Charles Ames Fischer

Education & Reference, Teens

Author Profile

Charles Ames Fischer

Charles Fischer has taught in public and private schools in a variety of settings, from rural Maine to inner city Atlanta. In the past 20 years, he has worked with a wide range of students from 4th grade to AP English and has been nominated for Teacher of the Year four times. He has his Master’s degree in Teaching & Learning from the University of Southern Maine, and received his B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Binghamton University. His fist novel, Beyond Infinity, won a 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award bronze medal (YA fiction). His areas of expertise are in Socratic seminar, dialogue, listening, inquiry, and critical & creative thinking. He is currently working on a three book series focused on all of these territories.

Books

The Power of the Socratic Classroom

Education & Reference

Do You Have 21st-Century Skills to Help Your Students Succeed? Do Your Students Have 21st-Century Skills to Think for Themselves? The Power of the Socratic Classroom has the answers you are looking for—answers that will supply the strategies to show students how to succeed into the future. A future that has unknown products, unidentified jobs, and unanticipated challenges. In Socratic Seminar, teachers shift to the role of facilitator, where they help their students develop the collaborative interpersonal skills, the critical and creative thinking skills, and the speaking and listening skills to face the upcoming challenges of the 21st century.

Book Bubbles from The Power of the Socratic Classroom

Types of Texts

A "text" for seminar can be nearly anything that invites complex dialogue. Many teachers feel that seminars mostly belong to the humanities, but this is certainly not the case. One of my favorite conversations happened when one day I noticed a new hole in the school fence. I took the students outside and asked, "What happened here?" The students began investigating, CSI-style, and we had an intriguing conversation - and a hole in the fence was the seminar text!

Dialogue

It's important to remember that seminars are meant to produce dialogue - not debate or discussion.With numerous companies stressing "soft skills" these days, dialogue is definitely the best way to practice.

What is a Socratic Seminar?

Many people ask what exactly a Socratic Seminar really is. To me, the question is huge and nuanced, but a simple answer is that a Socratic Seminar is basically a discussion where the students take ownership. The teacher gradually releases responsibility to to the students so that they can become more self-sufficient.

Not Raising Hands

This is always an important shift in the classroom. Students are often very trained to raise their hands, but when we move to a seminar situation, we want students to assume greater responsibilities. This includes and often starts with figuring out how to take turns. This is often hit-or-miss, trial-and-error, but the the students often appreciate the endeavor. A lot of teachers shift to use a talking stick, talking chips, or other external turn-taking strategy, but I have rarely found that these work well. Often the focus seems to shift from the conversation about the text, to the use and misuse of the talking device.

Consistency is Key

When I follow up with teachers who have had a disastrous Socratic Seminar experience, the culprit is almost always consistency. These disasters frequently occur when teachers only have a few seminars per semester, so there is not a clear end in mind for the students. The group often stays in the storming stage of development where individuals compete for attention instead of working together as a team. Teams need time for cohesion and seminar groups are the same way. If a team only practiced eight times a year, you wouldn't expect a lot of growth. Socratic Seminar groups are the same way. Consistency is key.

Turn-and-Talk

The turn-and-talk strategy, where students essentially talk in pairs for a brief time, is a seriously underused strategy. I have found that asking a new question in class, then using a turn-and-talk is an amazing way to get conversation restarted. Add "I'd like to hear from someone who hasn't spoken yet" and you will get everyone to participate quite easily.

Interest Management

I first heard this concept at an International Listening Association conference and I immediately fell in love with the idea. I haven't found a more succinct way to communicate to students exactly what their most fundamental job is during a Socratic Seminar - or any class for that matter!

Listen and Silent

Students are always amazed when I point out that Listen and Silent are anagrams, that is, they use the exact same letters. They often respond with open mouths and wide eyes as they realize that this is somehow very profound. This mysterious connect between these words is tremendously powerful. When students aren't listening well, I often just tap my head and remind them that they must silence their minds in order to truly listen.

Follow-up Questions

Follow-up questions are the single best way to drive inquiry deeper. Obviously, a good complex text, a provocative opening question, and curious students always help. But follow-up questions are what truly drive inquiry. Just think of a young child who repeatedly asks, "Why?" How long is it before you, as the adult, are stuck in the thinking process? Why is grass green? Chlorophyll. Why is chlorophyll green? Um... because it reflects green light... Why does it reflect green light? Uh... Make sure to ask quality follow-up questions whenever you want to drive inquiry deeper!

