Socrates on the Backchannel

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Here is a screenshot of my Tweetdeck usage!

Both at the middle and high school levels of teaching English Language Arts, Socratic Seminars (or Socratic Circles) have been a major component of my student-centered classroom.  I have never been a teacher who stands up and lectures; that has just never been my style of instruction.  Perhaps it is selfishness.  I have read the text we are discussing, probably multiple times, in fact.  I already know my own thoughts, reactions, and opinions.  I want to hear what the students think about the text and what the students think to question. Teaching students to write engaging, higher-order thinking questions is an important transferrable skill.  I am teaching future CEOs, investors, physicians, teachers, lawyers… Asking the right question at the right time is a valuable skill regardless of profession.  Small group discussions are great, but I find that the accountability just isn’t quite there without adding tedious task to the groups, and the small group discussions don’t build that classroom community I strive to develop.  So, no matter how high tech I go, Socratic Circles will stay.

Most of my students would be pleased to hear the previous statement.  Yet, a few would cringe.  Some students who are more introverted despise the inner circle experience!  This is where twitter comes into play.  Those very same students who professed to hate Socratic Circles were absolute superstars when we went to twitter with a “Tweeting in the Twenties” project.  (Students selected a famous figure from the 1920s and tweeted in character.  We (social studies co-teacher and I) used our essential questions for the unit as starting points, but the discussions were student-driven within minutes, literally.)  On the day we briefly introduced the project, we were in the computer lab for an entirely different lesson, yet we saw flashes of twitter as the students opened multiple screens and couldn’t resist jumping into Twitterland.

So, now, my plan is to use a backchannel  along with Socratic Circles! (I like Tweetdeck, which is pictured above.) The students in the outer circle will be on Tweetdeck reacting to what they hear in the inner circle.  They will be able to carry on their own online conversation while the inner circle discusses “live”.  Then, when the students who were in the inner circle become the outer circle, they can catch up on the observations on Tweetdeck and begin their own outside circle online observations. As the final piece of the formative assessment, I will have students tweet out their most powerful takeaways from the conversations and have them use the favorites and retweeting tools to send virtual peer “shout outs”.


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