Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Socratic Seminar Pedagogy, and Implementing the Ron Berger Critique - A Workshop by Tom Fehrenbacher

This time when we returned from our winter break on the fourth of January, we were eager participants in a workshop conducted by Tom Fehrenbacher of High Tech High school. The key areas explored included using the Socratic method of teaching, and implementing the Ron Berger Critique to make reading more meaningful. Also, we went through the steps required to roll out a project for students. We also had out lighter moments, and we felt time fly!

A lighter moment with Tom, Kaye and me

Ruchika  Ma’am delivering a point during the workshop
The teachers workshop conducted by Tom, of High Tech High school focussed on the Reciprocal Teaching methodology, followed by the  Socratic Seminar Pedagogy, and the implementation of the Ron Berger Critique as a means of lending meaning to improving students’ ability to read effectively.Tom took the teachers through the whole process of organising a Socratic Seminar in a class room situation, and he focussed on the need to “Consider essential questions” regarding the lesson’s “objective or project theme.” Post the Socratic Seminar activity, Tom exposed the teachers to the Implementation of the Ron Berger Critique which included selecting student work samples in three categories including those that exceeded expectations, those that met expectations, and those that were low in meeting expectations. In this case, the teachers were given samples of students’ research papers at the grade ten and eleventh levels which they analysed using the Ron Berger Critique structure.

The teachers pondering on a point thrown by Tom
The objective of the Reciprocal teaching methodology was “to achieve a better understanding of selected texts through a group work process.” The important assumptions were that, “difficult and demanding texts will confront most readers over time.” The idea of the Reciprocal teaching methodology was to help students develop techniques which would help them develop strategies to tackle difficult texts. A major assumption in this workshop was that reading skills are not limited to the English Language subject, but in fact they extend to all the subjects that require the reading of complex texts in order to comprehend and understand principles, definitions, and assumptions. Reading is apparently an activity that is social in nature and that it can help students help each other collaboratively in understanding the text. Reciprocal teaching is all about reaching into the group work process by providing a work protocol.

An engrossed group

The Socratic seminar involved the actual process of getting the assembled teachers to read the text, and then form into pairs with one of them being the “guardian angel” who would monitor and give feedback to the “assigned players”. After each activity, the roles were reversed. The seminar activity started with one student being asked to “read and share their prepared question. One strict rule was that “only players might speak, Guardian angels may not.” Throughout the activity it was made clear that teachers should avoid contributions at all costs, thus making the activity a truly student led activity!

Making a point

The Ron Berger Critique phase came after all the other steps in the workshop. This phase included analysing student samples of work, in this case research papers submitted by students as term papers. This included identifying samples that exceeded expectations, those that met expectations and others that were yet to reach the expected parameters. In this phase, student samples were analysed by the teachers representing different subject groups, and the groups functioned as a “mock class”. The mock class was then asked to evaluate the submitted research papers. The assembled group was then asked to analyse the work sample as per the following questions: Note something positive, note something helpful, and note something specific. After the group posted their ideas, they formulated a plan for revision.

All ears

The task in hand, given to us is to prepare a project in accordance with the workshop strategy. The teachers have been given their work areas, and they are supposed to develop a unit that integrates different subjects into one unit. In our groups case it was about “Why Teenage Mortality is a concern for us today.”

What I liked about the week long workshop was they way it was conducted. It was conducted in a most democratic way, almost verging on the informal and yet a most effective manner. What goes to the credit of Tom is the fact that he was able to get everyone  involved in the workshop, even those who spoke less. The more active participants were given due credit, and those who were less forthcoming were drawn into each activity, making them feel more involved!
I have been an advocate of the Socratic method of teaching and have even written a piece on the Socratic method of teaching a link to which I have pasted below:

A special thanks to Aruna Ma'am and Sankalp Sir for the snaps!

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