Socratic Circles as Assessment ~ the Why and How

Happy 2018-19 school year!

I wanted to take the time and share a strategy, or better yet, a framework for learning and assessment that I use as one of the tenants in my Spanish IV classes and at the end of Spanish III.  This framework is preparing students for a Socratic Circle or Socratic Seminar, and this post will explain how they function in my class setting.

When I think about the proficiency levels of our students, my level III and IV students’ proficiency levels fall in the range of novice-high to intermediate-high.  Fortunately, I have found that a Socratic Circle performance assessment allows for success for all students that have been present in class learning about the topic. I continue to use Socratic Circles because they empower students to think and use real language.

I would like to take a moment and give a shout out to my dear friend, Amy Wopat, @wopatdc, who teaches in DC public schools.  It is because of Amy that I began using Socratic Circles with the framework that she designed for her classes.  Together we have presented on the topic and the Socratic experience has evolved in different ways for both of us.  This blog post explains how I use the Socratic Circles in my environment, and my hope is that readers are able to take these ideas and make Socratic Circles their own to enhance their world language curriculum.

The goal of a Socratic Circle experience is for students to lead a formal discussion for 30 to 45 minutes in the TARGET LANGUAGE without help from me.  As the teacher, I say very little during the Socratic Experience because the students have prepared to be the experts, ask questions, ask one another for clarification, and listen to each other while having a civil discussion. (Elfie Israel has a good working definition of a Socratic Seminar here).  When thinking about 21st century skills in education, a Socratic Circle provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking, collaborative learning, and communication.  Through a World Language lens, the 5 C’s are also fostered (Communication, Connections, Comparisons, Community and Culture), especially if the topic and question posed for the Socratic Circle is relevant to culture and community – which mine are.

Socratic Circles and Backwards Design: Logistics and Preparation

For the Socratic Circle performance days, I look at how many students I have in my class and decide how many “Seminar Circles” I will need.  I believe the best number of students per “30 to 45 minute Seminar Circle” is 7 to 11, meaning a class of 24 students would need 2 to 3 “Seminar Circles.”  Depending on your bell-schedule, you may have to dedicate multiple days to the performance assessment with different tasks for your students each day.

Setting up the classroom in an Inner circle/Outer circle(s) arrangement– see picture here – allows for the “Inner circle” students to discuss the posed question while the “Outer circle(s)” students are tallying how many times their “partners” are speaking during the Socratic experience and/or writing information that the “Inner circle” students are saying (this additional part may be key in keeping a third Outer circle of students engaged if your class numbers require three circles).  I will continue to define this in the Grading and Rubrics section of this post.

The daunting experience for students to stay in the target language for 30 to 45 minutes about a real topic requires preparation.  Since my Socratic Circle experience is a culminating assessment, students are saturated with the topic at hand so they have the necessary vocabulary and structures to easily communicate their thoughts about the topic and posed essential question(s) for the unit.  Throughout the unit of study, students begin to make connections and think about how to respond to the essential question(s) because I reference it often during class. For any Socratic Circle or Seminar experience, students must be reminded that the experience is not a debate but rather a discussion, and multiple viewpoints should be considered throughout the discussion.  This piece is important for me as an educator because I hope it builds empathy and the capacity to see topics from multiple perspectives for my students.

For example, in our district we end our Spanish III course with the students’ first Socratic Circle about Immigration to the US.  This is a controversial topic that requires all of us to see the issues from multiple perspectives.  Throughout the unit, we include many sources that show different perspectives. The sources that we choose to work with serve as the anchor sources for students upon which they can build their fundamental understanding of a topic.  This of course does not mean that our students do not bring prior knowledge about the topic nor that we do not encourage self-study on the topics – in fact, students must find additional sources and refer to them during the Socratic Circle experience to support their comments.

In preparing for the Socratic experience, students must evaluate and annotate sources, and then make reference and cite their sources as they make claims during the discussion.  These are crucial skills for preparing students for many of today’s standardized exams including the AP World Language and Culture exam.  For example, on the AP World Language exam, for the presentational writing task, students must write a persuasive essay requiring them to cite from three sources while presenting an argument including multiple perspectives or viewpoints.  The presentational speaking task requires students to compare and contrast a topic from the perspective of a target culture and a student’s own culture. In preparing students for the Socratic experience, I provide language and structures needed to help a student compare, contrast, express agreement/disagreement, change topics, defend a point of view, and support an opinion.

