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The following student work samples illustrating class trends in what students did and did not understand.

Socratic Seminar Videos

Two videos of socratic seminar groups(groups of 4) answering the following question:

Okonkwo’s uncle scolds him for not understanding the Igbo proverb “Mother is Supreme.” In what ways does Okonkwo ignore the good qualities of females in himself and others? How does this create problems for him in life?

1. The​ ​first videocaptures the first group of the period to discuss. By nature, the discussion a bit shakier in confidence and conviction as the students are just getting the hang of the unfamiliar timed format. One to two students dominate the conversation while another is too nervous to speak coherently. Also, no one in the outer circle utilizes the designated “hot seats,” which are there for anyone to jump in and interject throughout the 5 minute conversation. In terms of assessment, the four students in the center received credit for speaking, but not all achieved the outlined objective of speaking once with supporting evidence from either the book or other informational texts (“The Science of Race” and the lecture on cultural relativism vs. ethnocentrism).

2. The​ ​second videocaptures a later group that had a more flowing and thought-provoking discussion (play video starting from 2:51). This may have been due to the modeling of other groups throughout the period. Each member contributed multiple ideas that were supported with strong textual evidence, and in addition, the “hot seats” were both occupied. This provided for another dimension of the conversation by inserting new thoughts into the already developing discussion in the center. The students in the hot seat found the right moments to interject their thoughts and the people in the center were receptive to them and built off of their contributions. The last two comments at the end not only demonstrated the objective of the seminar, but also went above and beyond in the way one student's idea triggered another student's epiphany or realization about the motives of the main protagonist.

Socratic Seminar Observation Notes

The following observation notes were taken from the outer circle throughout the socratic seminar and represent the expectations and objectives for the outer circle. The act of

observing and analyzing the conversation unfolding in the middle develops both careful listening and synthesis skills.

middle develops both careful listening and synthesis skills. Reading Quiz Exam pl es The following two

Reading Quiz Examples

The following two examples show the range of student comprehension when reading

was sent home for independent reading (typically one chapter of 6-9 pages). The first example meets class standards and objectives by using evidence and pertinent details from the chapter to support his answers while also providing his own commentary/analysis.


The white man told the Igbo people in Mbanta that their gods are “false gods.” What was their reaction? Did they believe him?


Okonkwo’s good friend Obierika finds Nwoye in Umuofia. Why was Nwoye in Umuofia when the rest of his family is still in exile in Mbanta?

3. “The words of the hymn were like the drops of frozen rain melting on the dry palate of the panting earth.” How does this simile describe the changes Nwoye is going through with the arrival of the missionaries?

is going through with the arrival of the missionaries? ​ By the looks of it, one
is going through with the arrival of the missionaries? ​ By the looks of it, one

By the looks of it, one could argue that the first student read the chapter while the other student did not. However, it is not always as simple as that when it comes to the complex themes of the novel and the particular way in which the story is told. I included the

second example to represent the handful of students who were struggling with reading comprehension and understanding of the plot, and who needed more support in the form of extended class discussions (conclusions drawn from the end-of-unit survey data). One student commented that “reading it at home could sometimes be confusing or just boring” and preferred reading the book in class together for better understanding.

I developed the quiz questions with struggling readers in mind, and made sure to focus on major plot points and ideas versus nit-picky details that many reading quizzes overemphasize. This also meant that students could get questions wrong or partially wrong for not understanding the text, though they may have read it. In order to balance reading for understanding and comprehension versus just for surface details, I will think about having students discuss the chapters' themes together, and possible ask me 1-3 burning questions before we begin the quiz.

Question of the Day Examples

The following examples show students using informal in-class writing to further their comprehension of the characters and themes in the text. Many of these questions ask students to look inward and evaluate the book’s themes and characters according to the way they live their own lives. I was very impressed with how much students opened up and shared in these responses. Such introspection brought what can be portrayed as a foreign or confusing text a bit closer to home, allowing students to dig deeper into the complex themes of the text in less intimidating way. It also allowed them practice writing and analysis in a low-pressure environment (5 minute silent quick write followed with a class discussion). Since we completed these questions exclusively in class, mostly all students were able to complete them and to complete them thoughtfully. If I were to continue teaching the class, I would have had students develop their own Questions of the Day and eventually turn one of their responses into a possible essay topic.

See Unit Reflection for next steps in instruction.
See Unit Reflection for next steps in instruction.

See Unit Reflection for next steps in instruction.