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.
How to Create that Safe Space in Socratic Seminars
Every single school year, before I even begin to think about holding Socratic seminars in my classroom, the first thing I do is work to create a safe learning space for children. There are a variety of ways to do this (ice breakers, group games, activities). I always refer to the book Great Groups Games, 175 Boredom-Busting, Zero-Prep Team Builders for All Ages for game ideas. I love this book because it starts off with low investment type of games to ones that really call on trust in order to work. I want to start building relationships among the kids (and me) in the regular classroom setting and then will explicitly teach the expectations for Socratic seminars when we are in the circles. When we sit down to discuss, I will tell them that this is a sacred space for learning and it cannot be done right without the trust of every single person in the circle.
In the past, I’ve asked students to tell me what they think it means to have a safe space for learning. It usually boils down to these 4 things listed below.
What if Someone Breaks that Trust?
It’s extremely important to set students up for success in Socratic seminars by explicitly teaching the norms and addressing when a norm has been violated. If a student were to laugh at another student in circle, for example, I would excuse that student from the circle and have a conversation later about the importance of the work we are doing. I would also have that student sit out of the next discussion and simply observe as an outside circle participant. This usually works quickly because kids LOVE Socratic circles. I might even invite the student back to the inner circle if I feel s/he is ready before the next one. It’s an opportunity for them to talk to each other and express their thoughts. We know kids love to talk. This is their chance to do so! It’s a privilege. Especially because a lot of 6th grade teachers are not doing this in their classrooms. My sixth graders feel special and empowered that they are doing something most students don’t get to do until high school!
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Writer, Resource Creator, Curriculum and Course Developer