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The Seminar Process

Mention a Socratic seminar to students, and often the response is just like the one portrayed in “Oh God, Teacher Arranged Desks in a Giant Circle” from The Onion. In other words, uncertainty, anxiety, and even panic. But if you enter a seminar prepared, you’ll find your fears allayed and, I hope, your knowledge of the work we’re discussing extended and deepened.

The first thing you need to understand is that a Socratic seminar is not a debate. The point is not to win an argument. Instead, a Socratic seminar aims to deepen understanding through discussion and questioning. A more detailed explanation can be found here: Dialogue vs. Debate. Seminar participation will be graded like a test, and there are three keys that will help you do your best.

Come to the seminar prepared. Students should have their Six Pack Sheet for the work completed as fully as possible, including their ideas on motifs and symbols, references to important scenes/conversations, and character information. Crafting thoughtful questions can also provide you with something to share. Remember that your questions should explore WHAT IS in the work (cause and effect, character motivation, etc.) and not WHAT IF (speculation based on something that occurs). We’re discussing the work as presented, not writing fanfic. The ultimate goal is to discern an appropriate meaning of the work as a whole (MOWAW) that can be supported by textual evidence.

Most seminars will be conducted over two days. On the first day, we will open with a question round. Everyone present will share one of the questions they have prepared on their Six Pack Sheet. We will then select a question to kick off the day’s discussion.

During the discussion, your job is to listen and connect. One person should speak at a time. Comments should be directed to the class as a whole rather than to the teacher, who acts as a facilitator rather than a leader. Comments should ADD something new to the conversation, REFER to the text to clarify or support, or EXTEND what another student has introduced. Please take notes on what you hear using the appropriate field in the Six Pack Sheet. Day 2 of the seminar will begin with a comment round, with everyone sharing something interesting from the first day that they found thought provoking or wish to discuss further. Six Pack Sheets with their seminar notes will be submitted to Canvas at the end of Day 2.

While you are speaking, I will be observing and making notes on your seminar input and behavior. Positive behaviors that will earn you points include the following:
     • offers new idea
     • asks a new or follow-up question
     • refers to the text
     • paraphrases and adds to another’s idea
     • encourages others to speak
Please avoid interrupting others, side conversations, and dominating the conversation—the best seminars allow everyone a chance to speak and respond. Conversely, don’t sit in silence. Have a question or quotation ready to go if you don’t feel confident expressing yourself off the cuff.

To extend the conversation and provide a record for review later, we will also conduct a followup discussion using Canvas. All students will be expected to contribute to the online discussion even if they spoke in class. The online discussion will be open for a few days after the in-class seminar is concluded. Once the online discussion closes, seminar grades will be finalized.

Seminars will be graded based on both your contributions to the discussion (speaking in class and posting to the discussion board) and the quality of those contributions (specific text references rather than general comments). The fewer comments you make and more general your input, the lower the grade, and vice versa. If you wish a high seminar grade, you will need to contribute thoughtfully and precisely both during the class and online. Ultimately, your seminar participation should reveal your understanding of and thinking about the work in question.

If you are absent from class on a seminar day, you will be expected to increase your participation in the online conversation. In addition, you will have a separate written assignment to complete.

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Finishing Strong

Welcome back! One semester remains in the school year, so make it a good one. Here are some reminders to help you succeed:

Come to class. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but apparently some of you have missed the memo after nearly thirteen years of formal schooling. School starts at 7:20 am. You know how long it takes to get to DP. You know the traffic on Turkey Lake is stupid. You have phones with alarms. Get your butt out of bed and get to school on time. Once you’re here, be HERE. Don’t be thinking about the homework you skipped for another class or your latest game craze or your phone. It does you no good to be here physically but absent mentally.

Do the reading. Seriously, gang. This is a literature class. You can’t do well unless you actually read the works. No, SparkNotes do not count. Check the calendar for deadlines and plan your reading schedule so you’re ready for seminars and discussions.

Pay attention to details. I shouldn’t have to tell college-bound seniors to read directions carefully, but apparently I do. READ DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY. Make sure you complete all parts of an assignment in a timely fashion. Seminar grades always contain your contributions to the class discussion, the notes you take during the seminar itself, and the Verso responses afterward. Don’t suddenly remember one of them after I’ve completed the grades.

Label everything. Your files should have unique names, and your name should always be on the file itself. Submit files to the correct assignment in Google Classroom. Don’t pile up a bunch of files in one place where they don’t belong.

Use the +one rule. Many of your essays are good in terms of thinking, but the support is weak. When you think you’ve finished a paragraph, add one more specific example before moving on to the next paragraph.

Speak up! Self-advocacy is a vital skill for success in college. If you are having difficulty, say something. Ask questions. You should know by now that I don’t bite. Confused about a poem’s meaning? Ask. Want some help with an essay? Ask! I’ve never claimed mind-reading as a skill. Don’t expect me to use it.

