Saturday, 20 March 2021

"The Power of Voice"

I recently listened to a conversation between Jim Knight and Russ Quaglia. I have known Jim for quite a few years, as he was a guest on a Twitter chat I moderated (#SatChatOC). It was 2015 and Jim had become part of my Community of Collaborative Coaches. When I organised a CoachMeet in Sydney, in 2016, Jim shared information on a book that he was writing at the time, The Impact Cycle. It is interesting to know that Jim sought feedback from us. He is still as open today and continues to support me.

One of the benefits of being on Twitter and being connected is that your connections and friends advise you of others you can learn from. Years ago, I attended the ACEL national conferences. I sat in the front row, knowing that I had to make an early exit to introduce the next workshop. Russ Quaglia walked in and sat beside me. I introduced myself and mentioned by friend, Peter DeWitt. After a selfie and a brief chat, he signed my copy of his book. After reading his book, Teacher Voice: Amplifying success, I recommended the school purchase copies for our professional learning library. As a teacher and coach, Teacher Voice resonated, and I often recommend Russ's books to other coaches, teachers and leaders. I've blogged before maintaining that without teacher wellbeing, how can there be student wellbeing? Again, without teacher voice, how can there be student voice? All go hand in hand.

Listening to Russ and Jim converse, I am reminded of various strategies I implemented in my classroom that link to student voice. I am passionate about promoting student voice and choice, so years ago, I  researched Socratic Seminar/Method/Circle. Initially, I adapted and introduced Socratic Circle to my Year 3 class, but knew it would require some adjusting to provide more voice and choice to my Year 5 students. This strategy integrated reading, writing and critical thinking. As I found it to be an effective strategy, I elected to have the members of my teaching triad observe my lesson on Socratic Circles.

In this 'improvement process', I was placed in a triad with two other teachers. They observed your lesson and provided feedback. As I reflect back on this time, I think of how much I have learnt about lesson observations, providing feedback and the importance of teacher and student choice and voice. It was interesting to see how one teacher saw merit in the process, while another shared that I appeared to do little 'teaching'. Being seen as someone who sat on the side, simply 'watching' was an interesting observation. The other teacher was curious about how the students learnt to piggy-back on their peers' comments, how they argued their point using facts or quotes from the text, and how they were so respectful to the speaker at any point in time. What these teachers were witnessing had taken six weeks to achieve. I had prepared the students to own the process. As a class, we had selected the texts. I sought their vocabulary, as we modified the observer's rubric to become a checklist. They found the rubric was no longer needed, and a simplified checklist was adequate. The observer monitors the words and actions of their peers, while sitting on the outer circle. Observers are unobtrusive and silent, which is difficult for some students.
As a class, we decided that after students read the text independently, they could then read to their partner. From this, they decided they could provide feedback that focuses on their fluency, accuracy and expression when reading aloud. Comprehension of the text was written and shared orally within the circle. This assisted students to develop their oral skills. To support this entire process, I structured mini-lessons on strategies such as, using post-it notes to capture thinking, supporting your argument with evidence, asking open questions, demonstrating respect for others' opinions, providing specific feedback, and acknowledging others' contributions.

As I wanted to share Socratic Circles with others, I decided to present at the next TeachMeet. While I could share my resources and the process with other teachers, my students needed their voices shared too. I asked them to contribute by answering two questions.

  1. How would you describe Socratic Circle (written responses were later collated for the presentation)
  2. What are the benefits of this strategy? (orally shared and capture on an anchor chart)

I had differentiated the activity by using Jacob's Ladder. I had learnt about this resource while studying a postgraduate certificate in Gifted Education. The first group answered the first section of the comprehension tasks, and those more able also answered the more complex questions. However, these groups were fluid. Jacob's Ladder includes fables and myths, and poetry by students and well-known poets. Science, Mathematics and History are included in the nonfiction section. Students could stay in the centre circle if they had attempted the more complex questions. This enabled all students to listen to the questions and hear the responses. Some call Socratic Method/Circle/Seminar the Fishbowl activity, This strategy affords others who are unable to answer, to listen to those who are able. Broadened perspectives emerge from listening to others.

I introduced the staff to Socratic Circle, when I facilitated a workshop using a palindrome poem. This provided an opportunity for the teaching staff to experience the activity. The library staff were particularly interested in this strategy. I've included some resources at the end of this blog. As I listened to Russ talk about giving students a voice in the professional learning of teachers, I believe I had achieved this. In his research, Jim ascertained seven Partnership Principles in coaching: Equality, Choice, Voice, Dialogue, Reflection, Praxis, and Reciprocity. Through dialogue, we empower voice.

"Voice is sharing thoughts and ideas in an environment underpinned by trust and respect, offering realistic suggestions for the good of the whole, and accepting responsibility for not only what is said but also what needs to be done." ~ Quaglia

To lead change in our schools, we need to be having conversations where everyone has a voice and actively listens - the students, teachers and leaders. How well are we listening and who currently has the most influential voice?

Staying curious, always learning...



What is Socratic Circle: A collaborative intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text.
Socratic Method: Students sit in circles with an inside and an outside. Inside share their responses to questions and the outside students monitor using a checklist.
Checklist: Questioning: How well did they ask questions? Speaking: How well did they articulate? Listening: How well did they listen to responses? Respect: Did they respect each speaker? Feedback: Did they provide positive and critical feedback? Participation: How well did they participate? 

Examples of socratic questions for palindrome poem:

Opening the discussion 

What word or phrase is most important? 

What is the most surprising statement in the text? 

What is the most striking image or metaphor? 

What would be another good title for this piece? 

Continuing the discussion 

What do the authors mean when they say ________________________? 

How would the original audience have interpreted this statement? 

What is the relationship between __________ and ______________ ? 

Concluding the discussion 

What additional points should be included in this text? 

How would our daily lives be different without this concept or idea? 

In your opinion, is it morally right to take the action described in this text? 

Based on this story, do you think people’s actions are determined by fate or by choice? 

Which character are you most like? When have you behaved like the other character? 

Palindrome Poems:


Lost Generation 

Socratic Seminar Handout