“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” –Plato

The Elementary School Seminar:


At Kestrel Heights Elementary School, seminars are used as an instructional tool. They are conducted in individual classrooms, by grade level, by subject area, with the entire school, with parents, or with the faculty. This important type of teaching is a collaborative conversation about a “text:” a curriculum-related piece of art, short story, poem, math problem, song, etc. in which the teacher asks open-ended questions and students express ideas freely and politely to each other. The teacher acts as a facilitator and is not part of the conversation (except to guide, ask questions, and keep the students “on-track.”) The goal of seminar is for students to expand their understanding of ideas and values within the curriculum.

What you would see/hear: Chairs or desks in a circle so that everyone can see the group. Teacher sits as part of the circle. (The change in the room acts as a signal to the students that they are doing a seminar and new rules apply.) The teacher creates a safe environment for sharing ideas and models/role-plays how students should speak politely in a group. Students “practice” convrsation skills.

Sometimes, there is a pre-seminar activity to get the students interested in the topic. Questions are divided into 3 categories: Opening: these prepare students to discuss the text, Core: these ask students to focus on and think about the text, and Closing: these ask students to connect the text to their lives. Post-seminar activities include art and writing about the text. For younger students, teachers, often use round robin questions to help with participation. Students may read parts of the text aloud (a few sentences.) This is a way to get young students accustomed to talking loud enough for others to hear. Sometimes there is role-playing during seminar to further young students’ understanding of the text.

Elementary school students at Kestrel learn the rules for seminar: no hand-raising (seminar flows like a conversation) one person talks at a time, everyone is spoken to respectfully, it’s important to look at the speaker, speak loudly enough for everyone to hear, think about the ideas, make connections to other’s comments, refer to the text, stay on topic, and don't monopolize the conversation. Thus, students benefit not only from the conversation but the WAY in which the conversation is conducted.