About This Post
I wrote the following in anticipation of a workshop–Digitizing the Writing Workshop—I’m facilitating tomorrow (yikes!) and I needed to get a handle on the overall process. Rather than blazing a path, I’m writing down my explorations. What’s neat is that my notes on Socratic Seminar from several years ago came in quite handy for Tip #1! Isn’t that amazing?
Looking for an easy way to connect with authors online? While many authors will charge for Skype appearances, you may still be fortunate enough to engage an author who will participate in a book study with your class. Or, if you are dealing with a long dead author, find someone to impersonate that author and conduct regular interactions with your class. In this article, you’ll find some tips on how to proceed.
TIP #1 – Take advantage of Socratic Seminar or Fishbowl Approach
Socratic Seminar (a.k.a. “fishbowl“) may be an approach you are familiar with, but, just in case you are not, here’s a quick overview of key elements:
- Students are invited to read a text.
- An “inner circle” is formed of students, as well as an “outer circle.”
- The inner circle actively discusses the assigned text, perhaps stating a question about the reading.
- The outer circle watches their corresponding inner circle participant, employing an observation form.
1) Class is divided into two groups. The first group forms the inner circle. The second group forms the outer circle.
2) The inner circle members directions are pretty straightforward. Students are handed a piece of paper and asked to jot down some notes, questions they might have regarding the article/story we read for class. They will share one of the questions or statements they have written with the whole group.
Outer circle members are also given another instruction: watch a specific partner and complete the following tally sheet (items shown below) for them. The purpose of this is to keep them engaged and listening. I have found this to be particularly true since it enables one to focus on one person, even as one listens to the discussion.
Observation Form: Inner-outer Discussion Circle
Directions: Each time your partner does one of the following, put a check in the box:
SPEAKS IN THE DISCUSSION
LOOKS AT PERSON WHO IS SPEAKING
REFERS TO THE TEXT
ASKS A QUESTION
RESPONDS TO ANOTHER SPEAKER
INTERRUPTS ANOTHER SPEAKER
ENGAGES IN SIDE CONVERSATIONS
AFTER DISCUSSION: What is the most interesting thing your partner said?
AFTER DISCUSSION: What would you like to have said in the discussion?
Apparently, these individual pages–whether for inner/outer circle–can also be collected for grading purposes.
3) After everyone in both circles knows their job, each inner circle member shares their question/statement. The facilitator then asks one of the individual to elaborate on what they said. Again, the choice is up to the facilitator as to who to start with. And, then, the discussion begins.
4) After a specified time, the facilitator ends the discussion. She then invites the outer circle to provide feedback to the particular inner circle member they were partnered with. The facilitator is sure to cut short any feedback that does not specifically to the Observation Form.
Prior to Socratic Seminar, you can prepare student groups to review the text. For example, you can assign different activities to each small group. Some of these activities included the following with these directions:
1-Venn Diagram: Compare/contrast two characters from the text.
2-Cluster Activity: Select one representative word from the text and put it in the center of the page. Students brainstorm what they have learned in the article/story in regards to the word.
3-T-Graph: Divide the paper into two parts with a large “T”. On the right side of the paper, the teacher presents a preselected list of five or six quotes directly from the story. Label this side as “Quotes”. On the the left-hand side of the T, students write down their collaboratively decided meaning of the quote and its importance to the story. This side is labelled “Interpretation.”
4-PMI Chart: Students collaboratively list ideas/issues/values from the story that they found to be a “Plus” to the story, those that they found to be a “Minus” in the story and those that were simply “Interesting” from the text.
5-Vocabulary Collection: Students search for new vocabulary or words to display on a five-pointed star that has been labelled for them. The labels may include the “5 Ws” or five separate categories such as People, Things, Feelings, Places, and Interesting Words.
Tip #2 – Blend in simple, easy to use technologies that empower your conversation.
“Ok,” you may think, “I know how to do socratic seminar. But how do I work technology into all this?” You can use technology in a variety of ways. One easy way is to establish an online space where conversations can take place. A perfect location for this is a web log, or blog. The blog organizes its latest entries–think of them as multimedia journal entries that allow for text, video, audio–in reverse chronological order, and allows people to leave comments. And, these can be moderated to prevent inappropriateness.
Some blog platforms that you should consider include:
- Blogger.com – This is Google’s solution to blogs and it can work quite well. Some of the main benefits of Blogger is that it’s very easy to embed video and audio files hosted on a variety of services, such as YouTube.com (which may be blocked in your environment), GoogleDrive, Dropbox (preferred), and/or Box.net. There are many video/audio hosting services available but the best plan is to find one that isn’t blocked by your school district.
- Google Sites Announcements – While not, strictly speaking, a blog, the Announcements add-on in a GoogleSites wiki does generate an RSS feed, which is, in essence, a blog. The main benefit of this is that you can use Google Sites as a simple to maintain web site, embedding questions, assignments, and a “blog” that you can easily embed content. Since GoogleSites comes with 100 megabytes of storage, you’ll be able to upload some audio and video files before running out of space.
- KidBlog.com – As their web site says, “Kidblog is built by teachers, for teachers, so students can get the most out of the writing process.” Who can argue with this no-cost, advertisement-free solution that allows “private” blogging? Definitely worth investigating.
In addition to these 3 traditional blogging tools, consider taking advantage of tools like Socrative (beta.socrative.com) that allows for open-ended questions that students can respond to, or develop questions in response to a prompt. You can have these prompts available and roll them out for inner/outer circles to ponder and discuss…and, better yet, get them to do it as well!
Tip #3 – Follow tried-n-true approaches taken by other teachers who have facilitated book chats with authors and the community.
If you can find a book author on Twitter, you have a great opportunity for initiating an online conversation. For example, I’ve easily connected with my favorite fantasy authors (Jonathan Maberry and Jonathan Moeller) via Twitter, and send them a tweet every time I finish reading one of their books. I have no doubt that they might be willing to join in on a conversation with students (I haven’t asked them but…what author wouldn’t want to chat with students who could become potential buyers of their books?).
You can also invite other well-known educators, community members, university professors, and/or writers to participate in conversations with your students online. The goal is to nurture a rich, free-flowing, wide-ranging academically-focused conversation, modeling for students how this happens in real life.
Here’s an approach you can take, adapted from the work of other educators online:
- Read one chapter a week.
- Students in center circle (in the fishbowl), lead the discussion.
- Student in the outer circle (outside the fishbowl), listen to inner circle and have their own conversation via the blog.
- Invite adults learners from around the world to discuss chapters and leave comments.
- At the end of the process, have the author respond to questions students in both circles have generated.
Given the wide availability of desktop video conferencing solutions–such as Skype, Google+ Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate–there’s no reason why your students couldn’t meet other adult learners and/or author(s) face to face for short discussions (15-20 minutes), discussing key concepts in the text.
There are many ways to engage young writers and authors, and blogs, Twitter are simple ways to “shrink the world” and bring people closer together.
Check out Miguel’s Workshop Materials online at http://mglearns.wikispaces.com
Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure