Socratic Seminar

Students, check out the NEW SS for student eval.

Socratic Seminars are an essential part of my pedagogy, which encourages a collaborative dialectical experience in the Composition and Literature classrooms.

About once a month students read an assigned text (I tend to use the most challenging texts we study), upload and print a reading diary before arriving to class the day of the seminar. The classroom is arranged in an inner circle and an outer circle, with an equal number of students in each. The inner circle, which is literally inside the outer circle, has 20-30 minutes to discuss the text. While the inner circle engages in discussion, the outer circle is silent, but they can participate by writing notes for their partners in the circle to share, if they choose. This allows introverts to be involved in low-stress way, while also encouraging team work. At the close of the 20-30 minutes the circles switch and the outer circle has 20-30 minutes to discuss the text from new perspectives.

When I prep students for their first seminar I explain the criteria for earning points (demonstrate familiarity with the text and relevant class concepts; consistently seek to participate in conversation; respectfully respond to colleagues; offer thoughtful, relevant questions; demonstrate critical thinking and inquiry). They learn that they can work together to be sure that everyone in the learning community earns the required points (this shifts the emphasis from competition to collaboration). If a student monopolizes the conversation, s/he receives a “5 minute freeze” (which is a good thing) so that quieter colleagues can enter the conversation.

Socratic Seminars flip the classroom by allowing students to guide the conversation. I’ve noticed that even in classes where students are consistently engaged with class concepts these seminars offer surprisingly productive results. Students learn that they truly are Freirean student-teachers; their confidence and ownership of ideas increases; and I am also to receive immediate feedback on those concepts which require continued, deeper study.

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