My AP kids finished up The Great Gatsby this week with a Socratic Circle. I’ve tried Socratic Circles all three years of teaching – unsuccessfully my first year teaching sophomore, a little more so with my juniors last year.
Students come in armed with questions about the novel. Half of them sit in the smaller inside circle, half on the outside. The inside circle discussed; the outside circle listens and take notes. Halfway through class, we switch.
It’s entirely class-led; the only way I can jump in is by going to the “hot seat,” the empty chair in the inside circle where outside circle members can have their say. I grade their questions and participation. Each round of new people get to set their own discussion norms: one group elected a leader who called on people; another chose to toss my beanie baby Antonio Freeman around, and another just had a free-for-all. It’s cool to sit back and let my students run class. I must do it more often. I got great feedback. It’s so encouraging to have kids leave my room stop and thank me and tell me how much they enjoy my class – unprompted. It doesn’t happen every day, but it certainly is rewarding when it does.
Now that we’re done with Gatsby, we’re on to research. My English 3 class is wrapping up their research over a current event (as expected, I had an awful lot looking at the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado). My AP research is a bit more abstract. I want them to write a paper that interests them; I’ve asked them to consider a field they might potentially major in, then look up various degree plans on university websites and pull up college syllabi for those classes. This gives them some idea as to the vernacular used in their disciplines.
Next, we will work on writing research questions. I’m hoping they can come up with something that would be like a prompt they’d write in college. I don’t want a career paper; instead, I want them to familiarize themselves with the types of sources they’ll use in college and really consider their field. I am launching them first into JSTOR and Google Scholar, and showing them different approaches to research. Since I wrote so many papers in college, and it took me a while to discover what the best methods were for me (at one point I had to download a program called Self Control that blocked Facebook and Gmail and the Drudge Report because I wasn’t getting anything else done), I want them to create their own system. Rather than copying notes on index cards and laboriously writing “Why I want to be a veterinarian” papers, I want them to focus on the purpose of the process. I’m pretty excited about it. I hope they are too.
One class got a little off task on Friday…while my other AP classes dug up syllabi and asked what “quantitative methods” meant on an Intro to Marketing syllabus, my spunky eighth period expressed to me how many of them didn’t have any idea what field they wanted to major in. They asked if they could use “that site” I used with my freshmen that I told them about, where they could take career quizzes to determine what they’d be good at. The site is called Career Cruising, and it’s actually part of our school’s participation in the Federal Gear Up program, which follows two years of students from seventh grade through college to encourage college success among low-income students. Even though my juniors aren’t technically in the cohort classes that the grant program is following, I got permission to let a few of my juniors try it out. Next thing I know, my entire class is determining how much they’d like working outdoors or dealing with difficult people. It was pretty entertaining – one quirky young man who plans to study engineering kept getting massage therapist as his top career, no matter how many assessments he took. Another top student got parking lot attendant…but overall, the assessments are fairly accurate.
I logged on too, and found that high school teacher was a paltry 22nd for my top career picks. Instead, my top match kept coming back as career counselor; fitting, as I’ve spent two evenings in the last week staying after school coaching kids on resumes. The second choice was civil litigator (I had been considering law school lately), followed by human resource specialist, instructional coordinator, marriage and family therapist, school counselor, and school superintendent. It got me thinking about what I want to go back to school for in the future, since I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. It’s been a bit of a rough week at home (baby Spartacus has some nasty allergies that keep gluing his eyes shut with goop, and Annabelle has decided burp clothes are her new favorite toy), it’s nice to dream of the future.