Thursday, November 6, 2008

Blog #7 - Evaluate the Leadership Seminar

Please share your thoughts about the leadership seminar from last Monday at Berkshire. We want to hear both one positive thing and one thing that could be improved for next time (at least one thing). Use your ideas that we shared Monday in class or come up w/ some new ones.


  1. Overall, I think the seminar went very well. I wasn't sure what to expect before I got there, and truthfully, I was impressed with the eighth graders responses. They seemed to have well-developed opinions and I'm not sure I was as engaged in society when I was that age as some of them are.
    In my group, it seemed to work well going around in a circle because it got people involved that otherwise wouldn't be. They were very interested in the election and talking about the candidates sparked intelligent conversation. Breaking up into smaller groups was a good idea because I think it made them feel less intimidated.
    If I could change something, I would completely get rid of the whole "group leader" thing. It's not that it was a bad idea, it just didn't work as well in practice as it seemed to in theory. A lot of times, there was only one person talking and I think that deterred from the objective of the seminar. The person leading discussion talked a lot and this gave little room for others to speak. Also, I think it would be good to keep in mind the cirriculum of an eighth grader. I am not undermining their intelligence, but sometimes topics were brought up that they didn't understand and the conversation suffered.
    I think it would be interesting to have the eighth graders write questions as well. This would create a more equal environment and maybe involve more people in the discussion.

    -Rachael Malerman

  2. I think that the seminar at Berkshire was not only fun but useful and positive. I think a major positive in the seminar was the talk about the election and the overall traits of a leader. The two questions are opinionated but also gave a chance for the kids to see the other views and opinions. With the election, the majority was for Obama. But many of the students did not know why they would vote for him. And why they thought he was such a good leader. With the views from many different people the kids were able to see the other side of things. To me that is why we tried out this seminar. Also they questions about the traits of a leader were simple and to the point. Many felt that honesty was the biggest factor. But, using our philosophic minds, we were able to ask if it is ever ok to lie. This also made the kids think about the other sides. These kids got a lot out of this seminar and were able to move out of there comfort, black and white, views and were able to picture things in a new perspective... Could this be the works of Berkley!! I also believed that there was one negative. Obviously, the number of philosophers to students were wrong. I was in the group with more groves students than Berkshire so it made it hard to listen to a variety of views. Overall it was a great experience and I hope you do it in the trimesters to come.

    Ryan Bertrand
    Hour 5

  3. The seminar, I thought, was fairly productive. We had a few talkative kids in our group, surprisingly. Our group seemed really open, and full of personal ideas. There wasn’t any conflict between the seniors and eighth graders, or amongst the eighth graders themselves. Having the questions ahead of time helped guide the conversation. However, I don’t believe they should be a strict outline of how the seminar should go. It might be better to just have a free flowing seminar; one that is able to move from one subject to the other without any restrictions. I think some people fully stepped in to their positions as leaders, sometimes overpowering the other leaders. In the future, it would be better to just have all of the upperclassmen as leaders. The group size was adequate, but if the groups were smaller I think the eighth graders would say more. If the groups were more intimate the participants would be more obliged to say more about the subjects they are passionate for. The kids in my group were so insightful. Many of them seemed well-learned in the political area, and I think their class was well prepared in the subjects that we discussed. I would highly suggest that the philosophy class does this seminar again.

  4. Although our first leadership seminar went well the first time, there were still several things that can be improved for the future. First off, it was really great how comfortable most people felt with each other. At first, I feared that everyone would be too nervous, but this proved to not be the case. I felt that the discussion was wide open for all to join.

    A suggestion of mine for next time would to have smaller discussion groups. Although the one large group in the beginning was necessary, I believe that when we split up into smaller groups there should be at least two Berkshire students for each student from Groves. That way, the discussion can be lead by the Berkshire students.