My role as the teacher is to prepare the students to be successful and accomplish the daunting task that I have given them.  I continue to use Socratic Circles because my students are amazed that they can successfully do it. They are so proud of what they have accomplished in the target language and it empowers them and helps them see that they can use real language and communicate on topics relevant today.

Here is an example unit plan for my Spanish IV unit on the Cuban Revolution. The unit plan also includes the requirements for the actual Socratic Circle experience.  It is important to note that students are still learning language when reading, viewing or listening to the anchor sources. These sources provide a great deal of the unit’s content and needed background for the topic. For this reason, I must assure that the sources are comprehensible for all students by using strategies to help students successfully interpret them.
Resource:  Sample Unit Plan with Culminating Socratic Circle Assessment: the Cuban Revolution

Assessing the Socratic Circle

In many ways I feel that a Socratic performance assessment is just like an IPA (Integrated Performance Assessment) because all skills of communication are needed and can be assessed: interpretive, interpersonal and presentational.  This all being said, since I feel these types of assessments are more performance-based and students can prepare for them, I have worked to hone my rubrics and grading strategies to help more students “listen and respond to” instead of simply “responding with memorized or language that is read aloud.”  Ultimately, I want an interpersonal dialogue to be taking place while they use their resources to defend their claims and/or point of view.

The following is the breakdown of the requirements and grades for a Socratic Circle:

Prior to the Socratic Circle Experience:

Interpretive Reading Grade: Students must find, read or view, and annotate 2 articles and/or 1 audio/visual source (usually in target language) that have to do with the essential question of the Socratic Circle.  I also provide them this Current Event Analysis Sheet that they must complete per source.  Points are generally given in this fashion per article:  5 points for annotations on the article that include questions, connections to the essential question, and marking main ideas [you may have to teach how to annotate] and 10 points for the Current Event Sheet.  These annotated sources should be used when the student is in the Inner Circle.

During the Socratic Circle Experience:

Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking Grade 1:  When a student is in the Inner Circle, she has a list of requirements that they must accomplish during the 30 to 45 minutes allotted.  The task of keeping count of these requirements is assigned to a student-partner who is seated in the Outer circle.  [What I have found works best is when I determine the mix of who will be in the Inner Circle and who will also be their partners; this way I pair up students based on abilities, which helps with their capacity to listen for key factors.  It also helps to have a variety of students in the Inner Circle at one time].

There is one Speaking Grade based on this content.  For an A grade, the Cuban Revolution example requires students to complete these tasks:

  1. Ask 3 questions
  2. Respond to 3 students’ questions or comments
  3. Make 3 statements referring to a class/anchor source
  4. Make 3 statements referring to their own sources

The grades are determined based on how many times a student did the above task requirements.  Again the student’s Outer circle partner (and often the student herself) is checking off the requirements, which she will turn in to me.

Here is an example of a Socratic Circle Student Reference Sheet with the Outer circle grading.  Each of the 4 task requirements is worth 5 points with a student earning 3 points once she makes reference to each task.  Students’ grades will vary based on how many times they complete the 4 required tasks.  It is important to note that yes, students can accomplish two tasks at once for example by (B.) responding to a student’s questions while (D.) referring to one of their sources.  Also, during the Socratic experiences the Outer circle partners can silently communicate with their Inner circle partners and when there are 5 to 7 remaining minutes, I allow them to have a quick conference so that students know what else they may need to include in the discussion.  Generally speaking, prepared students score very well with this grade because there are many supports in place for their success: clearly-defined task requirements, a conference time with their partners, and use of their source articles (and sometimes notes, depending on the level and time of year).

Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking Grade 2:  My last note about students using notes is precisely why I have created this 2nd speaking grade.  After many tweaks, I am pretty happy with this rubric.  During the Socratic Circle, I am filling out these rubrics for all Inner circle students based on whether or not they are (1) Speaking or Reading from notes (when they are permitted to use them – Spanish III end of year and first Socratic in Spanish IV) and (2) Use of Vocabulary as it pertains to the unit and Academic vocabulary (that I provide).  This grade is worth 14 points.

