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Middle School Feature - Socratic Circle

The Curriculum Showcase celebrates thoughtful, well designed lessons that are being taught in District 95.  Here we are showcasing what is being taught, how it exemplifies our District 95 mission, and how it ties the curriculum objectives to active learning. Read the summary below the slideshow to learn more.

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Teacher
Marge Strand  
 
Grade, Content Area
Seventh Grade; Literature
 
Mission statement traits addressed
Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes and recognize opportunities for growth. Ask significant questions. Analyze and evaluate information in order to draw conclusions and propose various answers and solutions. Communicate knowledge appropriately and effectively in a variety of ways.
 
Local or state objectives addressed
  • Preview reading materials, make predictions and relate reading to information from other sources.
  • Use information to form, explain and support questions and predictions.
Apply listening skills as individuals and members of a group in a variety of settings (e.g., lectures, discussions, conversations, team projects, presentations, interviews.
 

Summary

At Middle School South, Marge Strand is holding Socratic Discussions on The Pledge of Allegiance as pre-reading for the novel Nothing But the Truth. “I started using Socratic Discussions about six years ago after reading Mark Copeland’s book.  I like it because you can teach behaviors such as active listening, inviting participation, polite tone etc…through it.  It changes conversation by giving the responsibility for the content as well as the process on the students.”

Students are given a copy of The Pledge of Allegiance and asked to annotate it for a class discussion. They react to the text through careful and thoughtful reading. They are encouraged to come up with questions that they may have about the pledge as well as to look up words they do not understand, reflect on their own experiences with the pledge, and react to any ideas the reading may evoke. 
 
On the day of the discussion, half of the class is seated on the inside of the circle to run a discussion while the other half of the class sits on the outside to evaluate the skill of discussion. The students run the discussion without teacher intervention. After a period of discussion, the teacher stops the discussion and the outside circle gives feedback.  “In a traditional class discussion, the class looks to the teacher for direction and directs all comments to the teacher.  Socratic Circle teaches the students to own the discussion.  They also feel heard and that their opinion matters because they get feedback from their peers,”  stated Mrs. Strand.
 
The circles then switch roles. The teacher can assist students to encourage participation or write questions that will lead to deeper meaning. For example, on this topic the teacher may ask if students have the right to refuse to say the pledge or if one can be patriotic and not pledge the flag. When this discussion is finished the outside circle evaluates. 
 
“The level of discussion is something that we work on, and the students learn to dig deeper and not stay on the surface.  After trust is built, students will make very personal connections to material.  We have rubrics that help evaluation.  Some evaluations are written follow ups about the ideas discussed, some are on performance in the discussion.  I don’t evaluate everything every time. It’s very adaptable.  The key is to have material that the students can feel something about.”
 
Students are engaged in the lesson. This discussion format puts the responsibility for the quality of the discussion on the students and can be used to evaluate comprehension as well as the skill of class discussion.
 
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