The Socratic Seminar is often thought of as a discussion tool–a way to foster student dialogue around important topics–much like its namesake, Socrates, instigated thought and dialogue around the issues of his day. While true, this statement leaves much unsaid. In reality, the classroom Socratic Seminar, when well-planned and executed, fosters important reading and comprehension skills, helps students build and communicate evidence-based arguments, all in addition to helping students deeply consider the complexities of the topic at hand.
Karl Knerr, sixth grade language arts teacher at Fall Creek Intermediate School, describes how the process unfolds in his class: “Students read articles closely, identify and underline the author’s claim/central idea of the text, highlight textual evidence that supports the claim, and mark the text. Next, they create 2-3 good interpretive questions that they will use during the discussion (these should also be supported with textual evidence).”
When discussion day arrives, students have already digested the articles and formed questions that will guide discussion. . They have a basic understanding of the broad issue/topic addressed (albeit still from only their own perspective). By this time in the school year, Mr. Knerr’s students know what is expected of them during a Socratic Seminar. They’ve learned about sensitivity to other points of view, about the importance of listening as well as speaking, and about giving evidence to support their claims. In observing a recent Socratic Seminar in Mr. Knerr’s class, HSE21 Shorts was amazed at the natural ebb and flow of the conversation amongst these eleven- and twelve-year-olds, and at how politely and intently they listened to their peers, even to the point of purposefully creating space in the conversation for the quieter students to be heard.
“What I’ve seen from our Socratic discussions,” remarked Mr. Knerr, “is a deeper understanding about ideas and values in the text through different points-of-view. Students question and examine issues related to what they’ve read, and connect to the Indiana Academic standards we are currently studying. We constantly analyze, interpret, listen, and participate with our peers to gain knowledge. Students think out loud and share ideas openly while exploring deeper issues in the text. They often make great connections between the texts as well.”