Selma in Pictures: Socratic Seminar

By Lynda Tredway

In a media driven age, visual images often provide access to important events and political struggles that may be more immediately accessible to students than written texts. At the same time, these images can offer a venue for the development of critical literacy. Images are also useful for differentiating instruction and exposing students to a rigorous curriculum through multiple learning styles.

Here are two Socratic Seminar lessons using images from the freedom movement in Selma. Socratic Seminar (Paideia Active Learning) is the name of a teaching and learning process that follows a standard, yet adaptable, set of procedures that promote critical thinking by requiring students to find evidence to support their claims.  The steps include observation (reading the text), forming a hypothesis, and dialogue—much like an inquiry model of teaching.

The photos in these lessons are by Matt Herron (Take Stock Photos).

 

Socratic Seminar One: Flags

Click on the images for full resolution photos of each or print all images.

selma-flags-marchers 
White Spectators

White Spectators

 

(1) Observing the Image

Distribute full size, high resolution copies of the set of two flag images to each student or pairs of students. Explain that before they analyze the texts, the first step is to carefully observe every detail.

This can be challenging if your students have not done a Socratic Seminar before. They may be eager to move immediately to making inferences, analyzing, and constructing meaning. However, it is important to read the visual text first, relying on what can be observed, not inferred.

A useful way to begin is a round-robin in which each student offers one observation.

Some guiding questions for observing the visual text are:

  • What people do you observe?
  • What are their nonverbal expressions? Describe them carefully, but try not to infer adjectives or what those expressions mean yet. For example, “the man on the left is smiling” is an observation, but “the man of the left is happy” is an inference that you make because the person is smiling.
  • What are the people doing in this image?  Who or what are they looking at?
  • What, if any objects, do you observe?
  • What colors or shades of black and white do you observe?
  • How is the light positioned in the image?
  • What movement of people or objects is apparent (although it is a still photograph)?

 

(2) Opening Question

Students form a hypothesis about the meaning of the visual text by responding to a carefully considered opening question from the teacher that is designed to engage them and provoke meaning-making. The opening question is the start of seminar, but all subsequent teacher or student questions are Socratic, meaning they flow from the prior responses and build on the meaning. This is not a debate; rather it is a process of co-constructing meaning by listening to other’s ideas and building on them carefully with textual evidence as the key to supporting ideas.

Ask students to choose one set of antonyms from the list below and find evidence from the photos (visual texts) to support their choice. If some terms are not be familiar to students, share the definition, such as allegiance (loyalty to a person, group, or country) and treason (disloyalty to a person, group, or country; betrayal.)


Which set of antonyms best suggests the theme of the flag photos?

  1. Harmony/Discord
  2. Allegiance/Treason
  3. History/Present

Participants may have different ideas about meaning and the opening question has multiple “right” answers. A Socratic seminar adage: There is not one right answer; there are better-supported ideas.

The questions require the student to make a choice, based on objective evidence gathered during their observation of the images.

There are several ways to work with the varied responses students will give. You might take a vote to see what the group is thinking; have pairs of students discuss and then share their responses; or start a full-group discussion.

(3) Dialogue

Continue the discussion based on the comments and selections students make regarding the set of antonyms. The goal is for this to be a genuine dialogue among the students and teacher. The teacher as facilitator’s primary role is to listen carefully and connect the ideas. Specifically, the facilitator should paraphrase key ideas as questions that will encourage deeper analysis.

 

 

Socratic Seminar Two: Ancestors

Click on the images for full resolution photos of each or print all images.

Federal Registrars in Canton, MS

New voter completing voter registration card.

Prospective voters standing in line to register.

Prospective voters standing in line to register.

Marchers in the rain.

Marchers in the rain.

 

(1) Observing the Image

Distribute full size, high resolution copies of the set of three images to each student or pairs of students. Explain that before they analyze the texts, the first step is to carefully observe every detail. It is important to read the visual text first, relying on what can be observed, not inferred. A useful way to begin is a round-robin in which each student offers one observation.

Some guiding questions for observing the visual text are:

  • What people do you observe?
  • What are their nonverbal expressions? (Describe them carefully, but try not to infer adjectives or what those expressions mean yet).
  • What are the people doing in this image?  Who or what are they looking at?
  • What, if any objects, do you observe?
  • What colors or shades of black and white do you observe?
  • How is the light positioned in the image?
  • What movement of people or objects is apparent (although it is a still photograph)?

 

(2) Opening Question

(See instruction in Seminar One for Step 2: Opening Question.) Here are two options for engaging students in an examination and discussion of the images above.

Option 1. Which of the following quotes/adages best describes the set of photos?

We, today, stand on the shoulders of our predecessors who have gone before us. We, as their successors, must catch the torch of freedom and liberty passed on to us by our ancestors. We cannot lose in this battle. —Benjamin E. Mays

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise—I rise—I rise.   —Maya Angelou

If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs. —Mary McLeod Bethune

 

Option 2: Choose one or two lines from “Lift Every Voice and Sing” that best represent the theme of this set of images from the history of the voting rights movement in Selma.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.

James Weldon Johnson wrote “Lift Every Voice” as a poem when he was principal of Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida. His brother John Rosamond Johnson set it to music.  It was first performed in 1900 when Booker T. Washington was the honored guest at the school and is recognized as the African American national anthem.

(3) Dialogue

Continue the discussion based on the comments and selections students make regarding the set of antonyms. The goal is for this to be a genuine dialogue among the students and teacher. The teacher as facilitator’s primary role is to listen carefully and connect the ideas. Specifically, the facilitator should paraphrase key ideas as questions that will encourage deeper analysis.


Credits

Lynda Tredway is a senior associate at the Institute for Educational Leadership. In her educational career since 1969, she has been a D.C. school teacher, Socratic Seminar coordinator, project director for teacher education partnership at George Washington University and DCPS, and academic coordinator of the Principal Leadership Institute at U.C. Berkeley, where she helped to prepare 400 persons for administrative positions in Bay Area schools. With Norton Grubb, she authored Leading from the Inside Out: Expanded Roles for Teachers in Equitable Schools and several articles on Socratic Seminars and leadership. Her avocation: a fabric artist who makes story and memory quilts. Email: Lynda Tredway.

 

matt-herronMatt Herron has been a photographer, writer and photojournalist for most of his life. He has been an ocean voyager, an environmental activist (with Greenpeace), a welder, and a labor organizer. Today he directs Take Stock, a stock photography agency specializing in historical civil rights and farm labor images. In the summer of 1964, Herron organized a team of five photographers, the Southern Documentary Project, in an attempt to record the rapid social change taking place in Mississippi and other parts of the South. See the powerful photos from this effort and learn more in Mississippi Eyes: The Story and Photography of the Southern Documentary Project and at the Mississippi Eyes website. See Herron’s photos on Take Stock.

This lesson is adapted from a longer article/lesson by Lynda Tredway in Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching.

Go to Teaching About Selma for more lessons and related resources.

Posted Thursday, January 22, 2015 |

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