Saturday, September 29, 2012

Socratic Seminars Succeed With Tech Tools!

Over 2400 years ago Socrates figured out that: 
  • Lectures are boring and should not be the sole means of imparting knowledge
  • Regardless of grade or ability level, all students can learn, and learn best when given the opportunity to express themselves, reflecting on what they already know, connecting what they know with what they are learning, and analyzing why they think the way they do. 
  • Students learn best when they have opportunities to be social, engaging in lively discussions not necessarily debates, but through dialogues with peers and teachers.
  • When students are taught how to analyze text by asking and answering questions thoughtfully and thoroughly as they read, they learn how to think for themselves and internalize the skill of finding evidence to support responses.  
  • When students are exposed to a variety of meaningful, relevant written and non written texts, they learn there are multiple perspectives for every topic. 
  • When students learn how to think, not what to think, they can express and support their values and beliefs with evidence, and learn to listen and respect others' beliefs, values, knowledge and logic as well.               
For some reason, these beliefs didn't quite stick in American education for awhile, and it wasn't until the 1980s, when philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler wrote The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto that more educators began to learn more about the Socratic or Paideia Seminar as the strategy is also called, from the Greek Paideia, meaning education or upbringing of a child. If this philosophy enabled students to not only practice reading, writing, speaking, listening, but also provided an opportunity for social participation in dialogues with peers and the teacher as coach, why did more teachers not implement this pedagogically sound strategy in the past? If it worked for Socrates, how could it fail?  The answers are varied and complicated, but here's mainly why:
  • Some teachers are often scared to turn control of the classroom over to students, which is one of the Paideia principles. 
  • Some teachers often think low achieving students can't possibly have anything thought-provoking to say.
  • Some teachers often think discussing the answers takes precedence over pondering how questions presuppose other questions.  
  • Some teachers often don't respond to student questions with further questions. They may think the teacher must simply give the answer.
  • Some teachers don't know how to stimulate thinking by teaching students to generate original questions. 
However, all of these fears can be put to rest when teachers begin to trust how the Paideia principles are rooted in the fact that all human beings have a natural desire to learn, and we all seek knowledge under the right conditions. The most difficult task falls in the teacher's hands to create inspirational conditions motivating students to want to learn. Teachers who take the time to find meaningful and relevant text can succeed in reaching even the most difficult student because the innate thirst for knowledge and expression will always prevail over apathy. Fortunately, more and more educators have recognized the error of their ways in ignoring the potential of Socratic discussions, and are successfully leading intelligent conversations supported by various technologies.

Socrates would definitely smile if he saw how our technology enhances the Socratic Seminar to the Nth degree. Discussions are no longer confined to the four walls of a classroom. With synchronous and asynchronous web tools, Socratic Seminars become ongoing global conversations extending well beyond the school day. Technology has also made it easy for our shy students, our ELLs, and any student facing academic challenges to participate as actively as the most advanced.

Socratic seminars encourage students to internalize the art of divergent thinking as they analyze print or non print text. The technique motivates students to engage in discussions, not debates, through open-ended questions that have no "right answers" but can be answered effectively if the student proves his/her point with textual evidence.  

Please visit this Livebinder filled with resources for carrying out Socratic Seminars in your class.

Tech Tools Enhancing Socratic Seminar Experience. 

Annotation/Bookmarking Tools
Before students engage in a Socratic discussion, they must closely read or watch a text, annotate, take notes about the text, generate original questions, or answer the teacher's questions, recording these task on paper, sticky notes or index cards. In the 21st century class, the following bookmarking tools make it easy for students to read, take notes, annotate, record and share their textual evidence to support their responses.

1.) helps students understand how to properly find relevant content, underline/highlight that content, and then remember it. has add-on tools for a variety of browsers,  so students can collect specific content while browsing the web and then add it to the My Library Cloud in the server to be accessed again and again. When students find information they need, they can digitally highlight the text, add an interactive sticky note with their comments, or questions, and save it to My Library Cloud for future use.  Students can also bookmark a page and organize pages by tags. They can label a page mark to read later if they want the teacher to approve the relevancy of the text first, and even archive a page so it's there forever.'s facilitates active e-reading because of the annotation feature using e-sticky notes as well as the capture feature which lets students capture an image of a particular section of text, then use shapes, arrows or text for students to annotate. lets students revisit their highlighted content using their computer, I-Pad or smart phone, and share their selected content with others for collaborative projects.

