Socratic seminars: engaging students in intellectual discourse

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An Annotation by Laurie Walsh

The author begins with a quote on brain research and education by Robert Sylwester, schools need to,

“. . .focus more on metacognitive activities that encourage students to talk about their emotions, listen to their classmates’ feelings, and think about the motivations of people who enter their curricular world.  For example, the simple use of why in a question turns the discussion from bare facts and toward motivations and emotions” (26).

Tredway continues to say Socratic seminars offer “a form of structured discourse about ideas and moral dilemmas” (26).

A brief example of a seminar in a middle school English classroom makes the article relevant for my purposes.  Tredway believes that Socratic seminars engage students in active learning:

“. . . the assumption is that when students actively and cooperatively develop knowledge, understanding, and ethical attitudes and behaviors, they are more apt to retain these attributes than if they had received them passively” (26).

Seminars build self-esteem due to a feeling of competence.  The teacher, according to Tredway, is the seminar leader whose,

“. . .role is to guide students to

  1. a deeper and clarified consideration of the ideas of the text,
  2. a respect for varying points of view, and
  3. adherence to and respect for the seminar process” (28).

Finally, Tredway points to the different type of instruction involved in Socratic seminar and the students use of higher order thinking and reasoning skills.  That’s precisely what we want for our students!

Tredway, L.  (September 1995).  Socratic seminars: engaging students in intellectual discourse.  Educational Leadership.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  26-29.

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