Socratic Seminars are the result of the work of Mortimer Adler, Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in Chicago. Adler published The Paideia Proposal (1982) and Paideia Problems and Possibilities (1983) in which he argued that education should be rooted in three goals: the acquisition of knowledge, the development of intellectual skills, and the enlarged understanding of ideas and values. The first goal can be accomplished through textbooks and didactic teaching in the content areas. The second goal can be developed through coaching, exercises, and supervised practice. The third goal can be achieved through Socratic Questioning and Active Participation using books (not textbooks), other works of art, or involvement in artistic activities (Paideia Proposal 23). The seminar begins with a teacher's question but is entirely different from the Socratic questioning style which many teachers already employ.
Teaching by discussion imposes still other requirements. For older children, it calls for more than a fifty-minute class period. It calls for a room in which the participants in the discussion sit around a table instead of in rows. The teacher is one of the participants, not the principal performer standing up in front of the group.
The teacher's role in discussion is to keep it going along fruitful linesby moderating, guiding, correcting, leading, and arguing like one more student! The teacher is first among equals. All must have the sense that they are participating as equals, as is the case in a genuine conversation. (Paideia Proposal 54)
The seminar is more than a common classroom discussion in that it is focused on a textbook, painting, poem, film clip, scientific hypothesis, etc. The Socratic Seminar is also a performance assessment, and as such, it begins with outcomes. Numerous critical thinking skills are addressed through the seminar method including analysis of text, synthesis of ideas, evaluation of concepts, and inferential reasoning. Of course, speaking and listening skills are developed as well. Socratic Seminars also include a written dimension. Students can write about the ideas presented or evaluate the quality of the seminar itself (participation, quality of comments, insights, new ideas). These activities can be used by all disciplines as teachers engage in discussing and evaluating concepts and texts in all content areas be they musical scores, paintings, mathematical theorems, or scientific experiments.
These three columns do not correspond to separate courses or disciplines, and one kind of teaching or learning is not confined to any one class.
|Acquisition of Organized Knowledge
||Development of Intellectual Skills (Skills of
||Enlarged Understanding of Ideas, Values, and Issues
Socratic Seminars are good preparation for individual explication or a comparison/contrast essay. Students can journal about the texts discussed.
from: Peter Winchell, Consultant. Socratic Seminars West.
One goal of seminars is to understand the ideas and thoughts of others through asking questions and listening to answers. This means that seminar participants must practice how to agree and disagree. Participants must be able to disagree without being disagreeable. In order to do so, the participants can use the following suggested ways of responding as a way of framing their thoughts before they speak. Speaking and responding in a calm, collaborative manner is essential to good discussion and dialogue.
Click here for a Seminar
[ON BOARD: "I see . . .," "I observe . . .," "I notice . . ."]
Opening Question: What would be a good title for this painting?
Give actual title.
___ 1. I came prepared for the seminar.
___ 2. I was courteous to the other students.
___ 3. I paused and thought before speaking.
___ 4. I listened to others tell their opinions.
___ 5. I kept an open mind for opinions different from my own.
___ 6. I acted as a positive role model for other students.
___ 7. I built on what was said just before I gave my opinion.
___ 8. I used fixed examples from the text to support statements.
___ 9. I felt comfortable speaking in the seminar.
___10. I gave my opinions clearly.
|Persons Observed||Uses Text||Listens +/o/-||Responds to Quest.||Paraphrases||Asks Quest.||Defers||Comments - Numbers or words|
Comments - Use these numbers for comments.
|What is the best idea you heard in the
How would you rate the seminar? (Check One)
___Excellent (Everyone participated, listened, had good ideas, did not
How many times did the facilitator have to stop the seminar?_____
Date______________ Name Group Reading Item
|1. Were the participants engaged early?|
|2. Did you make sure the questions were understood?|
|3. Did you ask questions that led to further questions?|
|4. Did you use the answers as the basis of follow-up questions?|
|5. Did you allow for discussion of disagreement?|
|6. Did you listen carefully to participants' questions?|
|7. Did you accept participants' answers without judgement?|
|8. Did you keep attention on ideas in the text/item being discussed?|
|9. Did you behave as a model of seminar participation?|
|10. Did you correct mis-readings of the text?|
|11. Did you allow time (pauses) for thinking?|
|12. Did you draw out reasons and implications?|
|13. Did you or did not reach closure?|
In the course of the seminar:
What was the most interesting question?
What was the most interesting idea to come from a participant?
What was the best thing you observed?
What was the most troubling thing you observed?
What do you think should be done differently in the next seminar?
|Main Concepts/Issues||Preliminary Activities||Seminar||Post Activities|
Oral Presentation Criteria
Other Presentation Criteria
|Demonstrates respect for learning process, has patience with different opinions and complexity, shows initiative by asking others for clarification, brings others into the conversation, moves conversation forward, speaks to all participants, avoids talking too much.||Generally shows composure but may display impatience with contradictory or confusing ideas, comments but does not necessarily encourage others to participate, may tend to address only the teacher or get into debates.||Participates and expresses a belief that his ideas are important in understanding the text, may make insightful comments but is either too forceful or too shy and does not contribute to the progress of conversation, tends to debate not discuss.||Displays little respect for the learning process, argumentative, takes advantage of minor distractions, uses inappropriate language, speaks to individuals rather than ideas, arrives unprepared without notes, a pencil, and perhaps even the text.|
|Understands question before answering, cites evidence from text, expresses thoughts in complete sentences, logical and insightful, moves conversation forward, makes connections between ideas, resolves apparent contradictory ideas, considers others' viewpoints not only his/her own, avoids bad logic.||Responds to questions voluntarily, comments show an appreciation for the text but not an appreciation for the subtler points within it, comments logical but not connected to other speakers, ideas interesting enough that others respond to them.||Responds to questions but may have to be called upon, has read the text but not put much effort into preparing questions and ideas for the seminar, comments take details into account but may not flow logically in conversation.||Extremely reluctant to participate even when called upon, comments illogical and meaningless, may mumble or express incomplete ideas, little or no account taken of previous comments or important ideas in the text.|
|Pays attention to details, writes down questions, responses take into account all participants, demonstrates that s/he has kept up, points out bad logic, overcomes distractions.||Generally pays attention and responds thoughtfully to ideas and questions of other participants and the teacher, absorption in own ideas may distract the participant from the ideas of others.||Appears to find some ideas unimportant while responding to others, may have to have questions repeated while not having confusing comments restated, takes few notes during the seminar.||Appears uninvolved in the seminar, comments display complete misinterpretation of questions or comments of other participants.|
|Thoroughly familiar with text, has notations and questions in the margins, key words, phrases, and ideas are underlined, possible contradictions identified, pronounces words correctly.||Has read the text and comes with some ideas from it but these may not be written out in advance, good understanding of the vocabulary but may mispronounce some new or foreign words.||Appears to have read or skimmed the text but has not marked the text or made meaningful notes or questions, shows difficulty with vocabulary, mispronounces important words, key concepts misunderstood, little evidence of serious reflection prior to the seminar.||Student is unprepared for the seminar, important words, phrases, ideas in the text are unfamiliar, no notes or questions marked in the text, no attempt made to get help with difficult material.|