Last week my students participated in their second Socratic Seminar. They are LOVING this format and I am LOVING watching them push each other, make connections, and manage their own learning space. But that’s another confession.
With the first seminar, I let my outer circle students give their partners feedback on body language, eye contact, and quality of contributions. With the second, I created a “Teacher Notes” table (see link at bottom) to give feedback to each of my students in addition to the feedback they receive from their partner.
During their discussion I marked down every time a student contributed as well as when they incorporated text or asked a new or follow up question. I jotted notes when I felt the student was being particularly insightful or making a really interesting connection. Many students were bringing in their background knowledge on history, current events, and their family. I had this one student who saw the whole discussion through the lens of her vegetarianism…and subsequently nearly derailed the whole discussion.
But in the end, the students owned it. They pushed each other, and made me so proud to have been part of that class period.
As I come to my computer, I begin to type my quickly jotted feedback neatly into the prepared table. By the sixth student, I realize that I’m having trouble making a distinction between “excellent” or “average” when providing feedback on body language and eye contact (column 2). One word on my table is REALLY bothering me–average. I thought nearly every student in that room rocked that discussion, and I can just imagine them seeing “average” highlighted rather than “excellent.” Is that the kind of feedback I’m trying to give? How important is body language and eye contact in my feedback?
For one student, I went as far as deleting the “excellent,” “average,” and “needs improvement” categories to write this in its place: Your back was to me in this discussion, so I don’t feel confident giving feedback on this.
Wait a minute. Am I confident that while I was jotting down my notes I was able to watch all of the other 11 students’ body language to a degree that I’m willing to justify an “excellent” vs. “average” rating?! Simply put…no. I’m just not confident I can be that precise in my feedback.
So I return to that earlier question: how important is it for me to give evaluative feedback for every student on their eye contact and body language? I decide that it isn’t important enough to make a student who may have performed excellently in every other way to be labeled average by me. The column must go.
Despite my best efforts to create the perfect feedback tool for my students, I overlooked my own limitations to provide anything close to perfect feedback. I can count contributions, offer suggestions, and note meaningful textual incorporations, but, in the end, I want my students to feel that I saw them honestly and admitted when I couldn’t see them perfectly.
I deleted that column on my chart. This had the immediate and gratifying effect of making my other columns much bigger allowing me more room to tell them what I DID see them do and maybe how I think they could make it even better the next time.
And I also learned to reflect on my own contributions. What is my impact our classroom learning environment? What am I adding to the discussion?