Paideia Seminars: How to Build Student Collaboration Skills

Due to the integrated nature of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we have an opportunity to dive deeply into multiple literacy standards simultaneously. Gone are the days when reading, writing, speaking, and listening were skills taught in isolation. Few instructional strategies accomplish literacy integration as well as the Paideia Seminar. Paideia, from the Greek paidos, or nurturing of a child, is a framework that encourages the active learning of all students, regardless of variability. It’s something every teacher will want to explore.

What is a Paideia Seminar?

You’ve all probably experienced the Socratic Seminar in college, a formal class discussion that values the power of questioning in building shared knowledge. A Paideia Seminar is similar, but it takes the Socratic discussion to the next level, as it embodies important guidelines of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and aligns to the CCSS.

The National Paideia Center defines the Paideia Seminar as a collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text. If we break down that definition, you can see alignment to the UDL Guidelines and the CCSS. The connection between UDL and the CCSS is significant because UDL is explicitly mentioned in the CCSS (in the Application for Students with Disabilities section, as best practice).

UDL Guidelines

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How do Paideia Seminars help students meet the Common Core Standards?

1) Paideia Seminars foster collaborative, intellectual dialogue. This addresses CCSS Speaking & Listening Anchor Standard 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

2) Paideia Seminars give students experience with facilitated discussions. As described in the CCSS Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards to build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations.

3) Paideia Seminars encourage open-ended questions about a text. Reading Anchor Standard 1 says students should read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Simply put, the Paideia Seminar is a protocol for facilitating a discussion about complex text while also scaffolding important social skills that students need to be successful in college or their chosen careers. It’s also important to note that “text” includes artwork, a word problem, a map, a chart, a scientific experiment, or traditional text. Below is a video of a teacher using the $1 bill as text in a Paideia Seminar; the possibilities are endless!

What is the Basic Structure of a Paideia Seminar?

A Paideia Seminar includes a pre-seminar, the seminar, and a post-seminar. Once you facilitate your first seminar, you will see its ability to engage all students in the exploration of rigorous text because it integrates so many of the UDL Guidelines.

Pre-seminar: During the pre-seminar, students are organized in a circle so they can all make eye contact. In this session, you will review standards and objectives (UDL Guideline 8.1), activate or supply important background knowledge for the text (UDL Guideline 3.1), clarify important vocabulary (UDL Guideline 2.1), and ask students to participate in a self-assessment (UDL Guideline 9.3). During this self-assessment, students reflect on how they usually participate in group discussions and create an individual goal for the session with your support (UDL Guideline 6.1). An example of a goal may be, “I will look at every person while he or she is speaking,” or “I will participate at least twice and use ideas from the text.” Also, you should support students as they create group goals, such as “We will build on each other’s ideas by linking to the ideas of others.” Having agreed-upon rules for discussion minimizes threats and distractions (UDL Guideline 7.3) which would prevent students from participating.

Seminar: During the seminar, facilitate discussion by asking open-ended questions about the text. As students answer, require them to refer to the text by citing specific details and quoting actual passages to support their point of view (CCSS, Anchor Reading 1). During this session, you will ask questions about the main idea of the text, focus and analyze textual details, and require students to personalize, or transfer and generalize acquired knowledge to their own lives (UDL Guideline 3.4).

Post-seminar: In the post-seminar, ask students to reflect on their progress toward group and individual goals and the standards (UDL Guideline 9.3). This reflection is often done in writing or drawing, but you can use multiple tools for construction and composition (UDL Guideline 5.2). I provide choices for students so they can reflect in ways that are meaningful to them. For example, you may ask students to reflect in a poem, a poster, a blog, a talk show script, a video or PowerPoint, or a journal entry.

Where can I find examples of Paideia Seminars?

You can find free Paideia lesson plans on the Paideia National Center website. I have personally used many, and can’t say enough good things about the process and the products that result from implementing the seminar in the classroom. As one of my students said last year when I tried to teach a close reading lesson another way, “Can’t we just Paideia this?”

Katie Novak, Ed.D., works for Chelmsford Public Schools in Massachusetts as the K–12 reading coordinator, Title I director, and ELL director. With more than a decade of teaching experience (including postsecondary), Novak continues to teach and also designs and presents workshops nationally and internationally focusing on teacher implementation of UDL. If you have questions about how to implement UDL contact Katie at katienovakudl.com. For more ideas about how to meet the Common Core State Standards using Universal Design for Learning, read Katie Novak’s new book, UDL Now!: A Teacher’s Monday-Morning Guide to Implementing Common Core Standards Using Universal Design for Learning.

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