And the most important thing to save yourself (and me) unneeded stress:

Pay attention to deadlines! College students tell me the biggest adjustment they have to make is obeying hard deadlines. Most schools do not accept late work of any kind without prior arrangement with the professor. “I forgot” doesn’t count. Neither does “I was busy” or “I had a test in X class” or fabulous vacation plans. Once I’ve graded an assignment, I’m pretty much this person:


Late work will only be reviewed once you submit a Digital Late Work Submission form. Otherwise, I assume it doesn’t exist and will happily give you the F you have requested.

Stay focused. May and the exam will arrive quicker than you expect. Be ready. Let me know how I can help.


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A Note About Grades

I arrived at school today to a mailbox full of angst:

“I turned in Assignment X and got Y grade. Why wasn’t it a Z?”
“I really need X points to get Z grade—what can I do?”
“I just turned in Assignment Q (which was due a month ago). Please grade it ASAP so my grade can go up.”
“I know I didn’t do Assignment V. Can I do it now so it can be counted?”

These are variations of many, many conversations I have with students about their grades. Most of the time they take place during the marking period, when something can be done about it without unnecessary stress on either of us. The cries explode the day grades are submitted, and all of your stress is firmly transferred onto me. I’m supposed to FIX IT.

I understand. I was an AP student in high school, and I know the pressure to maintain a high GPA is immense. It seems that everything you hear from teachers, colleges, parents, your peers, and the world at large seems to suggest that keeping your GPA at stratospheric levels is necessary in order to gain admission to college and basically win at life. Let me clue you in on a little secret:

It’s not.

You don’t have to believe me. Einstein said it better:einstein

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re focusing very hard on the things that can be counted, but not so much on the things that count. When I get emails about the class, they’re hardly ever about the subject, the concepts, your discoveries, or learning. The conversations are always, always about numbers. Specifically, numbers that translate into letters on your transcript. Those things are important, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really count. Here’s what does: Understanding. Stretching. Growth. Discernment. Discovery. Challenge. And, most importantly, failure. Failure is the best teacher of all. It reveals your weak spots and invites you to grow. You should embrace failure—which might look like a B, or even a C. That kind of failure keeps you humble and shows you where to focus.

But if you (or your parents) come from the “Failure Is Not an Option” school of thought, here are some proactive things you can do to keep your grade looking the way you like it:

  1. Pay attention. If you’re busy chatting with friends or playing on your phone or doing other homework on your laptop when you’re supposed to be doing something for this class right now, that’s a near-guarantee that poor and/or missing work is to follow. I’m aware you’re sitting at tables. That doesn’t mean you have license to do what you want, to be rude, to ignore what’s going on and expect me to explain it to you special later. You know how to be a student. That shouldn’t be contingent on where you sit and how.
  2. Listen. On essays especially, I try to provide feedback to help you improve. What do my notations say? See any patterns? Are you making changes based on my comments or just glancing at the number at the top and filing the paper away for later? Heed the wisdom of Jackie “Moms” Mabley: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
  3. Read. Read the assigned works. The ones I hand you, not the summaries on SparkNotes or PinkMonkey or Shmoop or whatever the avoid-actual-work site of the month happens to be. Plot summaries will not help you with AP questions. You won’t have the depth of detail needed to answer them properly, and you won’t have the practice necessary to analyze text closely when the time comes. And while we’re talking about reading, read the directions. Don’t skim, don’t assume, and don’t let your friend’s four-second summary scalf-roping-hlsr-590x742tand in for what I specified. I can’t tell you how valuable this skill will be in college, where your course syllabi will rule your life in ways you can’t even imagine now.
  4. Ask questions. Don’t understand something? Ask. Unsure about what something means? Ask. Have an amazing idea that you’d like to explore? Please, please ask! The ability to ask good questions is an invaluable college and life skill. Professors love students who can ask good questions. Be that person.
  5. Slow down. Stop being in such a hurry. I’m well aware that the procrastination struggle is real. Fight it. Plan your reading so you aren’t trying to finish a two-hundred-page work in an evening. That’s why I gave you a calendar, so you could plan. Hint, hint. Make sure your name is on the paper itself and in the filename, if it’s electronic. Do you have any idea how many assignments I see entitled “AP essay”? Am I supposed to guess what each paper is about and who submitted it? I really don’t need that kind of excitement in my life. Don’t do all your work at the last minute, or worse yet, in the class period before you show up to mine. That slapdash effort rarely earns what you’d like. Learning isn’t like the calf roping competition at the rodeo. You don’t earn bonus points for being quick. Plus, if you haven’t tied off the calf properly, it doesn’t matter how good you look during the process. You lose, plain and simple. Do good work, and good results will follow.


Ideally, I’d love to face a class full of learners, people who are engaged in the process, willing to take risks, asking good questions, and thinking thinking thinking so their knowledge grows and their outlook expands. But if the grade monkeys screech too loudly—and I get it, they do sometimes—follow the steps above. Pay attention. Listen. Read. Ask questions. Slow down. They help, I promise.

As my father is wont to say, “End of Sermonette.”

Calf roping photo © Bob Straus


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Using Verso

In order to participate in Verso discussions, you must be registered for your class group. Follow these steps to get connected:

  1. Download the Verso App through the Chrome Web Store (it is also available for mobile devices).
  2. Join your class using the code:
    Period 1 – WM5FVX
    Period 2 – 7UH1IS
    Period 4 – 4ZQ5E7
  3. Click on the activity and begin discussing. You must create a response before you can view and respond to your classmates.


