As students enter the room, I wish them "Happy Halloween" and hand them a copy of the "Cultural Literacy: Halloween Traditions."
Before we get started reading, I explain to students that we take the time "out" of class today to provide variety in the material for the students in order to build cultural literacy, yet still address informational reading and speaking and listening skills. Celebration of the "big" holidays strengthens my efforts to build community and trust in the classroom and provide students with an alternate education experience beyond the textbook. Some students respond well to these "breaks" from our day-to-day, and it serves to engage them, drawing those students in to the classroom routine.
I pose four Halloween-related questions (written on the classroom whiteboard) to kick off class today:
1. How do you or your family celebrate Halloween? What traditions do you observe?
2. If you've ever worn a costume, what was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?
3. Why do people enjoy scary stories?
4. What is the most effective way for a writer to play with his or her audience’s fears? What descriptions do this well? Have you ever read a work or seen a film where it was supposed to evoke fear, but fell flat?
I ask students to write their responses in their notes in order to prepare for the discussion, and have something to refer back to if called upon (W.9-10.10).
Students scan the article I gave them at the beginning of class in order to analyze how the authors develop the history, significance, and similarities of Halloween and Halloween-like holidays (RI.9-10.3) (I only made enough copies for one class under academic fair use guidelines).
Students take a few minutes to scan the readings for anything that "jumps out at them, or they find interesting." The information on the "Cultural Literacy Around the World: Halloween Traditions" handout has been complied from History.Com, PumpkinPatchesAndMore.Org, and BatchelorsGrove.Com, used under Fair Use: Directed Self-Study, on 31 October 2013; as such, a printable copy is not included here. As students read, they seek strong and thorough evidence to react to in order develop the discussion based on the questions above (RI.9-10.1).
Students read independently to prepare for discussion, find a talking point if they do not have a personal tradition to share, and provide common reference points for the class. This short reading period provides an opportunity for students to practice the informational reading skills with which they are most comfortable.
After giving students five to ten minutes to respond and read (I gauge based on their reaction/interaction), I ask students to pull their chairs into a circle for a "Socratic Seminar" I'll start the conversation with the first question, "How do you celebrate Halloween?" From there, we will move on to the "scary stories" they prepared for class today, referring to those texts stimulate thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas (SL.9-10.1a). The Socratic Seminar format allows the students to propel conversation, posing and responding to questions to broader themes or larger ideas, actively incorporate the entire class into the discussion, and address all ideas and conclusions (SL.9-10.1c). I stress to students that while our conversation today is an "informal" Socratic Seminar, in the future they will receive Socratic Seminar Guidelines (courtesy Mr. Steve Whitman, Geneva Community High School) and a Socratic Seminar Guidelines Self-Evaluation Rubric (courtesy Intel Teach Program) to grade their own participation. The prepared responses to the Halloween-related questions allows something for me to fall back on if conversation falls off.
This discussion provides an opportunity for students to practice formal, student-led, in-class conversations and demonstrate their understanding of reading and skimming informational texts. I can also gauge the students who are active participants and those who dominate class conversation, allowing me to identify those who need confidence built and those who need to allow others a chance to speak.
Students were active and engaged in our discourse early on, but the energy level dropped as the conversation went on. This calls for an adjustment in how we address this, possibly connecting to Edgar Allan Poe.
In addition to adjusting the placement of Edgar Allan Poe, in order to inspire student ownership, I will be providing students with a self-assessment rubric that goes along with these Socratic Seminar Guidelines next time we pull into a circle.
With two minutes remaining, I wrap up the conversation, thank students for their participation, and ask them to return the chairs to rows and return the reading packet to the bin in the front of the room. I remind students on final time about the paper due and the test tomorrow.
I make sure to stress the "thanks" for sharing. All too often, students are willing to let others do the talking, and the momentum today really depends on those who are willing to step up and react to each other.