CEP 917 Angie JohnsonFinal Design Project:Addressing A Problem of PracticePart One: Discovery“I have a challenge. How do I approach it?”In this phase I determined and defined the problem I would attempt to solve.What was my problem of practice?My problem of practice was to design a means by which I might share and provideresources for teachers wishing to implement a highly effective method of conductingclassroom discussions, the Socratic seminar. I have been using Socratic seminars to teachcritical thinking, close reading, and thoughtful constructive dialogue since 1999 and believethey are particularly relevant to teaching the Common Core State Standards for ELA.What were the challenges inherent in the problem?There are a number of problems I faced in sharing this method. Because it is a method fordiscussion, and because the student-centered discussion emerges organically, it is difficultto explain. It really must be experienced to understand it. So my initial challenge was toaddress the following questions:How do I share this method with teachers who cannotexperience it with me first-hand? How do I convey the power of the method, impressingupon teachers the huge benefits that come to fruition if one has the wherewithal to stickwith it? How do I provide resources to help teachers confront the sticky decisions thatmake or break a seminar? How do I break the process down so it’s easy to understand andmanageable enough to try? How do I provide support for those discouraging momentsalong the way? How do I present this in a 1-hr. workshop in addition to providing ongoingsupport resources for access at any time?What did I know when I began?Before addressing the challenges I knew I faced, I began by defining the things I knewaboutthe solution I sought. These are the qualities my solution had to offer:1) The solutionmust explain WHY this method is effective in teaching skills that the CCSSnow requires;2) The solutionmust explain WHY and HOW the method is so powerful–essentially, that itteaches a truly constructivist way of making sense of a text;3) The solution must convey that the method is challenging for teachers and students andtherefore WILL be uncomfortable, but that’s essential to the process.4) The solution must convey that investment in the process will pay off in the long run.5) The solution must SHOW a seminar in process; videotape seems a likely method.6) The solution needs to walk people through the steps of thinking and planning.7) The solution needs to provide resources–with hard copy, hands-on stuff a teacher canactually take and use, including handouts, instructional sheets, and even beginning texts.
CEP 917 Angie JohnsonWhat did I need to find out first?Having defined the basic parameters for a solution to my problem, I then determined whatspecific information I would need to gather. These were the initial challenges I sought toaddress and the preliminary solutions I considered: 1) How will I get quality videotape of the sessions I do? After gathering classroom footage with both a Flipcam and Sony videocamera and decided the Flipcam was most user friendly. I also decided to get help from a high school student, who was able to move the video camera from speaker to speaker during the course of the seminar. Sound quality remained a problem, and I looked for a way to mic the camera but didn’t have much luck with the limited resources I had available, so I decided to add subtitles where needed, since this is fairly simple to do in imovie. 2) How will I (or should I) edit video from several sessions to show what I need people to see to understand the power of the method? Having gathered video from several class periods on several days using different seminar questions, I had the option of cutting and splicing footage from a variety of seminars into a single video, or choosing a single seminar from beginning to end as an exemplar. Reflection on this issue is outlined in Part Two below. 3) How will I divide up an hour session to include everything I need to convey adequately and effectively? This question turned out to be “putting the cart before the horse” a bit, since I first needed to determine the most important concepts to convey in that time period. Reflection here is once again outline in Part Two below. 