the change package did help to improve student participation and engagement in certain topics but  did not yield a long-term change in student participation in socratic seminars. As the semester went along there might have been a bit of student “burn-out” in the discussion which led to students not being as prepared or engaged in the conversation. Some students would also opt to just agree with the group on certain conversations instead of being open about their true opinions and ideas.

Student #1: Preparation, Reflection

Student #2: Preparation, Reflection

Student #3: Preparation, Reflection