  5. Overall I think the leadership seminar went very well. I think the 8th graders were respectful, and for the most part very involved in the discussion. I understand why some students were shy, we may not realize it but a group of high school students can be very intimidating. The one thing I think worked well was the way we shared our opinions with the 8th graders. It made the discussion more of a discussion rather than a Q and A. It helped the 8th graders warm up to the questions we were asking them. They were able to hear our opinions, and build ideas off what we had to say. I don’t think anyone spoke to long, or shared an irrelevant opinion. Personally, I think it was better that it was more of a discussion than a debate. Something I think didn’t work so well was the idea of group leaders. I don’t think this was a bad idea, I just think the job of the leader needed to be made clearer. I felt that because we only had one group leader only a few of us talked. Our leader did a good job, but made it hard for others to get involved. For the next seminar I don’t think there should be group leaders. I think each high school student should be assigned a certain question, lead the discussion for that questions, while still allowing others to join in. Another idea for next time would be to make sure the groups have an appropriate ratio. There shouldn’t be more high school students than 8th graders
    -Shayna S.

  6. I thought the field trip to Berkshire was a very positive experience, on both ends. I believe the eight graders were struck with thought provoking questions and the philosophy students learned how to hold a Socratic seminar. In addition, I would like to add that the topics discussed could be applied to the eighth graders’ lives outside the walls of Berkshire. Conversing about leadership gave the eighth graders some insight about the 2008 election, also. I was very surprised at how much the eight graders commented on the questions we asked. When Mark suggested that group one should go around in a circle to express everyone’s views, I believe, this was the most “Socratic” our discussion became. However, a negative point concerning the leadership seminar was that I did not like how there was only a few assigned leaders to each group. I think it would be better if each philosophy student should switch positions. I believe this would help the eighth graders become more comfortable because they would not witness philosophy students sitting quietly and instead this would cause them to be more engaged in the discussion. Overall, this leadership seminar became more focused on the 2008 elections and candidates instead of the basic leadership questions we were assigned. I suggest next time the philosophy students should shy away from polarizing questions like “who would you vote for,” etc.

    Leah Cenko

  7. I think the experience was mainly positive. I think the eight graders were open to the idea of the Socratic Seminar. They seemed responsive and nearly all of them participated. At first I was apprehensive about the whole thing, mainly because I didn’t know how to interact with the kids in such a way that would be conducive for discussion. I wanted to ask them so many questions and I wanted to have follow-up questions to pry into their thinking. I wanted them to discuss and debate their points. In that sense I was let down. I think a lot of us wanted the same things I did but maybe we went about getting it the wrong way. The discussion turned into an impersonal Q&A with undertones of a Litmus Test. It seemed like we just probed their opinions on leadership and the president. Also the way we worded our questions in an attempt to get more support for their answers was flawed. We led them into “yes or no” areas which killed the discussion all together. I think everyone put forth an effort to make this work but I think nothing is perfect the first time. Sitting in the circle allowed everyone to see everyone which makes a favorable condition for discussing. I think the best thing we did was go around and ask names in the small groups. I think that set a foundation. That foundation made the kids feel like they were important and they had a voice, even if they said nothing for the rest of the discussion. It seemed more personal and less intimidating when some calls your name instead of “you kid in the shirt”. Also the fact that we participated in the discussion added positively to the experience. When we added facts of opinions it added a new dynamic to the discussion it gave everyone a slightly different take on what had been said prior. It also sparked responses in the eight graders who felt like we were there to discuss as equals not as superiors. Over all the seminar was a success. For next time I think we should have broader based questions to allow discussion to occur and avoid the Q&A.

  8. I thought that the leadership seminar was a very good idea. It was a good way for people to express their opinions on topics that mean a lot to our society today. Going in to it, I didn’t really think that it would be that great. To be honest, I was surprised at how much some of the kids knew and their opinions on the leaders in our government today. Something that I think could be a little different for next time I think that we should maybe have smaller groups. It would make it easier to give everyone a chance to talk. Like in our own class, there are the few people that dominate the discussion. Even though we said we would make sure we would get everyone to talk, still not everyone did. If we were in smaller groups, with less leaders, I think that everyone would be more comfortable to talk and express their opinions. Overall, I enjoyed going to Berkshire and talking with the 8th graders. I got a lot more out of it than I thought I would.

