This week, my graduate class held a Socratic seminar. Although I had heard of this teaching and discussion technique, I had never participated in one. We were all asked to submit one question based on our readings for the week, which were about the use of technology in classrooms. We formed two groups, with one group of four sitting at a table and discussing questions while another group of four, plus our professor, sat outside the circle and evaluated our participation in the group. We discussed the chosen topic for about 25 minutes before switching roles.
Our discussion was focused and informative. Although I was a little apprehensive at first since we were surrounded by our evaluators, I quickly became engrossed in the discussion. Each of my classmates was prepared with notes and ideas. The resources we had read and viewed were relevant to our work and provided many ideas to discuss. When our professor said it was time to wrap up, I could not believe how quickly 25 minutes went by. Each one of us was busy listening to each other, checking our notes and facts, and preparing to comment.
Since participating in this Socratic seminar, I can’t help but think of how it might work in my middle school classroom. This method aligns well with the Common Core State Standards. Students will have to read closely and really understand the text that is being discussed. It also addresses standards relating to holding discussions and asking relevant questions to further a discussion. Since students are in control during a Socratic seminar, the teacher can observe and gain valuable information about where they are struggling and where they are demonstrating strengths. I also like how a Socratic seminar gives a voice to everyone in the classroom. Many students shy away from class discussions, but in Socratic seminar there is an expectation that everyone will participate. The small group provides ample opportunity for everyone to express their thoughts.
There are many resources online about teaching with a Socratic seminar. This video from The Teaching Channel provides an example from a ninth grade language arts classroom. What I like most about this video is that it is not perfect. The students seem very unsure of themselves at first, even though this video shows their seventh Socratic seminar. It demonstrates that this technique is something to try repeatedly in the classroom to allow students to continue to develop their discussion skills.