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Brave New World Study Questions 15-18

BNW3Chapter 15
1. Why does John decide to interfere with the soma distribution? Why does he say it is poison?
2. What does he think of the Deltas to whom he delivers his speech?
3. What roles do Bernard and Helmholtz play here? What does this tell us about their characters?
4. How does the soma riot end? What does it mean to be happy and good?

Chapter 16
1. How would you describe Bernard’s behavior in this chapter? Why does he act this way?
2. What does Mond say is the role of liberty? Happiness? Stability? Truth and Beauty?
3. How does Mond explain the caste system? What would happen with an entire society of Alphas?
4. Why does Helmholtz make the choice he makes?

Chapter 17
1. Why does Mond want to talk with John alone? What do they talk about?
2. How does John argue that the civilized man has been degraded? From what and to what?
3. What role does Mond say soma plays in this? What is an “opiate of the masses”?
4. In saying no to civilization, what does John say yes to? Would you make the same decision?

Chapter 18
1. Where does John go, and what does he plan to do there? Does this represent a healthy alternative from society?
2. How does the crowd respond? What happens that evening? What becomes of Lenina?
3. What is John’s decision? Why does he make it? Were there alternatives?

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Brave New World Study Questions 10-14

somaChapter 10
1. How and why was the DHC planning to make an example out of Bernard?
2. Why is unorthodoxy worse than murder?
3. How does Linda act in the hatchery? How does the DHC react? The spectators?

Chapter 11
1. Why does John become popular, but not Linda?
2. How does Bernard’s life change? How does he react? What does Helmholtz think?
3. What does John think of the caste system? Of the clones? The feelies? Why?

Chapter 12

1. What does it mean that Lenina likes looking at the moon now?
2. How does Bernard’s position change? How do John and Helmholtz respond to Bernard now?
3. Why is Helmholtz in trouble with the authorities? What has he done that is dangerous, and why is it dangerous? Why did he do it? What does he want?

Chapter 13
1. What is happening to Lenina? How does she feel for John? What does she do to get what she wants?
3. How does John feel for Lenina? What does he want to do to prove it?
3. How does John react to Lenina’s actions? Why does he respond this way? What did he want from her?

Chapter 14
1. Why is Linda dying?
2. Why are the Delta children at the hospital? What does John think of this?
3. Why isn’t death terrible for those in the civilized world? What does this mean for the individual?

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Brave New World Study Questions 6-9

navajo_reservationChapter 6
1. Why is being alone a bad thing?
2. What do Lenina and Bernard do on their first date? Why is the ocean important? The moon?
3. How does Helmholtz feel about Bernard after he hears the story of the meeting with the director?
4. What do we learn from the Warden? What are the reservations like?

Chapter 7
1. What is the city itself like? What are the people like? How does Lenina respond? Bernard?
2. How is John Savage different? What does he want? How does he respond to Lenina?
3. What is Linda’s story? What has her life been like here? How does Lenina react to her?

Chapter 8
1. What was John’s upbringing like? His relationship with Linda? His education?
2. What does it mean to discover “Time and Death and God?”
3. Why does Bernard want to take John to London?

Chapter 9
1. Why does Mustapha Mond agree to the plan?
2. What happens when John watches Lenina sleep? What does he think or feel?

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Brave New World Study Questions 1-5

test-tube-babyChapter 1
1. What is the meaning of the World State’s motto “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY?”
2. Why do particulars “make for virtue and happiness,” while generalities “are intellectually necessary evils?”
3. How do people know who they are in this society?

Chapter 2
1. What work does the conditioning do? Who gets conditioned? How does hypnopaedia work?
2. Why condition the Deltas to hate nature but love outdoor sports?
3. What are the various castes like, and why?

Chapter 3
1. How is our world depicted? How do we get from here to there?
2. Why are strong emotions dangerous? Family relationships? Romance? Religion? Art? Culture?
3. What is soma? What are its uses?

Chapter 4
1. What does Lenina do on her date?
 What does she think of the lower castes?
2. Why is Bernard the way he is? What does he really want?
3. Why is Helmholtz the way he is? What does he want? How is he different from Bernard?

Chapter 5
1. What do Lenina and Henry talk about on their way home?
2. Why are stars depressing?
3. What are the solidarity services like? What role do they play? How does Bernard fit?

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Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms

The following RSA Animate video illustrates the points that the speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, makes about our education traditions in this country and the long-term effects that have caused him to call for a new view of education. When you watch the following video, respond to these questions:

1.  What is the main problem that the presenter claims/proposes is an issue within America?

2.  What are two credible sources that the presenter uses to support his claims?

3.  What is one issue that you find that the presenter may be too ambiguous about?

4.  Does he offer a distinct and specific solution or does he just present the issue?

After completing the video and questions, reflect on the information. Respond in about a half-page. Consider where/when you agree with Sir Ken, how his ideas apply to your educational experience, and what you think we ought to do to address his points.

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