My successful first day in US History
My school year began this past Monday and this year I wanted to take a risk and do something new my students. Instead of reviewing the syllabus, I had an itching to engage my 11th grade US History students in a Socratic Seminar using the Pledge of Allegiance as the text. It went really well! I thought to share just in case anyone else was interested...
I chose the Pledge because (a) students are familiar with it and (b) it carries just enough controversy to make for a solid discussion. After introducing the purpose and norms of the seminar, students gathered in a fishbowl configuration (inner and outer circles). The Pledge is posted on a wall in my classroom (posting on the wall is a great tip for English Learners who may not be as familiar as our native English speakers), so students did not have to struggle with memory and trying to speak in the seminar.
I randomly distributed discussion questions, explaining to the students that they would normally be creating the questions. Since it was the first day, I provided the questions for them, and numbered them from least to most challenging. Thanks to the wonderful internet, I easily found these questions:
1. What is the definition of a republic?
2. What is involved in pledging allegiance?
3. What does taking the pledge say about your relationship to government?
4. Is pledging allegiance a responsibility of citizenship?
5. Should “under God” remain in the Pledge of Allegiance?
6. What did the Supreme Court recently decide?
7. Has our nation lived up to its pledge of liberty and justice for all?
We debriefed, using the rubric that I had provided to students. The outer circle (who did not participate this time- which will not be the case in the future) did a great job identifying what went well and areas in which we can improve in the future. I was so impressed with the students!
For their closure, students responded to the following questions:
1. Right now, what needs to be said that wasn’t said during the seminar? In other words, if you had the opportunity to respond to ANYTHING, what would you say? Why?
2. Think about what was said in response to the prompts. What statement by one of your classmates do you agree with the most?
3. What statement by one of your classmates do you agree with the least?
4. What was one thing that was said which made you think something you hadn’t thought of before?
5. Did you enjoy your part as INNER/OUTER circle member? (circle the one that applies). Why?
6. What worked really well for this seminar? Why?
7. What needs improvement? Why?
8. What are your final thoughts? Use the back if you need to.
What I appreciate the most about this activity was that it immediately introduced my students to aspects of critical thinking that they will be developing throughout the year. They also interacted productively for the rest of week, even though there were clear differences of opinion during the seminar. I directed them to shake hands with everyone after the seminar and I think that helped to solidify a sense of community and collective learning.
I hope that this is helpful for someone who, like me, desires to create a different learning experience for the first day of school.