USING SOCRATIC SEMINARS TO PRACTICE CLAIM TESTING

Claim testing is an essential skill in Big History, and a cornerstone of the curriculum. We hosted a Hot Seat Series and online discussion about claim testing, and how teachers incorporate it into their daily instruction. Big History teacher Dave Burzillo chimed in with this great insight around claim testing and Socratic Seminars. We liked it so much, we asked him to write it up as a blog post.

Dave Burzillo
Big History Teacher, 11th–12th grade
Weston, MA

Claim testing is an invaluable tool in the Big History classroom. It helps students really tackle challenging ideas when reading, writing or even discussing them in the classroom. We often overlook the role of claim testing in discussions, but it can play a critical role in helping student structure their comments.

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Lately I have been looking for ways to help my students dig deep into the big ideas of the course. One tactic I have been experimenting with is the Socratic Seminar. I am still a rookie here, though I have observed quite a few of my English colleagues run these sessions. Given the topic in advance, students prepare a list of questions to discuss, with outlines and bullets for each question. Students take total responsibility for the discussion. The teacher just listens–no teacher talk! The students talk to each other, call on each other, etc… The teacher observes and uses the below rubric to award points (or take them away) during the course of the discussion. The example below is one that was shared with me by one of our English teachers.

Claim testing is a terrific tool for students in these kinds of deep discussions. It provides a means of questioning peers without getting defensive or snippy. In response to a strong claim, another student might ask what evidence is available to support this claim. They might follow up by asking the authority providing the evidence. Many students find it helpful to simply layout the logic of a claim to ensure there is no confusion and then, following the logic, to develop additional conclusions. Claim testing provides the common vocabulary and strategies for great classroom discussion.

It is worth calling out that intuition might seem like a difficult claim test to employ in discussion. However, I like to encourage students to think about the background knowledge other folks participating the discussion might bring to the table. If you don’t all have the same information, or share all of the same assumptions, something that seems very intuitive and clear to one person might seem like a huge leap to another. Intuition, as a claim test, provides a means to explore these differences in a discussion.

Over time, claim testing becomes second nature to the students. It becomes a habit woven into their discussions and writing. We’ve have great luck with the Socratic Seminar, but anyone trying to create great conversations in the classroom can do so with claim testing.

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If you’re not yet a member, click here to request an invite to the BHP Teacher Community where you can check out the online discussion that inspired this post. If you’re already part of the community, check out the discussion on claim testing here.

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