4) How will I gather and organize resources for supporting teachers–everything from how to teach the method, how to choose a text, how to choose a question, how to troubleshoot, how to assess, how to progress the group from one level to the next, and much more? I gathered resources by reviewing everything in my file from my original training and from other resources I could find on the Web. I divided these into categories including texts, questions, troubleshooting, and assessment, thinkingI would present them categorically and sequentially in the final presentation and on the Web page.Part Two: Interpretation“I learned something. How do I interpret it?’In this phase I reflected on and interpreted what I learned in the first phase.What did I learn about this problem and how do I interpret what I’ve learned?Initially I thought it would be most effective to present the skills in three sets: processskills, cognitive skills, and metacognitive skills. At the time I thought they aligned well withthe natural progression of a seminar and would work chronologically as well. However, Ilater decidedto show a Socratic seminar in progress from beginning to end, editing it forefficiency. I ended up splicing video from two different sessions, putting those in order
CEP 917 Angie Johnsonfrom goal-setting through presentation of the question, progress of the discussion showingincreasing complexity of meaning making, and self-assessment by students. Within thatseminar, I chose to highlight the embedded skills outlined in the chart below.In deciding what clips to include in the video, I created the following list of essential skillsto highlight. The following chart lists those in progressive order on the left with specificclips that would show those skills on the right.Skill Demonstrated by Students Specific Clips Highlighting Skill Clips (2 back to back?) showing students yielding1. the ability to share the conversation the conversation to one another, as in “You can goby taking turns first” or “Oh sorry, I’ll wait.”2. the ability to assert themselves in a Clip of students who rarely speak voicing anlarge group setting opinion.3. the ability to involve others, byasking for the opinions of classmates Clip of student saying, “What do you think, x?”who are more reticent Clip of students citing specific lines, especially two4. the ability to refer to the text for in disagreement using those to support theirevidence assertions.5. the ability to disagree and question Clip of student saying, “I disagree with x because…”each other’s assertions respectfully6. the ability (of some) to build on the Clip of students referring to what someone elseideas of others over the course of the said, as in “I think x may be right because…” or “Iseminar agree, because it also says that…”7. the ability (of some) to forward the Clip of student saying, “I have a question: I wonderconversation by asking relevant and if anyone thinks…”authentic questions of the group Clip of a person with contrasting thoughts at8. the ability to move from limited to beginning and end of seminar, as in a sequencemore complex understanding of a text where “I think … because…” turns into a differentas a collective group interpretation: “well, then, maybe …”9. the ability to reflect metacognitivelyon the group’s performance and their Clip of round robin at end of session wherelevel of success in sustaining students discuss self-rating.meaningful conversation11. the ability to suggest and apply Clip of round robin recommendations for futurespecific methods for personal or group performance: “I think it would help us if weperformance improvement would…”11. the ability to reflect Slide of student self-eval sheets with goals for nextmetacognitively on their individual seminar and written self-eval.performance and participation
CEP 917 Angie JohnsonIn reflecting on the problem of how to present this in a one-hour session, I concluded itwouldn’t be possible to teachpeople how to do this. More important was to convince themof the power of the method and provide basic tools for starting. One learns the specificskills and strategies for conducting a seminar in large part by practicing. So, I needed tomotivate others to try this and I needed to make it easy to start. The Web page would thenprovide support for later challenges along the way along with the basic essentials to begin.Those essentials include the following:1. rules of the process2. physical setup, also for large classes3. texts to start, and rules for choosing texts in progression4. lists of possible questions to choose from for a variety of texts5. basic troubleshooting for early sessions6. assessment in early and secondary stages-round robin, goal-setting, tiers7. moving up the expectations?The plan, then, is to provide a video as exemplar, motivation for trying the method, andbasic support to start.Part Three: Ideation“I see an opportunity. What do I create?”At this point in the process I began to construct a vision of what I wanted to create. I knew Ineeded a video, a presentation, and a Web page, but I needed to design these thoughtfullybased on the information I’d gathered and analysis Id conducted.Video IdeationI envisioned the video, as