To Find Yourself, Think for Yourself

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<p>Special Education by DesignStudents in Ms. Lapidus's inclusion class have just finished reading Cinderella and are preparing for their first Socratic seminar. To do so. (he stndents begin the process of questioning the components of the story, including the author's style and the literary elements, specifically the theme. Ms. Lapidus reminds the students to generate questions that should be supported with evidence from the text (i.e., inferential questions.) including those that can be open to interpretation. "Fbr example, " she says, "You can't ask any questions cjout the ttiagii: in the story because magic is an element of fairy tales. That is. we can't argue Iww the fairy godmother did the magicfust assume it's so." After all the students' questions have been recorded, the students collaboratively decide which 10 questions they would like to discuss during their seminar. Next, they independently search through the text to find support for their answer to each of the 10 questions, using sticky notes to mark the reference. The students are now ready for the Socratic seminar. To facilitate a good discussion, the students move their desks to form a circle. As they do so. Ms. Lapidus reminds thetn of the rules for a Socratic discussion. Once the students are in place. she begins the discussion with one of the 10 inferential questions they identified (i.e.. Was Cinderella able to find true happiness?). As the students are discussing this possibility. John, a student with a learning disability, responds with another question, "Why didn't the fairy godmother just change Ginderella's life?" "Wow. That's a good question. Can. you repeat that?" says Ms. Lapidus. After the question is repeated, Ms. Lapidus paraphrases the question and poses it to tfw students: "Why if the fairy godmother was capable of magic, did she not just change Cinderella's life? Who'd like to share their thoughts?" After reflecting, another student says. "Cinderella had to go to the bail to experietice self-worth before she believed in herself" Knowing the students had reached one of the implied themes, Ms. Lapidus encourages them to wrap up their disaission and move into their writing assignment.54 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN</p> <p>"To Find Yourself, Think for Yourself"Barbara Fink Chorzempa Laurie Lapidus</p> <p>Using Socmtic Discussions in Inclusive Classrooms</p> <p>Aristotle said, "To find yourself, think for yourself" (Quotationspage, com). As schools and teachers strive to align instruction with state and national standards, teacher.s often struggle with developing students' abilities to think for themselves. As a result, students may find analyzing a piece of literature and writing proficiently about it to be a daunting task. Ms. Lapidus found n her classroom that although elementary students might be able to critically analyze a text reading through discussion, they often have difficulty doing so in their own writing. She rekted this challenge to her own training in education: Teacher preparation programs place a greater emphasis on teaching students to read than on teaching them how to write. For some students, particularly those with disabilities, writing is intimidating, challenging, and labor intensive (FinkChorzempa, Graham, &amp; Harris, 2005; Graham, 2006). Thus teaching students how to write, especially when teachers have been taught only a few strategies themselves, can be a very difficult undertaking. These observations and beliefs are also documented in the research about writing instruction (cf., Graham &amp; Perin, 2007; National Commission on Writing, 2006). Realizing the challenges many of lier students encountered, Ms. Lapidus was determined to improve their writing and thought that before she could do so, she needed to first teach students how to think using supporting details. She recalled professional development she received as a middle school teacher, learning how Socratic seminars can be used as a way to teach students to think critically, and she decided to explore how she could adapt that method to make it work in her elementary inclusive classroom. What Are Secrotic Seminars? Socratic seminars, defined as "exploratory intellectual conversations centered on a text" [Lambright, 1995, p. 30), are a group-discussion model and are designed in such a way to resemble Socrates's instruction-through-question-</p> <p>ing method (Chorzenipa &amp; Lapidus, 2006; Polite &amp; Adams, 1997). They are held in a student-centered environment to foster authentic engagement and to prompt ideas to occur (Loan, 2003), Simply stated, this method involves students' reading a selection and then generating questions and exploring their ideas and questions in an open discussion (Queen. 2000). The opendiscussion method not only allows students to support their own opinions with details but also strengthens their ability to exhibit a personal voice in their writing and improves the depth of their papers (Sorenson, 1993). Elder and Paul (1998) linked critical thinking, or establishing an "inner voice of reason," and Socratic discussion as the public forum that cultivates it. The procedures and justifications for the use of Socratic seminars as a means of developing critical thinking skills are well documented in middle and high school classrooms (cf.. Loan, 2003; Mawhinney, 2000; Metzger, 1998; Polite &amp; Aams, 1997; Queen, 2000; Strong, 1997; Tanner &amp; Casados, 1998; TVedway. 1995). However, its use is rarely documented in elementary inclusive classrooms. Therefore, in light of the potential benefits of the Socratic seminar and using the experiences of Ms. Lapidus and her third- and fifthgrade students, this article provides a model and guidelines for using the Socratic method to develop students' critical thinking and writing skills within elementary inclusive classrooms. Establishing the Foundations Prior to usitig the Socraiic method, it is important to establish the foundations that help students engage in (he Socratic method. Similar to other educators who use this approach, Ms. Lapidus realized the importance of developing in her classroom a sense of community that fosters mutual respect for one another. She encouraged her students to express their views and to disagree respectfully and appreciate the different perspectives held by their classmates while still holding on to their own perspectives without feelingJAN/FEU</p> <p>TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILPREN</p> <p>2009 55</p> <p>The open-discussion method not only allows students to support their own opinions with details but also strengthens their ability to exhibit a personal voice in their writinginsecure. She established this climate by employing trust-building activities in the beginning of the year, specifically during her morning meetings. Those meetings along with other group activities (e.g., academic games) always closed with students' reflection on the experience. That is, she asked students to consider such questions as what they did well and what they could do better. She also modeled how to provide constructive feedback to one another by giving specific praise to students for a response and offering a suggestion for next time. Ms. Lapidus also ensured that all students had in-depth knowledge o the literary elements and devices (e.g., plot, setting, point of view, symbolism} before seminars were held, because these elements provide the basis for establishing literary connections among works