A couple of weeks ago, I had a pleasure of sharing with our district’s GPAC (Gifted Program Advisory Council) about how the Paideia seminars are implemented as a gifted provision for all children.* It was an opportunity to share with the stakeholders what a continuum of rigorous literacy instruction for all children looks like in middle school.
I can say with certainty that implementing Paideia seminars has been a gradual yet impactful literacy instruction that addresses the needs of all learners regardless of their labels. The beauty of this particular gifted service is that it is an authentic instructional tapestry woven by classroom teachers’ expertise on literacy and their knowledge of students’ learning profiles.
Through ongoing modeling and co-leading with classroom teachers for the past year and a half, we see that seminar helps us face our own implicit biases buried underneath our practices and create entry points for us to enlarge our gifted pool among all children. The text-based, value-driven and open-ended discussions seminar offers have allowed students to personalize their own learning paths through a goal-setting exercise before and after each seminar.
Here’s our observation on how Paideia seminars’ literacy instruction bridges the opportunity gap in classrooms:
- What all children need is a chair, a nameplate, the text, and their body. Seminar eliminates the need for executive function skills to access contents and concepts. It frees students from the daily hurdles of do’s and don’ts of organizational skills.
- Sitting in a large circle removes “the caste system” of who’s who among children. There’s no need for the predictable seating chart: unspoken yet palpable walls come down between compliant and non-compliant children, between gifted and non-gifted children, between Whites and Black students.
- The seminar facilitator sits on the same eye level with the students as a way to remove barriers between adult and children. It affirms and honors young people as professionals whose ideas are and thoughts can be expressed through the prism of their personalities and experiences.
- Students do not raise their hands for a teacher to affirm their spaces but they enter into a dialogic system mirroring the cultural roots of call and response. This ritualistic approach to instruction relinquishes teacher control. Facilitators also do not affirm, deny, or acknowledge one opinion over another but lead the discussions based on what students bring to the table.
- A text for discussions can be a work of art, a map, a chart, or a photograph that has multiple viewpoints. Any artifact that is rich in ideas that are ambiguous invite culturally sustainable discussions where Black and brown students, English Learners, and other students who have different learning styles become collaborators and meaning-makers of ideas, concepts, or content.
- As the seminar is led for multiple days by students themselves, it brings out those students who would not normally engage in listening and talking. It provides introverts talking space and allows extroverts to lose themselves in listening to others throughout multiple days of seminar discussions.
- Students personalize their learning goals at the beginning and end of the seminar discussion each day to reflect and become better readers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers.
Adler, M. The paideia proposal: educational manifesto.
Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2012). Think like a seminar. Educational Leadership, 70(4), 68–72.
Kirkland, D. (2011). Listening to echoes: teaching young black men literacy and the distraction of ELA standards. Language Arts, 88(5), 373–380.