How to have a Socratic seminar
A big part of making Socratic seminars work in my classroom is explicitly teaching kids how to have a conversation with a group of people. The more specific I am about how to do this, the better it ends up being in the long run. The last thing you want to do is try to jump into Socratic seminars without giving them any guidelines and just assuming they will get it. They won’t. It will end up being a giant mess and it’s way harder to go back and try to redo something like this after it goes wrong rather than taking the time and setting the students up for success. Plus, if that is all you have planned for the period and it crashes and burns within the first 10 minutes, your stuck with nothing left to do the rest of the period.
Why is a Safe Space in Socratic Seminars Important?
I believe that a safe learning space is important in any classroom, whether you are doing Socratic seminars or not, but especially important here. Why? Because students need to be comfortable to make mistakes, ask questions and not feel threatened if they are challenged by a peer for their opinion or their understanding of something. During Socratic Seminars, students have to trust that they are being heard and that their voice is valued. They must also understand the importance of listening to one another.
I was using Socratic Seminars before I even knew what they were and you might be, too! When I first started teaching, I was given a basal reader. A script to (I assumed) memorize and then recite to my students. There were comprehension questions that got at the surface of the 5 page story, an excerpt from a novel and then a multiple choice and writing prompt for students. I would wait for them to complete it, about a third of them would, then I’d go over the answers. After that, I would move onto math. I remember one day I was reading a story to the class and I had them make a prediction. We turned the page to see if the prediction could be confirmed and it was the end of the story! No more left. The next section went onto the comprehension questions. What? I kept flipping the pages back and forth as my students idea that school was a waste of time was reinforced into their minds. This program was seriously the least engaging program I had ever seen. The entire process of read, answer 5 multiple choice questions and write a response took away any joy there might be in reading.
Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer