kate mcdaniel

Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

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It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.

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Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

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Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!

 

School Branding: It Takes a Team

When you are working to brand yourself as an educator and share your story online, you rely on yourself to share the information. You can’t rely on others to share it for you, and how much you share depends entirely on you. Sometimes, you may go a month or more without sharing anything because life happened. It can happen to anyone. However, school branding is a different beast.

Schools often put one person in charge of social media postings, and hope for the best. One person sometimes has to gather images, check media releases, and share stories. They are responsible for checking feedback, comments, and messages sent via social media. Often, they must report anything out of place to administration. This person often has other roles to play in the school, and so social media may fall by the wayside. This leaves schools unable to share many stories, or they are more likely to share simple things, such as announcements and lunch menus.

School branding should not fall solely on one person’s shoulders. School is a community, and it takes many kinds of people to help it function well. School branding should become part of the community effort, even if it’s a small community group alone at first. Having more than one person work to gather stories, to check releases, and to monitor social media pages distributes the tasks among multiple folks, each with a common goal in mind: share the good with the community.

In my district, it is a slow process. I am working to change it, but it definitely takes time. One of my schools, however, is trying a new approach, and this could very well change the frequency with which we share our school’s stories on our Facebook page. Only time will tell, and I will definitely be observing to gather feedback.

Fluvanna Middle School has periods of infrequent sharing on their Facebook page. Administrator Rebecca Smith has taken a different approach. As she completes observations of teachers in the classroom, she snaps pictures of the activity occurring. These images are passed onto myself. I do not know all 800+ students in the school, so I have teamed up with librarian Kate McDaniel to identify students with media release. We tag team together and delete any photographs where a student may not have permission to be photographed. Next, I email the teacher for a description of the activity that was occurring at the time. I usually need just 2-3 sentences to work with- enough to describe the learning taking place. Once I have the description, I schedule the post for Facebook and use our #flucostories hashtag.

As you can see, this involves the work of multiple people, and helps to create a more frequent story of Fluvanna Middle School. The task of sharing stories on social media does not fall to only one person, nor should it. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we are hoping to continue to use this method to gather many classroom stories for our families to view. In the past, our families have expressed the desire to see a variety of stories from more than just the academic classes, and that’s what we’re working toward delivering.

If your school relies solely on just one person to run their social media, it may be time to rethink the strategy. Communities rely on the people within to help them grow and flourish. If your school wants to have their school story prosper and be spread, then reach out and find ways to bring more folks on board. You just might develop an even better school story than before!