and are needed to develop critical thinking skills, such as making inferences and identifying implicit themes. She frequently asked her students to engage in Reader's Theatre (see description under "Preparing for the Discussion") as a way to deepen their understanding of these elements. Knowledge of the different types of questions that can be asked in response to a reading also needs to be established before students can engage in a Socratic seminar. Specifically, students need to know the difference between "in the book" and "in your head" questions, the two general types of questions used in the Question Answer Relationships QAR) strategy (Raphael &amp; Au, 2005). Ms. Lapidus referred to the literal questions as the "right there" questions to help her students understand that the answers to such questions can be found explicitly in the text. The "in your head" questions she explained as either inferential questions (i.e., those for which answers are obtained by reading between the lines or putting information together) or evaluative questions56 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN</p> <p>(i.e., those for which the answers are not in the text but rather come from within). To help her students learn how to distinguish and generate the different types of questions, Ms. Lapidus first modeled the use of them for her students. This familiarity is important not only because students generate "in your head" questions when preparing for the Socratic seminars but also because 70% to 80% of the questions they face on high-stakes testing will be these types of questions (Raphaels Au, 2005). Preparing for Hie Seminar Before a Socratic seminar can be conducted, it is important for teachers to prepare for the seminar by selecting an appropriate story and becoming familiar with its elements. The selected text should be thought-provoking and at a level at which every reader in the class can successfully read. When selecting a piece of literature, Ms. Lapidus found the Junior Great Books (The Great Books Foundation, 2006) and Touchpepples (Touchstones Discussion Project, 1993) to be excellent resources, as these texts contain readings with identifiable themes or issues that were familiar and relevant to her students and their lives. Before introducing the story to students, teachers read through the text carefully and identify the main themes. Teachers then consider a final discussion topic, one that the students will be asked to reflect on in their writing at the conclusion of the seminar. The final discussion topic should be one that encourages students to analyze the text critically and requires them to provide support for their statements with details from the text. Although a final discussion topic is prepared in advance, teachers should be flexible and willing to revise their topic on the basis of student questions and interpretations during the seminar, thus making it more powerful and meaningful.</p> <p>Conducting the Seminar Once the planning has been carefully considered, teachers serve as facilitators of the process by first introducing the text to the students and then engaging them in their preparations for the Socratic seminar. During the seminar, both the students and teachers accomplish a variety of tasks, which are outlined in the following paragraphs.The Students' Role Preparing for the Discussion. Before</p> <p>the Socratic discussion is held, students should be exposed to the text at least three times. Teachers read through the text first, encouraging students to listen aesthetically, and then ask students what questions they have. All students' questions are accepted, as long as they are "in your head" questions, with each question written down on chart paper for later examination. For the second reading, students read the text independently to answer two to three guided questions, ones that begin to focus on the themes of the text. After they read the story the third time, teachers ask students to respond to the guided questions orally and then allow students to add any questions to their list. Often these questions are more insightful than the ones constructed after the first reading, and teachers should point out to students that each time a text is read, more details to reflect on often become apparent. For example, on the first reading of Cinderella, one student in Ms. Lapidus's class asked, "Why were the stepsisters so mean?" After the third reading of the text, Alice, a student with emotional disturbance and reading difficulties, asked the following question as students were discussing the story, "Why at midnight did everything change except for the glass slipper?" Depending on the complexity of tbe text, students may use Reader's Theatre to present a scene or excerpt from the text. First, students work cooperatively in small groups to prepare what they consider an important scene from the text, one that focuses on a theme. Next, they perform the scene in front of the class, thereby experiencing another way to interact</p> <p>with the text. Having students engage in this strategy allows them to assume the role of a character and view the story from the character's perspective, thus possibly broadening their view of the events in the text. As the last step before the discussion is held, teachers and students analyze each question generated after the first and third readings. Students are reminded that although these may all be good questions, only questions that can be supported from the text should be used in the discussion. The list of questions is then narrowed to a reasonable number (i.e., 10 to 15] that can be answered in one Socratic discussion. Students are then given sticky notes to mark where the evidence n the text is found, reinforcing their ability to provide supporting statements. Holding the Socratic Discussion. Once the students are ready to begin the Socratic discussion, teachers outline and discuss several rules and procedures for teachers and students to foliow (see Figure 1), allowing for a successful discussion by the students. These differ slightly from procedures used in secondary classrooms, modified specifically for use in an elementary classroom. For example, in Ms. Lapidus's class she has students raise their hands and wait to be called on to speak, whereas a Socratic discussion usually involves free expression of ideas and thoughts by participants. She also explains to the class that this rule is necessary to reduce the chance that one or more students monopolize the discussion and to give all students opportunities to speak. She also tells her students that one of her goals for the end of the year is for them to engage in a literary dialogue without raising their hands. Teachers open the discussion by asking students to discuss the 15 or so questions they generated, one at a time. Not all students are required to participate in the discussion; however, Ms. Lapidus has experienced that many of her students want to share their ideas with their peers or respond to comments made by others. She does, however, subtly encourage all students to participate through positive</p> <p>Figure 1. Rules and Procedures for the Socrotic Discussion Procedures</p> <p>L Every time a discussion is held, teachers review the procedures and rules with the students. 2. The students are to sit in a circle so that every student can see every other student as they speak. 3. Teachers sit in the circle as well but do not participate in the discussion except as the facilitators. 4. Teachers do not give an opinion until the reflection time and are the la...</p>