Friday, December 20, 2013

Student-Driven Class Backfires

Soooooo. That whole Socratic seminar as a final thing.

Great idea, right? Give kids 1.5 years of preparatory Socratic seminars in both my history class and their English class. Teach sentence frames for agreeing with and adding on to comments, respectfully disagreeing, and welcoming people into the conversation. Talk a lot about evidence-based claims. And give kids space to talk about ideas with increasingly long intervals of time available to them. What could possibly go wrong?

Funny you should ask.

I was talking to a friend about this final and reflecting on how things went down during it. Their response: “You’ve got to blog this.” Yes. True. Great point. Here it is.

See, here’s the thing about making conscious choices about getting out of your students’ way in class: sometimes, things go south. And it isn’t pretty.

I witnessed a massacre of a Socratic seminar in one of my classes. Students spun quickly away from the core ideas of the Socratic, ideas they had spent a week researching and understanding. And finding evidence to back up possible claims that they might make.

And in this Socratic? Claims were made, all right. But evidence to back up these claims? Not so much.

Someone decided that they should moderate the Socratic: give people the space to speak and affirm their ideas. Nope. Bad idea.

It was trainwreck. Clearly the big question coming out of this though: what did I learn for next time?

In no particular order:

Sometimes when you get out of your students’ way, it doesn’t work. Sometimes it goes wrong. If you take risks, be ready to get burned. (Actually, that is a takeaway from my whole semester, but I digress.)

Know when to step in. I clearly struggle with this. A couple years ago I had a Socratic seminar go south and I stepped in forcefully. Which was a mistake. As I watched this particular Socratic go south this year, that memory was in the fore of my mind. “Stay out of this. Let them dig themselves back to the big ideas they are ready to talk about.” Well, that never happened. Clearly, this approach didn’t work this time.

Find a way to keep kids more conscious of their conversation. Metacognition would have helped here. But being metacognitive during a quickly-flowing discussion can be tough to do…