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Socratic Seminar spurs intelligent conversation

A student in the outer circle of the seminar takes notes on the conversation occurring in the inner circle.

Socrates, a Greek philosopher, believed that the surest way to attain knowledge was through the practice of disciplined conversation.  A Socratic Seminar is a method where participants are engaged in discourse which is focused on a shared text.  Through the seminar, students gain a shared meaning of what the text is and what it is not.  This method aids in discovering deeper meanings of complex text, rather than memorizing bits of information.

English instructor, Mrs. Jan Anderson, uses this method when teaching reading and writing to her students.  “When my class did a Socratic Seminar in Mrs. Anderson’s class, our goal was to start a conversation with insightful questions and be able to look at the text in a different way,” said seventh grader Emily Meredith.  Mrs. Jan Anderson asks students to first write a few questions based on Marzano’s question stems related to the work they are reading.  These questions act as the sparks that ignite the conversation among members of the seminar.  The seminar is conducted with an inner and outer circle; the inner circle is concerned with the conversation and the outer circle evaluates the inside circle’s conduct.  Then, the circles switch roles.  During the seminar, students are encouraged to search the text for meaningful quotes and support their thinking through specific examples illustrating the importance of their thoughts and inferences.

The conversation is always lively but controlled as students are taught methods to manage the flow and direction of the inquiry.  They make sure that the conversation is not dominated by only a few and ask specifically for input from each student.  It is not an argument or debate but a discussion that hopefully leads to a consensus of meaning, as well as divergent thinking. Emily Meredith said, “The Socratic Seminar I did in class was a lot of fun and showed me how to look at the text in a story from different perspectives and get a better understanding of the author’s purpose.”  Ultimately, it is this acceptance of new ways to perceive a text and one another that allows for growth of the individual and his/her learning.

Written by: Emily Meredith, Jan Anderson and Brita Mann
Posted: Nov 21, 2011 by Brita Mann

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