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Socratic Seminars

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Renee Randall

on 9 June 2011

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Transcript of Socratic Seminars

What is a SOCRATIC SEMINAR? It's basically the coolest thing in the world. It's like a literature circle on steroids. You see, there was this Greek philosopher-guy named Socrates (ca. 470-399 B.C.) who believed the best way to obtain reliable knowledge is through the practice of disciplined conversation. (He called this method dialectic.) This is the basis of his Theory of Knowledge. So...a Socratic discussion is designed to help students develop higher order thinking skills through discussion and questioning. Socrates believed that people learn more effectively through self-discovery than through being told the answer or correct interpretation. Socrates believed that it is more important to enable students to THINK FOR THEMSELVES. Therefore, he regularly engaged his students in dialogues by responding to their questions with questions, instead of answers. Open-ended questions allow students to think critically, analyze multiple meanings in text, and express ideas with clarity and confidence. Participants feel a certain degree of emotional safety when they understand that this format is based on DIALOGUE and not debate.

Once teachers and students learn to dialogue, they find that the ability to ask meaningul questions that stimulate thoughtful interchanges of ideas is more important than "the answer." DIALOGUE is characterized by
suspending judgement
examining our own work and ideas without defensiveness
exposing our reasoning and looking for limits to it
communicating our underlying assumptions
exploring viewpoints more broadly and deeply
approaching someone who sees a problem differently not as an adversary, but as a classmate in common pursuit of better solution DIALOGUE vs. DEBATE dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of answers and that COOPERATION can lead to a greater understanding.
creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change debate assumes a single right answer that somebody already has
creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to be right A critical element of the Socratic Seminar is the staging of questions: 1. OPENING QUESTIONS: establish theme and ideas of the discussion as well as the interests of the group members; begins discussion. 2. CORE QUESTIONS: establish the main issue to be discussed; they are broad and sustain an involved discussion. Other questions should be able to spin off the main core questions. 3. TEXT ANALYSIS QUESTIONS: designed to bring the reader's discussion back to the text for support. They usually focus on a key passage or word. 4. FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS: not prepared, but follow from the group's discussion. They are used to clarify or to establish support of discussion points. 5. CLOSING QUESTIONS: promote personalization of the discussion. They explore how the text can relate to the participants' lives. Don’t raise hands, enter the conversation naturally
Listen to and build on one another's comments
Invite others into the discussion
Refer to the text
Comments must be appropriate/respectful/focused
Whenever possible, all contributions should be backed up by the text. Contributions to the discussion can also be supported by making a connection to another text or experience they've had Socratic Seminar Guidelines: Socratic Seminars can be arranged in two ways: as ONE BIG CIRCLE involving the entire class, OR
as TWO CIRCLES formed like a donut with the inside circle discussing and the outside circle observing If using two circles, the outside circle should be provided with observation forms, questions, or checklists to use during the inside circles' discussion. Students in the inside circle should bring a copy of their text and all relevant homework and notes with them into the circle. As the leader, the teacher will only be asking questions--not giving answers. The teacher is the "guide on the side."

The teacher - and eventually, the student leader - cannot participate except to keep the conversation flowing. (At first, the teacher may need to give direction.) With two circles, allow the first group 10-30 minutes to discuss. At the end of their discussion, the outside circle participates by discussing the observations that they have made about the seminar. Again, the importance of appropriate/respectful/focused responses is emphasized. Then, the groups switch and the outside circle becomes the inside circle and they discuss the text at hand and the new outside circle observes. Most importantly, EVERYONE IS INVOLVED AND ENGAGED. What are some of the benefits of using Socratic seminars? provides opportunities for critical readings of texts
teaches respect for diverse ideas, people, and practices
potential for creating a positive learning environment for ALL students
creates a community of inquiry
develops strategies for critical thinking, building self-esteem, and problem-solving
quality time to engage in in-depth discussions, problem solving and clarification of one's ideas, ethics, and values
puts the student right smack in the center of the learning as an active and engaged participant 2nd Language Acquistion Myth #3: "Once second language learners are able to speak reasonably fluently, their problems are likely to be over in school."

REALITY: "The ability to speak a second language (especially in conversational settings) does not guarantee that a student will be able to use the language effectively in academic settings." Literacy Myth #1: "Because literacy is so important these days, we need to spend as much time as it takes during the regular school day teaching English literacy, even if it means holding off on content area instruction."

REALITY: "If ELLs are only taught English literacy, their academic development will be delayed. It is essential that ELLs be well grounded in both English literacy and content area knowledge." Literacy Myth #2: "When teaching newcomers, it is best to hold off on reading and writing instruction until they have a pretty good grasp of oral English."

REALITY: "L2 learners should be exposed to meaningful experiences with print in English from early on in thier English learning." Literacy Myth #5: "ELLs need to be given lots of writing exercises and practice with the parts of written language before being asked to write their own messages."

REALITY: "ELLs need lots of authentic opportunities to write in order to become writers, and they should not be kept from writing until they have been taught the component parts of the language...." Pre-Seminar Question-Writing:
Before you come to a Socratic Seminar class, please read the assigned text (novel section, poem, essay, article, etc.) and write at least one question in each of the following categories:

Write a question connecting the text to the real world.

Example: If you were given only 24 hours to pack your most precious
belongings in a back pack and to get ready to leave your home town, what
might you pack? (After reading the first 30 pages of NIGHT).

Write a question about the text that will help everyone in the
class come to an agreement about events or characters in the text. This
question usually has a "correct" answer.

Example: What happened to Hester Pyrnne's husband that she was
left alone in Boston without family? (after the first 4 chapters of THE

Write an insightful question about the text that will require proof
and group discussion and "construction of logic" to discover or explore the
answer to the question.

Example: Why did Gene hesitate to reveal the truth about the
accident to Finny that first day in the infirmary? (after mid-point of A

Write a question dealing with a theme(s) of the text that will
encourage group discussion about the universality of the text.

Example: After reading John Gardner's GRENDEL, can you pick out its existential elements?

LITERARY ANALYSIS QUESTION: Write a question dealing with HOW an author
chose to compose a literary piece. How did the author manipulate point of
view, characterization, poetic form, archetypal hero patterns, for example?

Example: In MAMA FLORA'S FAMILY, why is it important that the
story is told through flashback?
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