An effective Socratic Seminar creates dialogue as opposed to debate. Dialogue creates "better conversation”
The practice of Socratic Seminars teaches students to recognize the differences between dialogue and debate to strive to increase the qualities of dialogue and reduce the qualities of debate in each Socratic Seminar. Some of the most significant differences between dialogue and debate are presented below
As students, you will think more deeply about what your read and you will have a sense of purpose You will interact with each other in socially appropriate ways and begin to understand how educated people interact with one another You will have authentic questions for writing and a system for testing and proving your ideas You will realize and achieve a more universal connection to literature
The Question – An opening question has no right answer; instead it reflects a genuine curiosity on the part of the leader. An effective opening question leads participants back to the text as they speculate, evaluate, define, and clarify the issues involved. Responses to the opening question generate new questions from the leader and participants, leading to new responses. In this way, the line of inquiry evolves on the spot rather than being predetermined by the leader.
Questions that ask the group to interpret the text These should be genuine questions (ones that you are also interested in) No single correct answer exists, but responses supporting different positions may occur All points made in the discussion must be evidenced by the text
These should primarily be avoided IF used, should only be used as a springboard These are the questions where the answer is directly stated in the text. You may use these questions as a springboard for your higher level questions, but you will not receive credit for Literal questions
These questions are usually used as the surmise of a Socratic or at the end of a “thematic” or “topical” discussion before moving on These responses rely on your own experiences, not the text itself These questions are somewhat like a “reflective journal” entry
The Leader – In a Socratic Seminar, the leader plays a dual role as leader and participant. The seminar leader consciously demonstrates habits of mind that lead to a thoughtful exploration of the ideas in the text. As a seminar participant, the leader actively engages in the group's exploration of the text.
The Participants – In a Socratic Seminar, participants share with the leader the responsibility for the quality of the seminar. Effective seminars occur when participants study the text closely in advance, listen actively, share their ideas and questions in response to the ideas and questions of others, and search for evidence in the text to support their ideas.
Dialogue is collaborative: multiple sides work toward shared understanding. Debate is oppositional: two opposing sides try to prove each other wrong. In dialogue, one listens to understand, to make meaning, and to find common ground. In debate, one listens to find flaws, to spot differences, and to counter arguments. Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participant's point of view. Debate affirms a participant's point of view. Dialogue reveals assumptions for examination and reevaluation. Debate defends assumptions as truth.
Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change. Debate creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to be right. In dialogue, one submits one's best thinking, expecting that other people's reflections will help improve it rather than threaten it. In debate, one submits one's best thinking and defends it against challenge to show that it is right.
Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one's beliefs. Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one's beliefs. In dialogue, one searches for strengths in all positions. In debate, one searches for weaknesses in the other position. Dialogue respects all the other participants and seeks not to alienate or offend. Debate rebuts contrary positions and may belittle or deprecate other participants.
Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of answers and that cooperation can lead to a greater understanding. Debate assumes a single right answer that somebody already has. Dialogue remains open-ended. Debate demands a conclusion
Do not raise your hands Listen carefully Address one another respectfully Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if the opinion differs from your own Base opinions on the text All comments must be addressed to the group, so sidebars Be conscious of “talk time” – don’t hog the limelight
When a question is posed for discussion, relate your statements to particular pieces of the text Clarify and elaborate If the conversation gets off topic, the question needs to be restated If a discussion stalls, additional questions should be posed to get back on track Everyone is expected to make intelligent contributions to the discussion; no “yes,” “no,” or “I agree/disagree” statements without elaboration
Your goal is not to simply regurgitate information from the text Your goal is to discuss, analyze, evaluate, and connect to the text in a more meaningful manner…not only as a student but as a human being You will prepare for Socratic Seminars prior to the actual Seminar Pre-read text Prepare higher level, open-ended questions Understand the expectations
What may also happen, depending on class size, is the class may be divided in half Those sitting in the inner circle will be the one’s discussing Those sitting outside of the circle are STILL PARTICIPATING, just not vocally!! Students will have a “partner”…one in the discussion and one monitoring The second day of the Socratic will have the groups “switching” positions as partners… Your partner is tracking all discussions and contributions, key ideas, further discussion topics, etc.
Your partner will be evaluating your contribution on the discussion by a 5 point rating system. Some items they will be watching for include: Your analysis and reasoning of topic Your use of evidence from text to support your responses That you have shown thoughtful consideration of the topic That you contributed to moving the discussion to a deeper level You held no sidebars You respected others’ opinions You did not hog the limelight You spoke loudly and clearly You spoke directly to the group rather than the teacher You stayed focused on the discussion You invited others to feel welcome and to join the discussion You listened and respected others You avoided inappropriate language You did not participate in hostile exchanges.. “debates” You questioned or prompted others to keep the discussion going and did so in a civil manner and on an appropriate level
If you are seated in the inner circle, you will vocally be a part of the Socratic seminar One student (or teacher if need be) will pose the first question to begin the seminar Each member is responsible for commenting, analyzing, evaluating, overall, participating in the discussion You will have a pre-determined number of contributions you each must make in order to acquire a successful grade
You will be an active member of the seminar by listening and documenting, peer critiquing your partner You will be given a Partner Tracking Sheet for this purpose You will also have a sheet for YOUR thoughts/reflections/comments on the discussion you are listening to