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Swanson teaches a new class, Socratic Seminar.

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Swanson teaches a new class, Socratic Seminar.

Madeline Bane, Ranger Review Reporter

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New classes and programs are added to the school course book each year. The Social Studies department began the year with a new course, Socratic Seminar, taught by Mrs. Kim Swanson. Students in the class read about current controversial topics and discuss them with the class.

Swanson thinks that one of the difficult parts of teaching a new class is that there is still a lot of uncertainty on what works and what doesn’t. “There’s some growing pains, some hits and misses, some good and some things we need to work on” Swanson said.

According to Swanson, some students have a hard time understanding what the class is really about and adapting to its particular style. “It is important to know the difference between a debate and a discussion.  The kids that sign up thinking they were going to get to come in a duke it out over about really controversial topics are disappointed when they find out that this isn’t what the class is about” Swanson said.

Swanson recognizes that this is a part of having a new class, however, and she tries different techniques and styles in teaching the class. When something doesn’t seem to be working well in class, she tries a different approach. Originally, Swanson tried to grade her students based on their thinking instead of participation in class, but she found that her students then had no incentive to actively engage in the class.

“If someone is kind of quiet in the seminar but they are trying, I wanted that to be reflected in their grade. It was supposed to be kind of a pass or fail class, but I find that I don’t have a lot of tools to get the kids to do what I want them to do if I don’t grade anything. So that may not stay that way.”

Even with all of the problems that need ironing out, Swanson still believes the class shows promise and could be very beneficial for students.  The students study a passage of text and then form two concentric circles, a circle within a circle. The inner circle discusses the text while the outer circle takes notes. The two circles then switch places.

“When it goes well, it promotes civil discourse, which is lacking. Also, it promotes critical thinking. You have to look at text and decide what is important about it and why is it important and meaningful,” Swanson said.  

The class can also cover a wide variety of topics and curriculum. “We could do a poetry piece, if we wanted. We could do an art piece. We could do something controversial like gun control, which we are not doing. We can do current events. There is just no limit to what we could look at,” Swanson said.

Swanson also enjoys learning and thinking along with the students. “ I don’t have to be the expert about it because we we are looking at the text together and talking about it together“ she said. “My hope is that you gets lots of thinking time every period.”

 

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