2.) students to highlight and share evidence for their arguments via Twitter and Facebook. A class can have a Socratic discussion enhanced by Twitter.  For example, the teacher opens the class Twitter page on the smartboard to see the class Twitter stream. makes it easy for students to revisit corroborative content they highlighted, click share via Twitter, and voila the entire class now has full view of the highlighted content. also gives you the option to organize content through tagging, so students can easily find, highlight and tag their textual evidence prior to a discussion and easily access it when needed by searching the tags. 

3.)  also helps students to highlight, annotate on virtual sticky notes, and share evidence to support their responses in a Socratic discussion. The site needs no registration, but like, if students do register, they can save their content on the site to access later. also allows sharing via Twitter or Facebook. Again, teachers can show the real time streaming of comments and content highlighted by students to enhance the seminar experience.  

Back channeling in a Socratic Seminar-  During a Socratic Seminar, only one student should speak at a time. While students listen to each speaker, anyone of these tech tools allows students to write their comments and response for the questions posed by the seminar's facilitator, and respond to whatever each speaker says. Students can add their notes, links for textual evidence, and general thoughts about the discussion as they listen to each speaker. The teacher will also have a record of every student's thoughts as they listen to the discussion. 

Twitter                Hootcourse          Twebevent
Facebook            Micromobs          Collaborize Classroom
Socrative            Elluminate
Edmodo              Neatchat

Enhance your Socratic Seminar with a Guest. Invite parents, authors, administrators, another class in another state, or country, community partners and experts in the field to join a Socratic Seminar. 

Asynchronous tools to extend discussions beyond the school day.   On some occasions one class period may not be enough to have a thorough discussion of a topic. The best Socratic Seminars are the ones where students raise more and more relevant questions exploring a topic thoroughly.  Why not use one of these asynchronous tools to continue the conversation at home or to invite a guest to add his/her thoughts. Capitalize on students' excitement to discuss a topic by posing all of the questions which may have gone unanswered due to time constraints. 
Blogger              Wallwisher             Edmodo                                 Facebook
Voicethread        Wikis                     Collaborize Classroom         Twitter
Voxopop             Google Docs          Elluminate                             Box


Please share how you have used synchronous or asynchronous tech tools to support Socratic Seminars in your class. When our students have opportunities to engage in intelligent dialogue with their peers and teachers on a variety of subjects, they acquire the lifelong skill of divergent thinking which is at the core of our democracy. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Technology Takes the Bite Out of Grammar!

One of my pet peeves about the teaching of grammar is hearing educators complain year after year that students can't spell, punctuate, distinguish a verb from a noun, write a sentence...
yada, yada, yada. Educators pass the blame from grade to grade, yet many students reach the 12th grade with below average grammar skills unable to write or speak coherently.    

The truth is if students don't have plenty of opportunities to practice and apply a particular grammar skill in context, a million grammar handouts or workbook exercises will not help them retain the basic grammar skills necessary to be an effective writer, speaker, reader, and listener.

If even above average readers who often exhibit an innate ability to decipher language rules struggle with grammar, many of our below average readers just give up on ever learning proper conventions and mechanics because grammar is often presented as a BORING, futile exercise with no real world application. When teachers use grammar as busy work in their emergency substitute plans, or even express their own fears about teaching grammar or writing, we send the message to kids that grammar just bites! 

We can't avoid teaching grammar! We must learn to teach it through writers' workshop, mini lessons, and every chance we get for students to connect the fact that grammar is part of writing, speaking, reading and even listening. We have to find ways to show kids how proper grammar is essential for communication, and how society perceives those who don't speak properly. We must teach students how to carefully analyze written and spoken language in search of those incidental "Teachable Grammar Moments" which exist all around us if we pay attention. Take the AllState insurance commercial slogan with the dangling modifier: "Dollar for dollar, nobody protects you from mayhem, like AllState!" and their older slogan,"You're in good hands". Both of these slogans are real life examples of grammar gone good and bad, and present the perfect occasion to discuss the confusion caused by dangling modifiers, and the most commonly confused contraction and adjective in the English language. Discussions about slang are also a great way to analyze the social stigma improper grammar can create for a job seeker. Students can keep a slang book and find more fitting synonyms, or grammatically correct expressions. Role playing scenarios, such as filling out a job application and interviewing for a job using slang vs. proper grammar help students see that there's a time and place for different types of proper and improper language, and someday their livelihood will be affected by their use of grammar.