noted above, as showing a condensed seminar cut to highlightspecific skills and behaviors. To make these apparent to the viewer, I decided to insert KenBurns-style title screens into the seminar video, with the skill in bold letters and thecorresponding clips following them. My goal was to keep the length of the video at no morethan 20 minutes, preferably less.Presentation IdeationI envisioned the presentation including these essential elements: 1) definition of a Socraticseminar; 2) reasons why teachers should do this; 3) simple,basic resources to start; and 4)encouragement of a growth mindset for risk taking. So I divided the presentation up intothese four areas, beginning with slides that would define a seminar with language relevantto the Common Core, then provide evidence in the words of students as to why it works.This would be followed by a few basic how-to slides, and I would scatter throughout thepresentation encouragement regarding the benefits of risk-taking.Web Site IdeationI imagined I would upload to a Web site all the downloadable resources I could so teacherswouldn’t need to recreate the wheel, but could instead use my pre-made handouts to getthem started. Here I decided to divide the resources into categories including guidelines for
CEP 917 Angie Johnsonstudents, self-assessment rubrics, actual texts with possible questions to begin, lists ofquestions for use with other texts, and troubleshooting tips.How might my design ideas be improved or refined?At this point I decided to seek input from two different people: an English teacher withwhom I work who attended an after-school in-service I (very quickly) presented last yearon Socratic Seminars, and a special ed teacher who has been witnessing my integration ofseminars in the inclusion section of English that we teach together.Since I had presented this topic to a small group of teachers in my building last year, Iwanted to know whether thatsession was at all helpful. A teacher who attended it agreed toanswer some questions about it. In addition to speaking to her informally, I put my specificquestions in an email and asked her to respond to them in writing.Laura’s specific responses to my questions are listed in my previous web page posting andreinforced my belief that motivation to try this method was the most important thing Ineeded to convey, followed by encouragement and support materials to make the risk-taking more comfortable.Screen shot of email from Teacher 1:The second brainstorming session was with the special education teacher I currently workwith. She has been witnessing my integration of Socratic seminars this year with anincluded group of 34 students, 10 of them special ed. She has not yet run a seminar, but hasbeen present at all of them. She’s also worked with her smaller group of special ed students
CEP 917 Angie Johnsonto help them become comfortable in the large group setting and to increase theirparticipation through greater confidence. She’s been impressed by how it has worked sofar. I took notes on our conversation in Evernote and re-posted these in my blog postearlier in the semester.Screen shot of Evernote page with notes from discussion with partner teacher, Marcy:What did I learn from the input of others?After discussion sessions with the teachers above, it wasclear to me that it’s mostimportant for me to sell this method. The teacher needs to buy in, because it’s not an easything to try, especially for those who fear change or lack of control. So making the potentialpositives is essential. Those have to be presented in a way that excites people. Once I havebuy-in, I think I can provide the support for implementation. As Laura relayed, this can’t beviewed as an add-on or extra “neat thing” to keep students engaged. It has to be viewed asan alternative and preferable method of delivering essential content. So highlighting theunique affordances of Socratic seminars is essential. Those aspects include: student-centered learning higher percentage of engaged students more students using evidence to support ideas building strong learning community students taking responsibility for their own classroom experience students setting individual communication goals and working towards them emphasis on metacognition better face to face communication skills: listening, speaking more self-reliance in meaning-making: less expectation that teacher will “fill your head” with the right answers better understanding that real world doesn’t always have right answers allows kids who don’t listen to real conversation at home to have that experience students voicing personal opinions and getting to know each other betterMy goal, then, would be to make these affordances obvious in my presentation.
