by Jill Bosche
My first semester of teaching Dual Credit English, I noticed something odd. Though I was teaching two sections of the same course at the same school, I had significantly more problems with classroom management during my afternoon class, especially on days that I had scheduled for Socratic seminars. The morning class was able to self-facilitate sustained authentic inquiry while the afternoon class seemed exasperatingly incapable of doing so. Expressing this to a member of the school’s faculty, this person joked in response that “the animals get restless at feeding time.” Though a somewhat insensitive comparison, it did cause a neuron to fire, provoking me to make a connection I would not have otherwise made. It is fairly well documented that when you attempt to train an intelligent, but hyperactive breed, you might find it more challenging than you initially expected. It is strongly recommended that to overcome this you overburden your trainee with additional tasks.
It was the recollection of this information that inspired me to create a game that, when played, would create the same results as a Socratic seminar, but burdened the students with several additional tasks in which they perform the same steps, but in a much more structured way. The students first broke into groups and created open-ended questions about the texts to be discussed. They were motivated to perform well at this task because the depth and importance of the questions they formulated would determine their grade for the day. Next, they took turns posing their questions to the other groups and evaluating the responses given by their peers based on how fully the question was answered and whether textual evidence was provided to support that answer. They were motivated to perform well at this task because the members of the winning group would receive an exemption from a single daily writing requirement of my choosing.
When put into practice in the classroom, I was amazed at how well this strategy worked. I suddenly had the full cooperation of all of my afternoon students. The difference was in no way subtle. It was night and day. I have seen other models of a more structured version of the Socratic seminar. I believe the most popular is the “fish bowl.” However, I feel that in some cases the fish bowl may still allow too much passivity to be a workable solution to the problem of lunchtime restlessness. I encourage you not only to think about how this “game” might be applicable to other disciplines, but also what seemingly irrelevant information may be lurking in the corners of your mind that you might translate into viable resources for your classroom. Most importantly, I invite you to share the challenges you have faced and how you have overcome them so that others may benefit from your wisdom.