Text Selection

Because text selection is so difficult, I am always on the lookout for quality complex texts. I have a folder at school to collect stray texts that I get from other teachers. Sometimes I even find gems left on the copying machine! I also keep folders on my computer with lists of potential texts, such as TV shows. I have often found that science fiction shows like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone have excellent episodes that should promote quality dialogue. Text pairings are strong choices as well because they often promote at least two lines of thinking that can be supported in the texts.

Grading Annotations

Anchor papers are the single best way to clarify for students what is expected of them in the pre-seminar stage. Without properly preparing the text for dialogue, there will rarely be quality conversations. Students need numerous talking points in order to navigate complex texts and negotiate meaning together.

Seminar for Synthesis

Seminar for synthesis is probably the most common form of Socratic Seminar. There are plenty of other ways to use seminars, though. Because of the shift to the role of facilitator, there is an excellent opportunity for teachers to collect data and make observations about their students. Using an app like Equity Maps allows teachers to then share data with their students, allowing them to further take ownership of their learning. This allows teachers to gradually release responsibility, which is one of the very many benefits of Socratic Seminar.

Straight-A Syndrome

Straight-A students, who play the school "game" extremely well, often just regurgitate information. They are usually organized and take good notes. But many do not think for themselves. When confronted with the openness of a Socratic Seminar, straight-A students do not know what to say or think. The students who immediately make an impact are the students who have refused to play the school "game." Many of them are at-risk for failing, most often because they are thinkers! They are the ones who come up with solutions the teacher hasn't thought of. They are the ones who already think beyond the scope of the textbook. Those students thrive in seminar.

Soft Skills of the Future

We are living at a time where technology is moving at an accelerated pace, so fast that we can no longer reliably see into the future. A new breakthrough could irrevocably change how we educate children. So, how are we supposed to equip students to be successful? It all comes down to "soft skills," that set of somewhat intangible skills that would allow a person to think through and negotiate a solution to a complex problem. Socratic Seminar is a classroom technique, a training ground, for these skills.

Beyond Infinity

Teens

When high school senior Matt Forsythe discovers a weird computer and a secret door at school, a series of events unfolds where he and his friends solve one mathematical puzzle after another. After finding a teleportal, they travel to a strange world where numbers are actually alive! There they meet the mad scientist Maglio and the ghostly Fifty-Seven and discover that some of the numbers are mysteriously disappearing.

Book Bubbles from Beyond Infinity

Cyclical Numbers

These are fun numbers to discover and play around with. Multiples of 7 create other interesting patterns for students to discover!

13

A little excerpt about the number 13, which seems to get a bad rap. But there are numerous positive aspects to the number as well.

Fun Puzzle

This is one of the many fun puzzles I came across while researching material for the book. My target audience for Beyond Infinity is actually math teachers themselves—hoping that they would use it as a read aloud. When they come to puzzles like this one, they could stop and challenge the students, just like in the book.

The Vast Math Domain

One of the reasons I wrote this book is because I wanted to make mathematics more interesting for students. For many younger students, math just seems like repetitive arithmetic operations. Let's face it, there's not a lot of excitement there - though it might be necessary. The domain of mathematics is absolutely huge, though, and it's our job as teachers to at least show students more of the domain.

Recreational Math

Playing around with numbers is something that students should do more often in school. Just as art teachers might have students freedraw or language arts teachers might use freewriting, math teachers can have students play around with numbers. This can be done as a warm-up activity at nearly any time.

Math Rearrangements

I remember coming across this exact rearrangement with 17.5% and being blown away! I have wondered since how often students could solve complex problems if they only knew how to rearrange or reframe them.

Chicken or the Egg?

I had fun writing this little excerpt. The main character, Matt, thinks about mathematics all the time, including things like types of infinity, expanding universes, and more. I wrote the book with math teachers in mind, hoping they would use it as a read aloud in math class. There are a huge number of talking points in the book that make for excellent class discussions - this being an example.

The Number 6

As a math teacher, I wanted my students to begin to understand that numbers have personalities. They have characteristics and traits beyond their numeric value that make them different. Throughout Beyond Infinity, the narrator pauses periodically to explore specific numbers using examples from everywhere. It is my hope that readers will get curious enough to start collecting their own examples.

Curiosity

As a teacher, I have always been fascinated by the power of curiosity. It is an underrated tool for most teachers. This excerpt is my book in a nutshell - an attempt at getting readers to think about the many numbers that exist around them. They are insignificant until we begin to ask questions and see patterns. For example: What is the meaning of the number seven?

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