“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about, besides homework.”  –Lily Tomlin

 

The Middle School Seminar:

 

At Kestrel Heights Middle School, seminars are used as an instructional tool. They are conducted in individual classrooms, by grade level, by subject area, with the entire school, with parents, or with the faculty. This important type of teaching is a collaborative conversation about a “text:” a curriculum-related piece of art, short story, poem, essay, math/logic problem, song, etc. in which the teacher asks open-ended questions and students express ideas freely and politely to each other. The teacher acts as a facilitator and is not part of the conversation (except to guide, ask questions, and keep the students “on-track.”) The goal of seminar is for students to expand their understanding of ideas and values within the curriculum.

What you would see/hear: Seats are moved in a circle to aid discussion. The teacher asks open-ended questions (questions without a yes/no or right/wrong answer), listens carefully, “maps” the seminar by recording the amount and type of participation, and the ideas that are shared, and tries to encourage as much student participation as possible.

Sometimes, there is a pre-seminar activity to get the students interested in the topic. Questions (or follow-up questions) are divided into 3 categories: Opening-these prepare students to discuss the text, Core-these ask students to focus on and analyze the text, and Closing-these ask students to personalize and apply the text to their lives. Post-seminar activities include assessing the seminar and writing about the text. Occasionally, during seminar, there might be silence…but that’s okay--often silence allows for thinking!

Students at Kestrel learn the rules for seminar: no hand-raising (seminar flows like a conversation) one person talks at a time, everyone is spoken to respectfully, it’s important to look at the speaker, speak loudly enough for everyone to hear, think about the ideas and values expressed, keep an open mind, make connections to other’s comments, refer to the text, stay on topic, and don’t monopolize the conversation. Thus, students benefit not only from the conversation but the WAY in which the conversation is conducted.