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Socratic Seminar Structure

 

COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS:

CC.11-12.R.L.1/R.I.1  Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. 

CC.11-12.SL.1.a  Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of 

CC.11-12.SL.2  Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data. 

CC.11-12.SL.3  Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

CC.11-12.SL.6  Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 11-12 Language standards 1 and 3 on page 54 for specific expectations.) 

The Texts:

     Socratic Seminar texts are chosen for their richness in ideas, issues, values and their ability to stimulate extended, thoughtful dialogue.  A seminar text can be drawn from readings in literature, history, science, math, health, and philosophy or from works of art or music.  A good text raises important questions in the participants' minds, questions for which there are no right or wrong answers.  At the end of a successful Socratic Seminar, participants often leave with more questions than they brought with them.

The Question:

     A Socratic Seminar opens with a question either posed by the leader or solicited from participants as they acquire more experience.  An opening question has no right answer; instead, it reflects a genuine curiosity on the part of the questioner.  A good opening question leads participants back to the test as they speculate, evaluate, define, and clarify the issues involved.  In this way, the line of inquiry in a Socratic Seminar evolves on the spot rather than being predetermined by the leader or teacher.

The Leader:

     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 by keeping the discussion focused on the text, asking follow-up questions, helping participants clarify their positions when arguments become confused, off-topic, or vaguely subjective, and involving reluctant participants while restraining their more vocal peers.  As a seminar participant, the leader actively engages in the group's exploration of the text.  To do this effectively, the leader must know the text well enough to anticipate varied interpretations and recognize important possibilities in each.  The leader must also be patient enough to allow participants' understandings to evolve and be willing to help participants explore non-traditional insights and unexpected interpretations.  Each student of Humanities must assume this dual role of leader and participant at least once for each quarter for full class participation credit (See Class Participation Rubric and Course Description).

The Participants:

     The participants carry the burden of responsibility for the quality of the seminar.  Good seminars occur when participants study the texts 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 interpretations and ideas.  Participants acquire good seminar behaviors through practice and reflection.  After each seminar, the leader and participants will discuss their experiences and identify ways of improving the next seminar.  Before each seminar, the teacher will offer coaching and practice in specific habits of mind that will improve reading, thinking, listening, and discussing.  Eventually, when participants realize that the leader is not simply looking for the "right" answer, but is encouraging them to think aloud and to exchange ideas openly, they will discover the excitement of exploring important issues through shared inquiry.

Grading Rubric: 

 

Excellent (A range)

Good (B Range)

Fair (C Range)

Unsatisfactory (D-F Range)

Conduct

Demonstrates respect for the learning process; has patience with different opinions and complexity; shows initiative by asking others for clarification: brings others into the conversation, moves the conversation forward; speaks to all of the 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/her 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 the conversation; tends to debate, not dialogue.

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, pencil/pen or perhaps even without the text.

 

 

 

Speaking

&

Reasoning

Understands question before answering; cites evidence from text; expresses thoughts in complete sentences; move 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 are 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 by others; 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.

Listening

Pays attention to details; writes down questions; responses take into account all participants; demonstrates that he/she has kept up; points out faulty logic respectfully; overcomes distractions.

Generally pays attention and responds thoughtfully to ideas and questions of other participants and the leader; 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 or confusions repeated due to inattention; takes few notes during the seminar in response to ideas and comments.

Appears uninvolved in the seminar; comments display complete misinterpretation of questions or comments of other participants.

Reading

Thoroughly familiar with the text; has notations and questions in the margins; key words, phrases, and ideas are highlighted;  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.

 (Adapted from model by Paul Raider and GREECE website)

The Question:  A Socratic Seminar opens with a question either posed by the leader or solicited from participants as they acquire more experience in seminars.  An opening question has no right answer; instead it reflects a genuine curiosity on the part of the questioner.  A good opening question leads participants back to the text as they speculate, evaluate, define, and clarify the issues involved.  Response to the opening question generates new questions from the leader and the participants, leading to new responses.  In this way, the line of inquiry in a Socratic Seminar evolves on the spot rather than being predetermined by the leader.

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 by keeping the discussion focused on the text, asking follow-up questions, helping participants clarify their positions when arguments become confused, and involving reluctant participants while restraining their more vocal peers.  As a seminar participant, the leader actively engages in the group's exploration of the text.  To do this effectively, the leader must know the text well enough to anticipate varied interpretations and recognize important possibilities in each.  The leader must also be patient enough to allow participants' understandings to evolve and be willing to help participants explore non-traditional insights and unexpected interpretations.  Assuming this dual role of leader and participant is easier if the opening question is one that truly interests the leader as well as the participants.

The Participants:  In a Socratic Seminar, participants carry the burden of responsibility for the quality of the seminar.  Good seminars occur when participants study the texts 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.  Participants acquire good seminar behaviors through participating in seminars and reflecting on them afterward. After each seminar, the leader and participants discuss the experience and identify ways of improving the next seminar.  Before each new seminar, the leader also offers coaching and practice in specific habits of mind that improve reading, thinking, and discussing.  Eventually, when participants realize that the leader is not looking for right answers, but is encouraging them to think aloud and to exchange ideas openly, they discover the excitement of exploring important issues through shared inquiry.  This excitement creates willing participants, eager to examine ideas in a rigorous, thoughtful manner.