CEP 917 Angie Johnson Part Four: Experimentation“I have an idea. How do I build it?”In the experimentation phase of our design project I was to “build a prototype to make(our) ideas tangible, and share them with other people.”What did my product look like?In this phase I developedand implemented 1) a Powerpoint presentation that summarizesthe method and provides rationale for its use; 2) a video showing an actual seminar inprogress, edited for brevity and providing some explanation of what meaningfulinteraction is happening in the video; and 3) a list of these and other resources compiled ona web page, including handouts and materials a teacher could download and useimmediately in his/her classroom. In short, I created the three products of my designproject.These can be viewed on the Web page at http://akwasnikjohnson.wordpress.com/socratic-seminars/The creation process did not involve a great deal of revision once the mental iterationswere complete. Having revised my original conceptions based on my own reflection andinput from others, I found creation straightforward and the products reflect fairly well myfinal visions of them. In creating the video I went through several rounds of cuts, paring thelength first to 20 minutes, and then, after running through the entire presentation with thevideo embedded, cut another 5 minutes for a final length of about 15 minutes. I also addedsubtitles in several places to clarify dialogue that was difficult to hear. For the presentationI wrote the text, edited for brevity, and inserted visuals with quotes related to risk-takingthroughout the presentation. To reinforce the importance of those, I began and ended thepresentation with these quotes.How well did the design work?Next came the opportunity for a trial. I used the Powerpoint and video in apresention at theMichigan Council of Teachers of English conference.I was not able to gather writtenfeedback from the session, but there were several indications that my pilot was successful.First, the verbal feedback from participants was very positive. Three individuals came tome after the session to thank me, to ask additional questions, and to compliment thepresentation. One of these was a leader from MCTE. Within a couple days anotherparticipant posted a positive response on the Web page, which can be viewed there. Finally,I received the following email from a teacher shortly after the conference:
CEP 917 Angie JohnsonBased on these responses, I think I accomplished the basic goals of the design project.Part Five: Evolution“I tried something new. How do I evolve it?This final phase involves outlining steps that would move my design solution forward.How might this Web page continue to evolve?In considering my design for sharing the concept of Socratic Seminars, I envision the webpage and accompanying presentation evolving in a number of ways.First, additional resources should be added as I create and use those during the school year.As I continue to create new evaluation sheets, attempt new texts, and try differentvariations on the basic seminar, I’ll add those with annotations regarding how they wereused and tips for success.Second, additional videos would be helpful for seminars in which we utilize a fishbowl (0rother alternative) format. Those formats are unique in their own ways and require somedirection on the part of the teacher. As I experiment with and share variations on themethod, I should provide opportunities for the user to see them clearly.Third, I suspect that this collection of resources will, by the end of the school year, grow tocontain more than is optimal for a single web page. For now the design works. But I should
CEP 917 Angie Johnsoneventuallybuild a separate blog with resources organized by tabs and collected on separatepages. Here I would be able to post columns reflecting on my own implementation andexperimentation. Specific issues arising as my students grow might be detailed, addressed,and discussed there. Troubleshooting posts, descriptions of unique and interestingdevelopments, and brainstorming posts would make thedesign process more apparent.And as I continue to present the method at practitioners’ conferences I can make this a“home base” for presentations, feedback, and questions. Ultimately it might even provide asocial network for teachers using this method, becoming a resource for implementing,troubleshooting, brainstorming, and collaborating.A final thought is that, if a network of teachers were successfully created, a network ofstudents familiar with the method would also result. Online interaction between studentsor classes could emerge from the teacher connections. I suspect that the quality of onlineinteraction between students—either verbal or written—would be higher if they came tothe forum already applying the habits of mind, analysis, and synthesis skills they hadacquired in Socratic seminars.Part Six: Reflection on the Final Productand the process ofdesigning itWhat have you learned from the process about design?This has been an interesting process to articulate. What struck me most is how difficult it isto parse the design process into clearly defined steps. Despite the division of this paper intosuccinctly labeled parts, the process wasn’t nearly as neat and linear as this overviewsuggests. For example, phases one (discovery), two (interpretation), and three (ideation)were highly recursive. I frequently moved from defining the problem to imaginingsolutions, back to interpreting—to consider whether one solution was preferred overanother), and back to ideation—to refine solutions. Likewise, phases four(experimentation) and five (evolution) were recursive as successive iterations of the finaldesign were considered, tweaked, reconsidered, and finalized—at least temporarily. Soalthough I believe each of these design phases contributed meaningfully to an end result, Ifind it difficult to draw lines in the process between one phase and another, which has, intruth, made this final reflection rather challenging to write.What have you learned about yourself as a designer?Honestly, I think the design process comessomewhat naturally to me. For the most part Ifind myself going through these steps intuitively. However, metacognitive awareness of theprocess is particularly useful when one is stumped. Then one is able to refocus bysystematically reviewing the phases of the process to consider when and how they’ve beenachieved, where important elements have been overlooked, and to revisit possiblesolutions. In the end, then, I return to the concept of intentional thought as the essentialhuman tool. The design process is a way to think intentionally about what one creates.What I have learned is how to be intentional about it.