Sunday, May 10, 2009

Socratic Seminars and Habits of Mind

After writing the last post, and having lots better to do, I decided to check out the Maranacook Community Middle School curricula. This school was recommended to me by Scott Love, and I have been meaning to visit it virtually for some time now. Turns out that this award-winning school system has shared their curriculum k-12 in reading and in writing, aligned to the Maine standards (about to change again). Poking through the documents, I eventually ended up learning a strategy new to me: Socratic Seminars.

This is a strategy that directly addresses the need for dialogue and idea development I noted in the last post. The best summary reference for Socratic Seminars I have found to date is at site. A more formal discussion can be found in this MiddleWeb article by Lynda Tredway. Note right away that this is a post-reading activity, an occasional activity, and an oral activity.

Could digital tools be used? Yes, I think so. In fact, once students get the hang of it, all-group oral discussion could be varied in many ways: small groups, fishbowl groupings, podcasting, vcasting, twittering (of some sort - I would use NoteShare), threaded discussions. The point is - the dialogue has to happen AND it has to be required and measured. One thing I like about this approach is the variety of questions contained in the strategy - answering questions is an important first step to framing questions for critical thinking. This is an essential middle school strategy.

I also ran across, at an educator's site called Big Ideas, a mashup of references related to a favorite topic of mine, Habits of Mind. I had no idea that this is a global strategy for analyzing and framing k-12 learning. First, get inspired to learn more by reading Grant Wiggins' introduction. Then follow his links and, eventually, download Descibing the 16 Habits of Mind, from Costa and Kallick. I like the above schematic developed by teacher Henry Toi; it would be useful as a classroom poster (sort of like a word wall, but a habit of mind wall). We recently had a somewhat contentious team meeting at which one colleague challenged the value of Bloom's questions. The 16 Habits of Mind provide a useful alternative - just as valuable for teacher use, but much shorter.

It is great to know that there are good teachers thinking the same things I am thinking. Thank you, Maranacook Community Middle School, for sharing! I think I want to follow up with a visit.

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