Texting and Twitter do not have to undermine grammar instruction. Instead educators can leverage the power of both to reinforce grammar skills since they require students use written language. If anything, I think in some ways students' writing skills have benefitted from the texting craze because they are forced to write, albeit, the writing may not always be correct, but it's our job to help students hone their skills using a technology they enjoy. Assigning students to send grammatically correct texts to each other in class, or translate text language is an excellent way to quash once for all the stereotype that grammar is BORING.    

If we ask students to pay close attention to how grammar is used accurately and inaccurately all around us in signs, ads, commercials, songs, conversation, basically whenever we use language, it's pretty neat to see how kids enjoy the job of becoming grammar police!  We just have to find and present these opportunities for them. Technology makes it easier for us to do so, and for students to create content so they can apply what they learn.

Grammar has been the victim of a smear campaign for decades because it's not taught properly. Students are not always taught to create original content so they can exercise their ability to use a particular grammar skill, but technology can change that. Whenever students create original content using a tech tool, there should always be a written component affording students grammar practice, editing, revision and ultimately, demonstration of mastery of the grammar skill in the final presentation/publication of the content.

Here are some excellent grammar sites for students. But remember, we want students to create content where they apply the grammar skills they are learning. Some sites offering grammar practice can become glorified substitutes of the routine handouts or workbooks, so we must be careful not to trade one for the other.

Grammar has had lots of positive publicity thanks to sites like:
Grammar Girl  
Roxy from North Carolina follows us! 
Please follow @grammardogs on Twitter, and have students, parents, teachers and administrators tweet a picture of a pet(s) with a sentence showing application of a particular grammar skill. For example, here's Roxie from North Carolina showing us how to use state of being and action verbs.   

The goal is to create a gallery of pet photos, organize them by grammar skill, and share them so students can have fun reading and creating original sentences, applying grammar in a real life context! 

Buster, from Virginia follows us!  

Cats are welcomed!
Throw us a bone at @grammardogs 
because grammar doesn't have to bite! 

Check out our Picasa photo gallery!

Here is also an iPad app which allows students to create content and teach their peers.  Check out my "showme" on sentence types! 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Two Cents in Twitter Chats, Priceless Results!

As I have become more actively involved in the education world online, joining Twitter, participating in chats like #edchat, #engchat, meeting like-minded colleagues who share my passion for education and technology, I have realized all is not lost in education reform. Twitter chats like #edchat and others are instrumental in creating the impetus we need to once and for all effect change for the better. While the physical world struggles to provide quality education for all our students, the virtual world of education showcases the creme of the crop in terms of passionate and creative individuals, teachers and administrators alike, with a willingness to share what they know so we can all hone our craft and elevate our profession. If only more educational stakeholders discovered the value of technology integration in education, Twitter chats, in particular, imagine the gains our students could make. 

Twitter, blogging and the online education world empower me to share my expertise, and learn something new everyday. Participating in Twitter "edchats" has made me realize how powerful educators can become to mobilize others for educational reform. I entered the virtual world disheartened by the public school system, but not only have I found a voice to continue to make a difference for kids and education, I have discovered there are millions of talented teachers and administrators who care and are changing education for the better.

If you have not had an opportunity to participate in an Educational Twitter chat, make time to experience the benefits of these virtual professional learning communities. You'll come away with dozens of resources, tips and strategies. Please visit Cybraryman's Educational Website to see the catalogue of Twitter chats and the days and times these groups meet. Whether or not you decide to tweet your two cents or read others', you're guaranteed to interact with talented educators and learn something new.

Visit Cybraryman's page "How To Take Part In or Moderate A Twitter Chat" 

Please view my short video on what are educational Twitter Chats and Hashtags.  Hope to hear your two cents on Twitter soon...tweet me @trendingteacher; the experience is priceless!

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