In my opinion, these 2nd Speaking grades are optional, and please know, that it is not grading students on “correct usage of language.”  I have found that this grade was necessary to push my students to not read from their notes but rather really speak in the target language; it also pushed students to use more of the Academic language that they need to begin to internalize.  I have seen great results with implementing this grade with respect to students accomplishing the task of genuinely speaking and listening about a topic.  By design, it does not require me to be punitive with their communication errors and gives me a chance to write down some feedback to share with each student.  In all truth, some of my students over prepare for the Socratic experience and rely too heavily on online translation, and this is exactly what I am trying to hinder.  On a positive note, some of my best Socratic discussions have come from those students who did not prepare at all because I know they are creating all of their language on the fly.

Interpretive Listening Grade: When students are in the Outer circle or (Outer-Outer circle, if you have 3 groups), students must write down 5 to 10 comments or questions that different students have said while in the Inner circle. This additional measure is in place to emphasize that all students must pay attention even while not in the Inner circle.  In general, I give 2 points per comment, so the grade is 10 to 20 points respectively.

Post Socratic Circle Experience:

Presentational Writing Grade:  Following the Socratic Circles, there is an in-class written essay or short-answer assessment about the essential question and what has been learned from the experience.  This assessment is completed in the target language. I will often ask students to reference comments made from all Circles (again 1, 2, or 3 based on class-size) and to continue to incorporate academic vocabulary in their responses.

 

I hope that this post has provided you with some resources to possibly implement a Socratic Circle or Seminar in your own classes. My colleagues and I feel that by incorporating them, our students are able to develop their target language voices on relevant topics to life and history and make more connections to other subject areas than we are able to do with just narrowed topics.  Of course this post is no where near the be-all to understanding Socratic Circles or Seminars but it could serve as a starting point for you to help push students to listen and think on their own in the world language context.

Have a great school year!

Here is a quick template to help design a Unit with a culminating Socratic Circle/Seminar!

A special THANK YOU to Cindy Hitz, @sonrisadelcampo, for the weekly reminders this summer via Twitter to get this post written – the public accountability worked!

New Year’s Reflection #4 – The Human Side

Over the past four days I have certainly reflected a lot and what I finally wrote down is what constantly goes through my head. I want to take this New Year’s Reflection #4 in a different direction. I am writing it as a reminder for myself to always keep in mind because I know that my love for Spanish, language teaching, curriculum maps, lessons, and learning connections could get in the way: the human side of teaching and the daily needs and struggles of my students. I am not talking about their needs with regard to differentiation and language learning but really who they are as individuals. To help me with this post, I will refer to my favorite source material: musicals. If you are not enamored in the same way as I am with musicals, do not fret, luckily for all, no one has to hear me try to belt a show-tune!

Last May I was traveling to NYC and I was very fortunate to score a very hard-to-come-by ticket to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” A month later this musical and its stars would win Tony Awards for their remarkable and genuine performances and portrayals of high school students and parents dealing with real issues. (In case you have not yet experienced Dear Evan Hansen’s amazing songs, check our Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Youtube Playlist.) The musical tells the story of Evan, a 17 year old senior with social anxiety, who gets tangled in a web of unfortunate (or fortunate) circumstances following a teen suicide in his school. One of the show’s anthems rings with the message “You will be found” and it leaves the audience in a mixed whirlwind of emotions at the end of act 1.

With tears in our eyes (and tears are not a common occurrence for me), I began talking with the people next to me. They said “Wow, what a show. Being parents this show is really hitting us.” I said, “Yeah. I am not a parent but I am a teacher and it is really hitting me too.” This couple was immediately empathic to my experience as a high school teacher and I was empathic to their roles as parents – we both play key roles in children’s lives. I told them that I was lucky to buy this newly released ticket the day before, and they looked at me and said, “you were meant to be here.” I took that message to heart and feel that I carry a bit of Evan with me every day. The struggles presented by all of the characters in the musical can be found in any school on any given day.

The beauty of musicals is through the magic of song, stories are told, shared, and experienced by an audience. Of course, movies and TV can do this but for me there is something about an actor pouring their emotions out on stage and when done well, demanding we empathize with them and understand their story.

Do we as teachers try to understand our students’ stories?

Do we realize that our young people do have stories and they have identities that are as complex as ours or even more so? There are insecurities, doubts, the incapacity to understand their changing selves, struggles, many life factors that our students cannot control, and also all of these wrapped up in each family member and friend in their lives.

