This week, our student blogger, Benjamin W., talks about his experience with our high school seminar classes.
When you think of a classroom, what comes to mind? Many people imagine a class with students sitting in rows, watching a teacher at the front of the classroom leading the class. The students are sitting silently, and respectfully, occasionally raising hands to answer questions posed by the teacher, who may be lecturing.
That is exactly what a seminar class does not look like. Yes, you read that correctly. Seminar. Discussion-based classes usually only appear in college, but I’ve had the privilege of participating in a few history or English seminar classes in high school. The typical class revolves around a student-led discussion. Students do not raise hands to speak. They are trusted to speak at appropriate times: when they have a point to make and someone else has finished speaking.
One of the questions you may now ask is, “If the teacher isn’t leading the discussion, how do the students know what to discuss?” The seminar discussions are based upon texts or sections of texts the class will examine and discuss. In fact, one of the teachers I had last year let the class decide what sections of a certain book we wanted to analyze.
The texts that we have discussed are interesting in their variety. One of them was The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings. In class, we discussed the major aspects of the philosophy, as well as how ideas from certain major writers supported or contradicted each other. Some of my other favorite texts discussed include Charlotte Temple and Zitkala-Sa’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. In my history seminar classes, rather than reading books over multiple weeks, the class examines several short excerpts from sources every week. These sources often display different perspectives on individual, specific topics. For example, my class once read different works written by Federalists and Antifederalists and examined their arguments.
Fortunately, the start of the pandemic was not the end of the seminar format. Last year, my classes were still able to hold seminars through Zoom. Breakout rooms also allowed for seminars in smaller groups. There have also been “asynchronous seminars” occurring in which students have conversed through discussion boards. While they don’t permit real-time discussion, the ability to see a variety of written responses has been useful, as it has allowed students to see a wide array of perspectives.
Seminar classes have allowed me to approach academics in a new, fun way. It's interesting to learn by hearing multiple voices in the classroom rather than here a sole opinion from a teacher.