Advocacy Speaking: Using Socratic Seminars to Investigate the Status Quo

Slide OneThe CA Association of Teachers of English held their annual conference in San Diego this past week. The “With Literacy and Justice For All” program was full of great professional development sessions for classroom teachers. My session regarding Socratic seminars introduced teachers to the need of having students investigate the status quo in public documents (laws, city ordinances, historical photography) in order to find out who enforces the way things are, and then to have a pinpointed call to action. Socratic seminars are used by teachers, but primarily for fictional texts. The framework used for the session is the CA High School Speech Association (CHSSA) Original Advocacy speech category. The national network for competitive speech categories does not use the Original Advocacy category, and it is unique to California. When I was a speech coach, I noticed how my students enjoyed the category, and it is linked to debating. When I saw this, I thought about how I could transfer this to my classroom.

Sharing this with classroom teachers on how to get our students to advocate within the general population English classes was important, and the session went well. Teachers spent a good portion of the session building a graphic organizer based on the organizer offered by CHSSA. We further used the Critical Thinking Cheatsheet and the Asking Good Questions sheets from GDC. Global Digital Citizen does great work with teaching resources that can be used within Socratic inquiry. I will continue to offer Socratic pedagogy to teachers by using different frameworks and methods of inquiry. Teachers walked out of the session with multiple frameworks for Socratic circles in their classrooms, and pictures of the group graphic organizers.

Dialogical Pedagogy +

downloadDialogical classrooms are rare, not necessarily unicorns, but rare enough that there is so much talk recently, but little action. The dialogical classroom is liberatory education. For the lack of a better term, it is a mindset of the classroom educator and students. “Emancipating Classrooms: The Necessity of Dialogic Pedagogy” is a paper that I am currently developing with Charlene Holkenbrink-Monk (Dignified Learning Project). As classmates in the doctoral program at SDSU/CGU, we began to think as to why it is much talked about, yet misunderstood and not implemented. The more we thought about the “methods” for implementation, we further thought that it is not a method to be implemented, but a truly democratic classroom where teachers and students know the purpose of dialogue in the classroom.

We will present the paper this April at an education conference at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and we are working towards publishing the paper. Stay up-to-date with this blog, and I will put forward the ideas that Charlene and I are working on regarding the importance of classroom action.

Dialogical Classrooms: Demystify ELD

FB_IMG_1512760052964 copyAt the CA League of Schools conference, I held a professional development workshop for teachers on the importance of speaking and listening for English Language Development (ELD). The ELD framework was adopted by the state of California to assist the teaching and assessment of students categorized as English Language Learners. Although the session was billed as “advocacy speaking” for secondary school students, I decided to move in the direction of English language development because of the need by our schools to better serve English language learners.

Original Abstract

The original abstract for the conference- “Student advocacy is much closer than we initially think. Teaching students the strategies for critical thinking and oral discourse can put the focus on student-owned design and development in the classroom. This interactive session will provide participants with strategies to teach the CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards to all language learners. Empowered by the California English Language Development Standards, come to this session to move your students toward mastery, create graphic organizers, and demystify the CA ELD Standards for speaking and listening.” While wanting to move in this direction, I decided that I would share the following pedagogical mechanisms that I learned in The Netherlands, and that I used in my own classroom:

  1. Dictogloss activity for second language acquisition
  2. Group Collaboration Observation Chart for feedback as students co-construct knowledge through speaking and listening during group work
  3. Discussion Rubric for Socratic seminars
  4. QAR Graphic Organizer and Question Stems for questioning during reading and discussion
  5. For advanced Socratic seminars to investigate the status_quo, teachers can adapt the graphic organizer created by the CA High School Speech Association for Original Advocacy speech. The ability for teachers to differentiate the transfer of a speech category to their general education classroom can empower students to learn the techniques to pinpoint a call for action.

The Speaking-Listening Standards K-12 are helpful for teachers to see the progression in the anchor standards/strands. It is further imperative for classroom teachers to begin demystifying the ELD standards for discussion. As the ELD framework explains, “Interacting in Meaningful Ways” can increase language acquisition through any of the above examples from the professional development session.


Primary School Speaking & Listening

Because my focus has always been secondary school, I am frequently asked about primary school. K-6 teachers will ask, “What about us?” On behalf of my classroom colleagues, I will make more of a sustained effort over the coming years to provide quality instructional practices for speaking and listening. Maybe I should start with mentioning the work of two professors at San Diego State University.

Drs. Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher of San Diego State University write about the importance of oral language development. In “Speaking and Listening in Content Area Learning“, the professors offer evidence-based speaking and listening instructional routines that have been useful for students during content area instruction. The rubric/checklist is a good starting point for primary school teachers to begin their journey of teaching the speaking and listening standards. In another article, “It’s All About the Talk“, the professors further discuss collaborative professional development for teachers in order to increase oral academic language use in the classroom.


Dialogical Teaching 1.0

What is “oracy”? It sounds like a made-up word, but a school in London has decided that it is equally important to literacy and mathematics. The oracy element added to School 21 nurtures the school to further implement a social-emotional learning curriculum through communication. The Progression in Oracy rubric gives standards at the school for teachers to design curriculum to move their students towards mastery. School 21 in London has become an exemplar for other schools in the U.K.