As I start the new year, I want to remember all of this. I must remember that my 90 students are more than a grade or language proficiency level, their role in the school community or as membership on a team, or the behavior that they exhibit in my class. This of course does not excuse students from being respectful or holding them accountable to adhering to school rules or working to learn, but ultimately, I feel that the better I know a student and about their struggles, the better teacher I can strive to be.

I want to end with this song from the musical “13.” It is sung by another Evan and a group of pre-teens about turning the big 13. I think these lyrics from the song “13/Becoming a Man” paint a nice picture of what is going through the minds of kids this age. There is even a shout out to Spanish class – but I would have to guess she has a very demanding, legacy world language teacher.

Have any other musicals helped your perspective and provided a better way to see, feel, and think about someone else’s story?  Leave a reply and share it.  

 

Read the lyrics to “13/Becoming A Man” as a poem or my preference is to listen and watch this video with lyrics on Youtube

I’m Evan Goldman. I live at 224 West 92nd street,

In the heart of Manhattan.

And my life just went to hell.

Picture me just another cool kid in NYC,

Near the park and the MET.
Life is sweet, Yankees in the Bronx, Pretzels on the street,

Just how good can it get?
Who’d have guess dad would meet a stewardess?
Mom’s depressed and her lawyers are mean.
Now I’m stressed, life is a disaster
And I’m cracking from the strain,

Going totally insane
And I’m just about to turn
Thirteen!
Everything switches
Everything turns around
End up in stitches
Find a way underground
Can I get through it?
Life has changed over night
How do I do it?
Nothing is going right
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And I’m standing on the edge!

Twelve years old,

everything that used to be as good as gold

starts to crumble and crack
Pressure mounts, once it was a joke,

Now it really counts and there’s no going back
Life goes wrong

Boy: Suddenly they’re yelling cause your hair’s too long

Girl: Or your room isn’t clean

Kids: Roll along

Evan: Every conversation is another lost cause or

A list of my flaws
God, I’m going to turn thirteen!

Boy: I want a dirt bike
Girl: I want to kill my mom
Boy: I want a mustache!
Girl: I want a wonder bra
Girl: When do I get it?

Boy: All of the grown-up stuff’

Girl: How will I make it?

Boy: When am I old enough?

Kids: 
Why is the world feeling totally stranger?
Why are my friends acting totally weird?
Why do I feel like my life is in danger?
Why do I feel like my brain disappeared?

Girl: How can I get through a year of Spanish?

Boy: How can I not look dumb in track?

Boy: How can I gain 20 pounds by Friday?

Boy: How can I make my voice not crack?

Kids: I wanna fly, wanna run, wanna drive
Wanna get rich, wanna get drunk, wanna get out
Wanna get my braces off
Wanna get my nose pierced
Wanna grow my hair long
But all I keep hearing is

No, you’re not ready!
No, it’s not time yet!
No, it’s not right now!
Wait until you’re older!

Homework
Laundry
Dishes
Courses
Just settle down and hold your horses!

Evan:
In the middle of this city
In the middle of this street
There’s a sound of something crumbling,
Rumbling underneath my feet

In the middle of the sidewalk
Outside p.s. 84,
I hear a roar
I can’t ignore

I hear Evan it’s not your fault
I hear Evan can’t you see
I hear Evan do you want to go with mom or stay with me?

I hear kiddo, I’m not angry
I hear buddy, you know best
And there’s the rumbling getting louder

But there’s one day in October
Where the pieces all will fit
When they have to be together
And pretend they didn’t quit

I’ve got one day in October
And I know it’s got to be
The perfect party

I’m becoming a man
I don’t know what a man really means
The rule book grows, but no one knows
What all the rules allow

I’m becoming a man
No one tells all the scared in-betweens
Just how we should be strong, be good
With so much pressure now

One day it gets better
One day it makes sense
One day I’ll stop talking in the friggin’ future tense
One day in October
It’ll all be great
And I can’t wait

Kids:
I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait
I can’t wait
Can’t wait for thirteen!

Kids:
Something is coming
Something is going up
Something is humming
Somebody’s growing up!
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And we’re just about to turn
Thirteen!

 

Lyrics modified from https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/13/13becomingaman.htm

“I’m Ready” and Certainly in Great Company

To Blog, or Not to Blog?-that is the question. Yes, this has been my question for many years. I certainly did not join this train early in the blogosphere world but now “I’m ready” to join the great company of all of the world language bloggers from whom I have learned so much. This new professional goal is going to challenge me to allow myself the time to sit down and write.

I really love to reflect and for all that know me, you know I enjoy engaging in discussions about teaching, acquiring and learning languages, and searching for the best and better ways to help and reach students. For those of you who have leant a kind ear to my process (and rambling) in the past, thank you – and now everyone can experience it – just in written form.

I have been so fortunate to have amazing professional communities that have all helped me develop as a teacher. These communities and fellow educators have all provided support, wisdom, guidance, and new ideas that have helped me put together my “Mosaic of World Language Teaching.”

As I have thought about my process and my way – my way of life and teaching – I am (and have always been since I was a child) a collector. I have many collections and together these collections represent who I am, what I’ve seen, and where I’ve been. My “Mosaic of World Language Teaching” is no different. I have been teaching Spanish since I was in high school. During the summer of my Jr. year, I was hired by a family to re-teach Spanish I to their student who struggled all year. For a daily $6 stipend for six weeks, I quickly learned what it meant to be a language teacher in 1998. We translated, conjugated, and worked through vocabulary lists (all generated by me on my fancy Pentium computer). My goal was to help him learn enough to not sink in Spanish II (and he did) but at the time I really did not think about communication. I also tutored at my college alma mater, Miami University. Soon after that as a 21-year-old teacher, I was given a great opportunity to teach mid-year at a small, all-girl college prep school. My time at the Andrews School and now, Andrews Osborne Academy was a 12-year job or frankly, way of life, which provided me the space to grow and flourish as both a person and an educator.

I had so many growth opportunities in that environment that have all become a part of my “Mosaic:” teaching three iterations of AP Spanish Language and Culture, teaching five preps a day, developing courses around Spanish/Hispanic Film and Civilization, learning about social justice education, running diversity and anti-oppression workshops for students, traveling around the world with students, putting together International Days, and so many countless others.

Within all of these new opportunities, I was able to do two important things I feel were crucial to my overall sentiment as a fulfilled teacher. First, I was able to incorporate many of my own passions and interests into my daily world, and with regard to curriculum and teaching methods. Second, I was able to make changes and do what I needed to do in order to meet the needs of each group of students. Now I will say that at times my job was quite overwhelming and sometimes it was too much, but from it, I know I grew quickly, and I am the teacher I am today because of it. The whole experience (and the past three years in my public school) has provided the pieces of my mosaic and together these pieces have all defined “My Mosaic of World Language Teaching.”

I do not believe that there should be a one-size fits all approach to any educational program, method, or curricular sequence. I believe teachers should have a solid understanding of standards and their content, a yearly allotment of time and money for professional development, and a reflective mind-set that will challenge them to teach in ways that will meet the needs of all of their students.

As an educator, this is what I have done and it has led me to where I am today. Yes, I am a teacher who uses lots of Comprehensible Input and TPRS in my classes because it is what I found has allowed me to stay in the target language as much as possible and what has proven to help students communicate while showing long-term retention of Spanish. In 2006, I was sent to the Learning and the Brain Conference (https://www.learningandthebrain.com/) and although the conference was not about world language teaching, the concepts and brain-research jogged my memory about my prior knowledge of TPRS. In 2007, I took a leap of faith with TPRS and worked through great and some not-so-great lessons but in the end I was seeing results with ALL my students, many of whom in the past were not having success.

And even though I can be associated with many of the titles under my name, I feel most importantly I am a 21st Century World Language Teacher who works to help students acquire language and build student proficiency. I understand and like working with ACTFL’s five C’s and I enjoy the process of designing units with themes and essential questions. Plus as a collector, of ideas, realia, and resources, I know that my three filing cabinets worth of files, hundreds of books, and all of my TCI/TPR/TPRS trainings have all played a part in creating “My Mosaic of World Language Teaching” and more importantly my ART as a teacher.

As I begin my journey on this blog amongst such great company of other world language bloggers, I have a personal goal of one post per month. I hope you are able to take an idea from a post or possibly a resource I’ve shared and use it as a piece of your teaching mosaic or to inspire a new one. Thanks for spending a Sunday in the Park with Gary as bit by bit, I’m putting it together.