Director of Teaching & Learning Miles Azzeh's Academic Spotlight: Michaela Fitzgerald
Our Lansing USD 469 teachers are incredible at engaging our students in fantastic learning opportunities to reach their full potential every day in our district. To highlight and bring recognition to this great work, Director of Teaching and Learning Miles Azzeh will be regularly shining a spotlight on a stand-out teacher through "academic spotlights."
April 4, 2022 Academic Spotlight by Mr. Miles Azzeh:
Two of the most important skills a student can learn and improve on are:
- Thinking critically
- Using dialogue about a topic/text with their peers to learn more
This week’s academic spotlight is on a teacher who constantly strives to improve the above skills with her students: Michaela Fitzgerald. Mrs. Fitzgerald was kind enough to invite me into her classroom to observe her junior students engaging in a Socratic seminar. In case you need a refresher on Socratic seminars, here’s an excerpt from the website Read. Write. Think.:
“The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others.”
As a testament to Michaela’s innovation, she had everyone participate in a slight variation of the traditional Socratic seminar by forming an inside and outside circle of students. This is a great strategy to employ because it decreases the size of the group interacting and forces the students in the outside circle to listen closely. Kudos to Mrs. Fitzgerald for using this technique, as well as her own spin on things by asking the outside circle to respond with their shoulder partners when someone in the inner circle said something meaningful. Eventually, the outside circle participants switched places with the inside circle and had a chance to discuss their books.
I was so impressed with the level of discussion amongst the students. Not only were they discussing important/complex topics (The American Dream, alcoholism, poverty, etc.), but they were also doing an excellent job of citing their books or the excerpt that Mrs. Fitzgerald provided them to prove their points. The ability to use evidence from the text is an important and beneficial skill, even beyond an ELA class. I also loved the text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections the students were making.
I am so happy for the invitation to come and watch this fantastic lesson. It is apparent from the engagement and behavior of the students that Mrs. Fitzgerald has worked hard to establish a culture of dialogue and reflection in her class. They are lucky to have her as their teacher…as are we here in Lansing USD 469!