How has School 21 implemented their framework into the everyday curriculum? They made it their core pedagogy:

1. Embedding Oracy Into Your Classroom (It’s Already Happening)
2. Create Discussion Guidelines With Your Students
3. Guide Your Students to Reach a Shared Agreement
4. Help Your Students Analyze Discussion Guidelines
5. Consider How to Group Your Students
6. Create Discussion Roles
7. Create Structured Talk Tasks
8. Build Comfort and Confidence in Your Shy Students

What does the research say about oracy? The head school teacher and cofounder at London 21 lays out the thinking behind the decision to make oracy a primary focus. As a classroom teacher and educational researcher, I like how he puts forward the research while offering the partnerships that have developed since the start. Voice 21 is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the speaking and listening standards, while the head school teacher further mentions using Ignites (think quick TED talks).

Forensics Education is Important?

“It’s the best thing you don’t know.” That’s a line often repeated among students, parents, and speech coaches who believe the league’s competitions offer some of the most useful lessons high school has to offer. A direct quote from an article in the Boston Globe regarding the impact speech and debate is having on students in the region. Unfortunately, something so important to the development of adolescents is a funding nightmare for teachers with school districts cutting an important extracurricular piece to a child’s education.

Based on my own experience as a classroom teacher and the impact on my curriculum as a speech and debate coach, I can only say that extracurricular is only one way to reach students. The best way to increase the number of students impacted is to include the lessons into your everyday curriculum.images

With the advent of the Common Core curriculum in Florida, a principal decided that her middle school students (6-8) would be required to take a speech and debate class each year. The reason for the decision? The principal was a speech major in college, and knows the power of speech and debate in the curriculum. Any talk about how English Language Learners or “special needs” populations would falter with the more rigorous curriculum did not deter the curricular change. A mindset developed at the school that the students that would gain the most are the populations that have historically not been served by speech and debate. Students would learn methods in the speech and debate class, and then use those same methods in their core literacy classes.

Growth as Professional Development

Early on in my career I became confused as to why my school called our student early dismissal downloadday as “teacher professional development day”. I hoped that it would be the day that I could learn additional methods as an inservice teacher. What I soon found out is that the day would never become professional development for inservice teachers, but a faculty meeting. Occasionally, there was an attempt by an administrator to offer reading, discussion, and a PowerPoint presentation on how we can move our students’ learning forward. While this type of approach is seen on campus, I began to see this approach off campus as well. This may very well continue, and so I found a recent blog post “6 Keys to Planning and Delivery Effective Professional Learning“. Offering professional learning/PD needs a growth mindset for those who wish to try the top-down approach, I think the assistance is helpful for teachers, and for those who wish to teach teachers.

When I began my journey to clear my teaching credential by entering a BTSA program (induction for preliminary teaching credentials in California), I spoke to my BTSA coach about the problem. He told me that I needed to change my mindset about professional development, and that I would never receive proper PD on campus. Ultimately, I should seek proper PD off campus. Recently looking at the website of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), I came across a blog post that I wish I would have known about many years ago. “Going Beyond the Stitch Fix Approach to PD” is an excellent read for a teacher to understand the growth mindset as a classroom teacher. It makes me wonder why we look for the “top down” approach to professional development, and not the growth mindset approach that we as teachers will turn and ask our students to develop.

After years of trying to find this unicorn of off-campus PD, I would luckily hear about the National Writing Project. There are a couple of programs offered at universities in Los Angeles, but I was encouraged by a colleague to apply for the Cal State Northridge Writing Project site. I applied and entered the Invitational Summer Institute directed by Dr. Kathy Rowlands. Regardless of grade level or subject matter, I cannot say enough about the Writing Project and the profound impact it creates for inservice teachers. I can only now encourage classroom teachers to find their professional development unicorn, and give the National Writing Project a chance to create that growth mindset.

The Socratic Method as Form

1. Locate a statement confidently described as common sense
Ex. Being virtuous requires money
2. Imagine for a moment that, despite the confidence of the person proposing it, the statement is false. Search for situations or contexts where the statement would not be true.
Ex. Could one ever have money and not be virtuous? Could one ever have no money and mbfcd60bac47bec1ba03cd8d08aef060abe virtuous?
3. If an exception is found, the definition must be false or at least imprecise.
Ex. Is it possible to have money and be a crook? Is it possible to be poor and be virtuous?
4. The initial statement must be nuanced to take the exception into account.
Ex. People who have money can be described as virtuous only if they have acquired it in a virtuous way, and some people with no money can be virtuous when they have lived through situations where it was impossible to be virtuous and make money.
5. If one finds exceptions to the improved statements, the process should be repeated. The truth should be impossible to disprove. It is by finding out what something is not that one comes closest to understanding what it is.
Socrates described a “correct belief” as an opinion if one could not respond to objections. We must understand why something is true, and we must understand why the alternatives are false.
*The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton