Animal Farm, Technology & Formative Assessment

written by Todd Beach

“Obviously he would not have become a famous philosopher had he confined himself purely to listening to others… He just asked questions, especially to begin a conversation as if he knew nothing.  The essential nature of Socrates’ art lay in the fact that he did not appear to want to instruct people.  On the contrary he gave the impression of one desiring to learn from those he spoke with.  So instead of lecturing like a traditional schoolmaster, he discussed.”  –Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder

One of the challenges associated with facilitating Socratic seminars in the classroom is trying to create an environment where every student feels they can contribute and have a voice.  This is best accomplished by placing students in small groups (usually 4-6 students per group) which I’ve found to be a nice size for pure and thoughtful discussion without the forced, sometimes coerced dialogue.  The small group size affords students a chance to contribute and synthesize ideas being voiced while also being accountable to the expectations of a scholarly discussion, which is to build upon the student’s current knowledge of the topic and challenge new ideas students have about the topic. Continue reading


In Defense of ‘Teaching Students How to Write’

written by Todd Beach
special thanks to Randy Bailey

“I could barely understand what the professor was talking about but I was very impressed… I thought teaching was a simple matter of telling the class what you knew and then testing them and giving them grades.  Now I was learning how complicated the life of a teacher could be….” (McCourt, 2005:41)[1]

In my recent post, ‘Teaching Students How to Write’, some colleagues articulated skepticism regarding the process used in teaching students writing skills, while others had questions about the validity and reliability of student’s grades since they were provided additional opportunities to correct the deficiencies in their writing.  I’d like to address both of these concerns and provide evidence, which defends the practice. Continue reading

Teaching Students How to Write

How often do you have your students write?  This is one of the many paradoxes teachers struggle with when designing curriculum and instruction.  Since writing is a skill, it’s necessary to practice often and provide frequent feedback in order for students to improve.  Of course providing frequent formative feedback for each student takes time and finding the right balance between the development of content knowledge and the development of critical thinking and writing is difficult.  However, this tension can be navigated when teachers are committed to this essential task and when they are willing to engage their students in the assessment process. Continue reading