A seminar is a discussion that is focused around an essential question. The discussion should try to elicit an in-depth answer to that question. The discussion should be grounded in specific evidence and sources. Students are expected to address and question each other and to conduct the discussion with a minimum of teacher involvement. The seminar provides you with an opportunity to make connections between the pieces of evidence, sources, your own experience, and the world around you. A seminar involves three components:
- Seminar Prep: A thesis statement should be prepared that responds to the seminar question and is supported with evidence. A seminar prep graphic organizer should be completed prior to the seminar. Students must be prepared to participate in the seminar.
- Seminar Discussion: The seminar usually lasts the whole period. You will receive credit based on your preparation and participation. In the seminar you must refer to and cite specific evidence and sources as much as possible. You should support your thesis, and provide clear analysis. You should listen carefully to what others contribute and try to respond with relevant points and information.
- Seminar Assessment: Some form of self-assessment and reflection is required.
Seminars help you develop speaking, listening, reading and critical thinking skills as well as help you process important content from the course. They also provide important preparation for college seminar-based courses.
Some key points to remember:
- Follow all discussion norms (see below)
- Address your classmates more than the teacher.
- Stay focused on the seminar question.
- Respect the ideas and opinions of everyone in the class.
- Avoid debating. A seminar is a discussion.
- Listen actively, look at speaker
- Use respectful tone, even when disagreeing
- Balanced contribution to discussion (move up/move back)
- Considers/open to multiple/alternative perspectives
- Uses Open Forum sentence starters/accountable talk
Seminar Resources for Students
As an opener/hook for the seminar, the recent exchange over busing that took place between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden during the first round of the 2020 Democratic candidate debates is a great snapshot of some of the issues that will be discussed, highlighting everything from the debate over the role of federal mandate versus local desegregation plans, to the different perspectives of a white male politician versus a student of color.
You can find a link to the exchange here: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/06/27/kamala_harris_vs_joe_biden_for_opposing_federal_bussing_that_little_girl_was_me.html
Also introduce students to the landmark 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court decision Sheff v. O’Neill that mandated efforts to desegregate Hartford’s public schools. In the case, the court ruled 4-3 in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring that “the existence of extreme racial and ethnic isolation in the public school system deprives schoolchildren of a substantially equal educational opportunity and requires the state to take further remedial measures.” In their essay on the topic, Jack Dougherty, Jesse Wanzer and Christina Ramsay write, “Connecticut’s judicial branch advanced the cause of school integration at a time when the federal government was retreating.”56 They go on to outline, however, the pitfalls and limited success the decision had in instituting real lasting change. In their conclusion they explain, “The 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the existing system of school districting unconstitutional, but the 1997 legislature merely required each district to report on its progress toward racial and economic diversity while providing millions of dollars of interdistrict magnet and city-suburban transfer funding without mandating any goals for suburban participation.” They note that under the settlement, not a single suburban district is required to either send students to the interdistrict magnets in Hartford, nor accept Hartford students through the program known as “Project Choice.”57
I have included many resources for students. You or they can choose (or excerpt) from the list provided to make for a manageable/reasonable amount of sources for classroom use. As students read and annotate articles in preparation for the seminar. They can also fill out a source analysis sheet in which they summarize the author’s main argument, find and explain two quotes that support that main idea, and then provide three reasons why they either agree or disagree with the author.
Here are articles in defense of Sheff:
Here are articles critical of Sheff:
Next, have students listen to/read the transcript of an excerpt from This American Life’s episode on school desegregation “The Problem We All Live With - Part II.” It documents Hartford’s post-Sheff attempts to desegregate its city schools through aggressive advertisement of its interdistrict magnet schools to suburban families.
Shifting from the Hartford example, here is a short PBS NewsHour video documenting New York City’s recent efforts to desegregate its schools. It highlights the efforts of student activists, another good example of showing people (particularly students) of colors as change agents.
Shifting to the intersection of housing and school segregation and their reciprocal relationship, the Poverty & Race Research Action Council has an incredible resource for their special project entitled “Housing-School Nexus.” It includes links to many different publications and resources that could be of value.
The following sources are all focused on addressing housing segregation specifically. Even though the seminar question addresses school segregation, part of the purpose of the unit is to make clear the relationship between housing segregation and school segregation in the United States. And so, when brainstorming possible solutions to addressing school segregation, these sources are to get students thinking about ways in which people are working to desegregate housing, which could then have a subsequent effect on the desegregation of schools.
This post is from the Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review. It evaluates where we are fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act and documents current housing desegregation setbacks under the Trump Administration.
This Hartford Courant article details how wealthier and predominantly white Connecticut towns (with a focus on Westport, CT) have resisted zoning laws that would allow more affordable housing, and thus more integration.
The Partnership for Strong Communities is a Connecticut-based “statewide nonprofit policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut.” Their campaign HOMEConnecticut works to create more affordable housing throughout the state. This is a brochure/advertisement they put out touting the benefits of mixed-income housing in the state.
This piece begins with a recent quote from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claiming that housing should be “legislated as a human right.” It goes on to explain housing proposals of some of the major 2020 Democratic candidates.
*Note: Many of the above sources focus on Connecticut where I teach. If you live in another state, you can look for more relevant local sources for your students as well.
THESIS STATEMENT (CLAIM):
|Evidence: Which evidence (facts, cases, quotes, statistics, etc.) best proves your thesis?
|Source: From which source did you get this information?
|Explain: State the evidence in your own words, and explain why it is important. Show how it connects to your thesis.
Additional Analysis: You may…
Counterclaim: What point might someone who believes the opposite of you and/or an alternative perspective try to make? What evidence would they use to support their claim?
Refute: How would you respond to them? What evidence and/or analysis could you use to disprove or discredit their claim?
Discussion Question: (A higher-level question that doesn’t have a simple yes/no or one word answer that could get people talking about the issue)
Concluding Statement: (Powerful last words that sum up your argument)