Monday, the ALA announced the 2020 Sibert Award winner to honor the BEST nonfiction book for children. I “hired” my Reading 6 students at the beginning of January to join my Mock Sibert Award Committee. In preparation, I read blog posts suggesting worthy books – books published in 2019 fitting the award criterion: strong text features, appealing to kids, descriptive language, strong visuals and teaches facts well. Thanks to my Arlington Public Library system, I checked out 50+ books. Then I provided reading days. Students read critically and recorded their opinion using this graphic organizer:
After days of reading with the goal of trying to read at least 20 books, students then were instructed to pick a winner and draft talking points. They had this graphic organizer to help them:
I collaborated with the Gifted Resource teacher in my district and learned about the Socratic Seminar structure and decided this would be the structure to use by my students to determine the one book they wanted to name as winning our Sibert Award.
I explained to my students how, by talking and asking questions, as modeled by Socrates long ago in Ancient Greece, a variety of points can be debated. Through a respectful conversation, a group can answer a question. Our question during the Socratic Seminar was: What book should win the 2020 Sibert Award?
On the day of the Socratic Seminar, my Gifted Resource colleague shared this slide as a guide for my students:
We divided each of my five classes, ranging in 20-28 students) into 2 groups and sat them in a circle in our respective classrooms. We reminded the students that they have a question to answer. They have 40 minutes to talk respectfully. They are to follow the 4 expectations. They can use their notes. They can jot notes during the discussion. They can use the sentence stems on the right side of the slide to help them as they talk. Finally, we reminded our small group of 10-14 students that a Socratic Seminar is student-led. I sat outside of the circle of desks and only had a classlist and a pen to add a check mark everytime they spoke. This talking rubric was shared so students understand the expectations:
Then I set the timer for 40 minutes, I restated the question. Who should win the Sibert Award? Please begin….
Then I was amazed!!! I sat and watched 6th graders have a respectful conversation.
They used phrases that included:
I agree with ___, stating their classmate’s name, because…
I respectfully disagree. I think….
They asked questions:
What evidence makes you say that?
In one class, one student suggested they first hear book ideas from all in the circle and then try to narrow down the books. In another class, one student first shared an opinion and immediately others shared why they agreed or disagreed. Then another student shared and more students shared their opinion. Eventually, all students shared. Through different student-created methods, the book choices were shared and debated.
At about the 20 minute mark, I wondered if the students could have a conversation for a total of 40 minutes. Having a 84-minute block schedule, I just watched and continued to add check marks. And the students kept their respectful conversation going. Questions were asked: What book would appeal to kids most? What book is more inspiring? What book has better text features? What book has better visuals? At the 5 minute mark, I suggested they need to decide. In all classes, it was narrowed down to two books and finally one was picked as the Sibert Award Winner and I suggested the other be named an Honor book.
At the end of class, I told my students in each class to give themselves a round of applause because they did an amazing job. I told them how their Socratic Seminar reminded me of a college seminar class. They did their reading and were able to have a respectful converse. When I asked them what they thought about this Socratic Seminar structure, it was agreed that we should do this again. Here are some photos of the discussions:
After school, I reflected on my teaching day. A quote came to mind: “The person doing the work is the person doing the learning.” I was reminded that the students did all the work today. They prepped by reading books. They prepped by drafting a debate argument. They spoke up multiple times during a 40-minute discussion. They shared evidence. They asked questions. They voted and picked a winning book.
They did the work!! They learned. They learned how to be critical. They learned how to speak up and share an opinion. They learned how to respectfully listen. They learned how to respectfully hold a conversation.
Best day teaching ever!!
NOTE: It turned out that the actual Sibert Award winner wasn’t amongst the books I borrowed from the library. But now I have a new book to go buy and add to our library and another discussion to hold in class. Is the actually winner a strong pick??