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While visiting classes this week I enjoyed watching groups of Grade 10 Science students engaging in Socratic Seminars as part of their unit on Genetics. Learning objectives included for students to demonstrate how they can communicate scientific ideas and information, and their ability to construct evidence-based arguments. Something I noticed was how active and organised students needed to be in this type of class discussion.
"One of the teaching and learning strategies according to John Hattie that has one of the highest impacts on student achievement is classroom discussion. It has an effect size of 0.82 and is ranked very highly (in the top 10) amongst intervention factors that have an impact on learning", Tom Barrett (2014).
A Socratic discussion is different from a debate, its purpose is to dialogue about ideas to deepen understanding. Prior to the Socratic seminars, students were tasked with researching and thinking about the provocation, "who owns our DNA?" During the Socratic discussions, some students took on roles to support their peers who were taking part; there were 'discussion coaches' offering feedback and 'trackers' who made notes about the kinds of contributions each person was making or how many times everyone spoke.
In the discussions I observed, I was particularly impressed with the way some students were using the sources from their research to support their claims. Using evidence to support ideas, rather than simply stating opinions, is an important communication skill for students to practice.
When asked what makes for a good discussion, here's what students said:
"There has to be a balance between having opinions as well as knowing something about a topic."
"It was really fun. I thought it was effective because we learned from each."
"I think it is important to really listen. If you are not listening then you can't apply your own ideas and information to build up the groups thinking."
"A good discussion is when everyone is included and when people ask guiding questions to extend each other's knowledge."
HS Deputy Principal