Using the Pro Se Court Discussion Strategy

Our first Pro Se Court was a success. A Pro Se Court has students acting as plaintiffs, defendants and judges. In this case, a third of the class had to argue about the cons of zoos, the plaintiffs. A third of the class outlined the pros, the defendants; and the rest of the students acted as judges.

We spent part of the week reading about the pros and cons of zoos from four different perspectives. We annotated text and highlighted the most relevant evidence from each text. This is what allowed all students to be prepared for our Pro Se Court.

We had seven different judges and they ruled 5 to 2 in favor of the defendants.

Stronger and Clearer Each Time

We were visited by Dr. Amy Salgo who introduced the students to Stronger and Clearer Each Time. The instructional approach was developed by the Understanding Language Project at Stanford University and has students engage in multiple rehearsals of a problem or question before coming to a final answer.

Dr. Salgo asked the students if fractions are numbers and the students ultimately arrived at the conclusion, yes!

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A Game of Catch via Socratic Seminar

Today we did a Socratic Seminar with Richard Wibur’s A Game of Catch. This is a particularly difficult text that requires some time to fully understand and comprehend. Although the story is pretty straight forward, the subtext or hidden message, takes some effort to get to.

To the credit of the students, they got there. They saw the symbolism of the apple tree and what it meant that Scho ends the story by saying, “I want you to do whatever you’re going to do for the whole rest of your life!”

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Using a “Fishbowl” to Enhance our Discussions

Today we engaged in a “fishbowl” to debate the pros and cons of having classroom pets. We used materials that presented both sides of the issue and students annotated and rehearsed making claims from either perspective.

We read through three articles over the week and today we employed the instructional strategy. Students in the fishbowl debated the issue and could sub themselves out for someone on the outside who wanted to make a point.

All of this work allowed the students to complete a piece of writing on the topic. And the writing? It is pretty fabulous.

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Structured Academic Controversy: Lunches

On Friday students completed a Structured Academic Controversy. It is a strategy that has students collecting evidence from multiple sources and using that evidence to create and support a claim. In this case students learned about how some school systems are banning lunches from home and requiring all students to eat school meals.

What is important about this strategy is that students did not learn until moments before the debate which side they would have to defend. Consequently, the preparation for the day had students attending to both sides of the issue.

Our Pro Se Court

Today we did our first Pro Se Court. This was the culmination of reading through four different sources on zoos and identifying evidence to support claims about the value of zoos. All of the source material (here) is written at the 7th grade level and this required students to navigate complex text and work with challenging vocabulary.

The term pro se is Latin and means “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf.” Students became defendants, prosecutors, or justices before creating triads to allow for rich discussions.

Ultimately the justices ruled 6 to 3 in favor of the defendants; that is, zoos were causing greater harm than good.

Using the Discussion Strategy, Fishbowl

Today we used the discussion strategy “Fishbowl” to debate whether using bottled water was more positive or negative. The students read two articles (here) and annotated the pieces looking for evidence to support one position or the other. Then they discussed both articles free of any valued added statements; instead, attention was pointed to finding evidence.

The students positioned themselves around a fishbowl with four students in the middle. Students would share a point, debate the point, and if they couldn’t find evidence or didn’t have a good argument, they would tap someone from outside the fishbowl to take over for them.

The annotating, discussion and debate will help us with our writing in which students have to support a super claim.

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Socratic Seminar: A Game of Catch

This week we completed our first Socratic Seminar. We used the text A Game of Catch to reinforce the habit of buttressing claims with evidence from text. In this case, students had to build their case and answer the questions, Why did Scho fall from the tree?

Our Socratic Seminar followed the structure listed at www.ProjectTahoe.org (here) in which 100% of the talking and arguing is done by the students.

Keep It or Junk It–A Discussion Strategy

Today the students used the strategy “Keep It or Junk It” to help us get ready for Kids Court and our Mock Trial. The Keep It or Junk It strategy has students working in small groups to identify key vocabulary from a text. This is followed by students working as a class to negotiate what the key vocabulary is and why. Words that are important are kept while words that are not, are junked.

The list of words will be used for writing an argumentative essay.

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