"To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge."
Socratic seminars are a strategy that I had heard of but knew nothing about, nor did I know anyone who used them. Unit Seven on Socratic Seminars with Peter Paccone has been the unit that I have learned the most from as I had no prior knowledge. I had made some assumptions that it would be some sort of discussion strategy based on knowledge of Socrates and his influence, but that was all.
Peter provided a simple but clear definition of what a Socratic seminar was, calling it a "...formal discussion led by students based on a text." He also made it very clear that a Socratic seminar is not a debate; that it is not about making a point, to win the discussion.
One of the aspects of this strategy is how simple it can be to execute. It would of course require some training for the students so that they understand how it is supposed to work and for those who are often more reserved in conversation to realise that they will not be shouted down, however, I can see how it would be useful in a range of subject areas.
One area I can see as being challenging is that, as Peter explained this strategy, the teacher does not get involved in the discussion except to return the discussion to the topic if it veers significantly of course. This means that even if there is an awkward silence, that the teacher's voice should not fill it, or if there is some kind of failure in process, or in logic, if fallacies are being employed, the teacher remains quiet. They can, perhaps, be reflected upon after the fact, but this strategy is largely about challenging students to think their position through, to argue in the classical sense of the word, without seeking to win.
Jon asked Peter to outline why a teacher should or would want to use Socratic seminars in their classroom. Peter's response was interesting. He acknowledged that while they take some work to get them going and build them into the culture of the classroom, that teaching also takes work to get it right and that the benefits, improved questioning, reasoning, and speaking, are worth the investment in time.
If you do use Socratic seminars as a teaching strategy, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the strategy and the sorts of texts and opening questions you use.
Thank you for reading.