  9. I think the leadership conference was very successful overall. I was really happy that the eighth graders participated as much as they did, and I enjoyed talking with them. I think the thing that worked the best was the set up of the seminar. I really liked that we sat in a circle and could see everyone’s faces. I also thought it was good that we went around and introduced ourselves. I wish we would have had more time to talk with them, because I feel like my group focused a lot on politics, which was fine, but wish we would have had enough time to talk about aspects of leadership that pertain to their individual lives. Next time, I think it will be easier to get more of the kids involved if we talk about leadership in their school, family, and with their friends. Also, if we had more time, we’d be able to do an ice breaker game, which may be good to help the shy kids feel more comfortable and willing to share their ideas.


  10. I think that generally the leadership seminar went very well. Although some of the kids were shy, I’m pretty sure that everyone contributed something to the discussion at one point or another. One positive thing that encouraged everyone to talk was the decision to have everyone go around the circle and say something, because even the kids who really, really didn’t want to talk said something. Also, when no one wanted to say anything at all, I think it was helpful to have some of the high school students share their opinions to get the discussion moving, although sometimes they talked for a little too long. Next time we should be careful not to spend as much time talking about our own views, and instead just mention them in order to coax the eighth graders to talk.
    One thing I think we could improve on next year is encouraging the eighth graders to use specific examples to back up their claims. The discussion went well, but everything we discussed was very abstract, and using concrete evidence would force the eighth graders to think about the implications of their beliefs. Also, the seminar focused too much on government, probably because the election was the next day. Instead, we should steer the kids towards thinking about other kinds of leaders, such as religious leaders or other leaders in their community, as well as leaders their own age. This would have encouraged them to consider topics more obviously relevant to their own lives.

  11. I believe one of the greatest thing of the whole process was that the connection between the seniors and the 8th graders worked out. There was some mutual understanding and a connection. Both parties tried to make things work, even though the 8th graders were nervous. There was some flow, since we had some organization and a chain we wanted to follow, but things never fully got wraped up and summarized. One of the biggest things that hit me was the ending and how limited we were on our time. I think in the future its important to provide more time, maybe finish up and summarize things at the end, and not place too much pressure on the 8th graders (Comfort level needs to be good). The whole process was great, and there can be improvements made. Maybe a topic of the future can be: What we question in life, what is important in life during their time right now compared to a few years back.
    ~Dmitry Ionan

  12. I think that the seminar went really well. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the students knew about the election and politics and I think they did a great job responding to our questions. I think we did a good job at keeping them pretty interested. However, I thought we should have focused the discussion more on leaders and less on actual politicans and then maybe later we could have shown some connections between what we discussed and the candidates. Also, a few questions asked were really difficult for the kids to understand- even a lot of us philosophy students didn't understand some, and a few others were ridiculously leading and that's just not cool. I think we need to be completely objective when talking to the 8th graders so they can draw their own conclusions. But overall, I think it was a really positive experience.

  13. Allison LaSota

    I thought that having the questions were a good guide. The questions gave us a guide and also gave us something to look back on when the discussion was not going anywhere. The questions were kind of a safety.
    In my group, I thought there was a good 8th grader to student ratio. We had more 8th graders than high school students, so it was did not seem like we were over powering them.
    I also thought sitting in the circle was good. It allowed everyone to be able to see everyone. I thought it was good that we sat in between the 8th graders to make it feel more relaxed and like we were part of the discussion.
    I thought that talking about the election was a good lead in. In made some kids comfortable because they were familiar with the topic and most had an opinion on it.

    Some of the 8th graders were reluctant to speaking. We had to force some to talk, while still some refused. I think this is because we were some what intimating at the beginning because towards the end of the discussion they had warmed up and more were speaking.
    Although we went around the circle and said our names it was hard to remember the 8th graders names. It would have been nice to have name tags for them.
    The main discussion leader in my group took control of the group. Although it was nice to have someone in control and leading the group it was hard for others to contribute.
    The 8th graders political views did not seem to be fully developed. Even though they knew what candidate they wanted, they did not know why. We could of maybe discussed leaders that were more prevalent in their lives such as their principle or sports team captain.

  14. I thought it went quite well, the kids were engaged and had great thoughts and ideas that they were for the most part comfortable sharing. I think we as juniors and seniors made them feel very confident that we were interested in hearing what they had to say, and that we were not going to judge them. I liked that we were divided up, however like we said in class, within my group to high school to middle school student ratios were uneven. I thought it was great that we were all in a circle and we were sitting next to the kids rather than talking to them from the front of classroom or something. I think next time, we should have a more thorough topic to discuss, and a better high school student to middle school student ratio. Overall, I believe it was successful.

