The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

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Welcome to The Book Fort!

Volume 2, Issue 3

Week 38: Think Like Socrates

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Inviting Wonder & Empathy into the Classroom

“This book is for teachers who want something better for their students and who believe in each child’s capacity for deep and creative thinking” (3).

Having waited for Think Like Socrates for over a month, I am thrilled to review it for The Book Fort this month for several reasons. As a Wonder Lead Ambassador for Wonderopolis, my interest is always piqued when a new education book has “wonder” in the title. I am also an avid believer in Genius Hour, passion projects, and the Socratic method for discussion and instruction, so the fact that Shanna Peeples, former National Teacher of the Year has included both wonder and Socrates with practical classroom applications for grades 4 - 12 means this book has been pre-ordered for weeks! I mean, she dedicated the book to her students as a love letter, for goodness sake!

The text is organized into four parts and below you will find one intriguing idea from each. I encourage you to not only discuss these ideas and the book with colleagues, but to order one for yourself and/or your collaborative teams. We can each make changes to encourage creativity and push students out of their comfort zones and into their zones of genius, but we do a much better job with a support system. Be sure to follow Shanna Peeples on Twitter @ShannaPeeples and check out her website

Part I: Building a Questioning Classroom Culture

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Teaching Like Socrates: Composing a Classroom Climate to Encourage Inquiry

“’s absolutely critical to support intellectual risk for ourselves and our students by deliberately focusing on the physical and emotional aspects of our classrooms. Without being willing to make these changes first, I argue that it’s much more difficult — if not impossible — to create better teaching and learning” (37).

One of the most interesting suggestions in this chapter is the student choice to replace a failing grade with an alternate assignment that promotes critical thinking and ultimately forces students to use the same skills as the failed task. Peeples taught some tough kids in Texas with a mountain of challenges and she was intrigued by the idea of grit and student choice. That being said, Peeples needed practical ways to encourage grit in her students, to help them build it. Here’s the suggestion:

  1. Protocol 3.1 - Practice Critical Thinking with Big Questions

    1. Give students options to replace a failing grade with an alternate assignment such as:

      1. Watch a TED Talk or a video from Big Think of your choice. Write a two-page response explaining why you chose it, what you learned from it or how it deepened your understanding of the subject, how you connect it to other learning, and what questions it made you think of (44).

      2. Do the same reflection as the first option, but listen to a podcast on This American Life, RadioLab, or Hidden Brain.

    2. Follow with a conference scheduled by the student with the teacher before or after class at a time that worked for both to discuss the student’s work. Students must also take a selfie while completing the assignment.

Part II: Curating Questions for Use in the Content Areas

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Using Questions in Multiple Disciplines and Grade Levels

“Connections between courses create the kind of deep understanding that points to solutions for some of our greatest challenges. The ability to view a question from multiple perspectives is critical, yet we don’t design our curricula this way” (95).

Peeples quotes Judy Gilbert, Google’s Talent Director, in the opening of this chapter, as she makes the point that students must be pushed to develop the ability to make connections between content, across disciplines. If not, they may be woefully underprepared for the types of complex challenges they are likely to face in college and/or career, and in life outside of school. One suggestion for using questions in this way is:

  1. Use student questions as an entry into content, rather than asking them questions about the content that you have already determined you’ll teach. This is a true inquiry-based model and can seem radical to some, so Peeples offers a flow chart for planning (Figure 6.1) that shows the connection between student questions, content, and assessment of standards and skills.

    1. Student question —> What kind of thinking does your discipline teach (critical, analytical, creative, abstract, concrete) —> thematic connections to your content —> standards, skills, and connections to students’ lives —> What can they do with what they learn and what product could result? (101)

Part III: Applying Inquiry to Do Real Work in the Real World

Using Student Questions for Project Ideas

Call it Genius Hour, Passion or Inquiry Projects; no matter the label, the message is clear. Giving students time to ask genuine questions they wonder about and space to create projects that authentically connect them to the world outside of school can transform teaching and learning. Peeples offers a whole section in this text about how to design and implement inquiry-based projects that accomplish this goal. The chapter contains an entire plan for this project approach, including possible extensions for GT students.

An intriguing, practical suggestion appears early in this section (184-187):

  1. Students work in small groups to identify and research a question about a problem they’re interested in solving.

    1. A pack of 3 x 5 index cards serves as the tracking mechanism; students fill those cards with sources they find related to the problem & potential solutions.

  2. Using the PechaKucha protocol for slide presentations as a guideline (20 slides x 20 seconds each), students prepare a presentation for the class about their findings.

    1. This method is used among adults at conferences and events worldwide and is challenging, but will push students to consider what really matters when presenting to an audience of their peers.

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Part IV: Using Our Own Questions to Transform Our Practice

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Using Teacher Questions to Guide Staff Meetings and Plan PD

There is lots of talk in the educational world about inquiry-based instruction and even about letting student questions guide planning and instruction; the most common “new” term is personalized learning. Not so popular is personalizing teacher training to meet their needs. I had the distinct honor and privilege of being a part of a school in Kentucky that gave teachers options for professional development, but it still felt mostly about compliance, about checking boxes. In fact, my doctoral work is shaping up to be about reimagining the existing PLC structure to feel more authentic to educators so that they are more fulfilled in their growth experiences and their instructional practices improve as a result.

Peeples offers the suggestion to begin faculty or department meetings by inviting educators to write questions and share them with colleagues in place of typically ridiculous and forced ice breakers. One such question card that resulted from this protocol resonated with Peeples and is featured (211): “If teaching is a calling, is there a way to get back to that idea that feels authentic? Is there a way to think about our identities as teachers that will help us when we feel burned out?” The protocol is detailed in this section of the book and can be used immediately in your next meeting. Sounds better than the average faculty meeting to me if questions like this are emerging as a result!

Website of the Month

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EdWeb is a free anytime-anywhere professional learning network for teachers, librarians, and administrators, offering over seventy-five different learning communities, covering a wide range of innovative topics and practices. The heart of Edweb is its community sponsored webinars, which are timely, engaging, and always archived. Edweb is a go-to source for personalized professional development, offering continuing education certificates, follow up online discussions, free resources, and a support network of like-minded professionals.


Ed Tech Tool of the Month

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Kapwing provides a multi-tool solution for teachers and students to create everything from video montages and memes, to stop action videos and sound effects. Its simple yet robust platform makes it useful for students of all ages. Teachers can use the various tools to engage students in any subject, and students will use these same tools to showcase their learning and improve presentations. Grades 4 and up.


Reading Recommendations

Missed Previous Issues?

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Kristie Hofelich Ennis, NBCT

In an effort to systematically study relevant research and stay connected to the teachers I greatly respect and with whom I have worked for years to successfully implement independent reading, this newsletter came about. It will offer research and practical ideas for quick implementation and may prompt further discussion or study with your colleagues. I hope you'll find it useful and thought-provoking; I also hope you will stay in touch if you implement any of the ideas with your students. They are, after all, why I do what I do!