  15. I was very impressed with the leadership seminar that took place this past Monday. The 8th graders seemed to have a good understanding about both the presidential election and the issues our country is facing. By splitting into two smaller groups we were able to connect with the students on a more personal level. Something that I believe can be improved is not having a leader. Our class happens to be VERY opinionated as well as dominant. It was obvious that one person took charge over the group and didn’t let the others have a voice. In my opinion the leader was asking too much from the kids when they were unable to answer a question or didn’t understand. Other than that it worked quite well considering it was everyone’s first time and no one knew what to expect.
    Katie Grundy

  16. Some topics that you could do for the next time that we go to Berkshire should revolve more around the types of things that they can not only understand, but relate to. One such topic would be about friendship, what it is, how do you get it, and how do you keep it. This would keep there attention because every one of those kids has at least one friend that they could talk about. It also may help some of the kids that aren’t that good at making friends, know what to do to make new friends.

    Another topic would be what a “good” person is. This one may be a little bit over their heads, but it might just bring out new fresh ideas. This is also more of an opinion based thought because no one has the same definition of good, we have tested that in class, and it would bring out the best in them to try and challenge them.

    The last one isn’t really a question, but we could figure out what they are learning in the class, and then make up a question based off of that. We could also take a survey of the class to find out what they want to know, doing this would give some of the kids a more personal feeling toward the topic. However, this could backfire because we are taking the assumption that they would be willing to venture out into what they have no idea about and come back with gold.

    My question would be… Is it possible to have the perfect season in reverse?

  17. Since I was not at the leadership seminar, you’ve asked me to suggest possible discussion topics for future seminars. I understand that the idea for the leadership seminar was sparked by the temporal proximity of the seminar to the presidential election, but I think that in the future, since there won’t always be an election going on in the backdrop, topics should stay away from politics. In middle school, not many kids are remotely interested in politics yet, and those who are have very rough and unformed political opinions (I seem to recall even Derek confessing that his political opinions in 8th grade were not well formed). Any philosophy class of 11th and 12th graders, on the other hand, is sure to be full of strongly opinionated students who know a good deal about politics (relatively speaking). It isn’t exactly fair to the 8th graders if their discussion leaders know so much more about the topic than them.
    That’s why I think that future seminar topics should be things that you can’t really have knowledge about. Things like the existence of souls, the nature of evil, and the nature of perception – while we may have had more time to think about these things than the 8th graders, it isn’t a matter of being better versed in a specific realm of knowledge, as is the case with politics. God probably isn’t a good idea, since we don’t want a horde of angry moms coming after us, but things like reason vs. sensory perception could work well. It should be something that will put the 8th graders more or less on equal ground with us.

  18. Overall, I think the seminar went better than I expected. I was very worried about it being awkward and having a comprehension gap, but both of these things didn't exist. Some things went well and some things could definitely be improved upon.

    Understanding questions wasn't too hard for the 8th graders. They weren't given enough time though to register what was being asked, but eventually still got it. We just need to give them some time to marinade in their thoughts.
    Part of this problem was due to the ratio of 12th to 8th graders. There should have been much smaller groups once we split up and contained a ratio of 1 12th grader to at least 2 8th graders.
    Also, I think that the topic of leadership was too focused on the election (like I said in class). They don't have too many opinions or too much back up to the ones they posses so politics shouldn't be the driving force. Topics should look at things more relevant to them like popularity and clicks or principles, teachers, and students.


  19. the Seminar in my opinion was a success. however,Like all successful things, there is a small bit of room for improvment. I truly did not hear Prolonged opinions from a big number of Students AND the High school instructors. I would have liked to hear the opinions because it is good to get as many viewpoints as possible. It is good because it shows me that maybe there is not One concrete definition to things and that maybe i can betterunderstand something by listening to what others have to say about it. All elseaside, i thought that it was a Smashing success. we had a few good questions that really got through to the kids and showed them why the class we are taking is great. With a scale of one to ten, with ten being Perfect and one being God awful, i would give it a nine because i would like to see more people interacting and showing their points of view.

    - August Orlow


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