The Pollock Version of the Socratic Seminar — Student-centered Learning

Sample Student-produced Socratic Seminar Question Written by 9 Honors Lit student Skylar

Sample Student-produced Socratic Seminar Questions Written by 9 Honors Lit student Skylar Marks

Sample Student Produced Socratic Seminar Questions written by Reed

Sample Student-produced Socratic Seminar Questions written by AP Language student Reed Walker

9 Honors Socratic Seminar on _Ender's Game_

9 Honors Socratic Seminar on _Ender’s Game_

The Socratic Seminar has been done many different ways over the years. I have seen versions that maintain the teacher as question writer and moderator; I have also seen and used the “fish bowl” model where some students are participants and others are assessors; there is also a hot seat and philosopher’s chair version of the seminar. The version that I use with my students is a little bit different. I prefer for all students to be active participants and for the teacher to just act as facilitator. This method is easily adaptable to ELA and Social Studies classes; it can easily be tweaked for fine arts, CTAE, and health courses. I have used it in regular, honors, and AP level ELA courses. In its simplest form, a Socratic Seminar is simply designed to engage students in active listening and collaborative discussion about a text or texts while allowing students to teach each other, build their own arguments, use source material, and engage their minds in true critical thinking. Students almost always see its purpose immediately, and they like the fact that it doesn’t feel like “busy work.” It also helps your shy students build confidence and learn to speak to a whole group of people without putting them in a formal presenter role.

First, I prefer to teach students how to write good discussion questions using questioning stems from Bloom’s taxonomy. Students write their own analysis, evaluation, and synthesis level questions and submit them before the seminar (my students write five total). I read them and grade them prior to the seminar to make sure the question will produce discussion and require critical level thinking. Students can easily write and build these style of questions by using a question guide or question stems from Bloom’s. This task helps them build understanding of what higher order thinking is — this is also a transferable skill that we can refer to many times during the course. If students produce low level questions, I might have them rewrite the questions if this is their first attempt or experience writing high level discussion questions. After a while though, critical level thinking becomes more routine.

After assessing questions, we set up the room into one giant circle — I usually wind up sitting outside of the circle because my classes are large (and it also helps students to focus on each other and not on me). I encourage students to use their books and materials during the seminar. We also talk about how to respond during the seminar. I require five total verbal responses with at least two pieces of textual support. At first, textual support is just references to specific events or spots in the text, but later it becomes actual reading of certain parts of the work with page number. Sometimes I show videos of Socratic Seminars from previous classes so that students have a better idea of what to expect. We always have a talk about classroom decorum (head up, eyes alert, mind engaged) and what behaviors will earn deductions in a student’s grade (cell phone use, blurting, movement, distracting behaviors).

During the seminar, I have one student serve as moderator. This is usually the person with the best discussion questions; sometimes I give that person extra credit or candy, but most students just like the praise (and a lot of teenagers like being in charge). The moderator’s job is to begin the seminar by asking the first discussion question, then he or she calls on participants who want to answer the question. Participants answer in turn, supplying textual support as much as possible. Social Studies classes would use textual support from primary and secondary source material; ELA classes use textual support from one literary work, several literary works, a literary work and informational source material, or a combination thereof (really, Social Studies classes could bring in some short literary works as well). The discussion of that question continues until it either fizzles out, it reaches its maximum number of responses (seven responses to one question is plenty as students begin repeating each other), or the teacher can hold up a card to indicate that the moderator needs to call on someone else to ask a new question. While students are engaged in the discussion, it’s the teacher’s job to use a checklist and keep a record of which student did what.

Example Checklist for Teacher Use during Seminar

Example Checklist for Teacher Use during Seminar

Over the years, I have used signal cards (green to indicate that I am ready to give an update, yellow to indicate that the moderator needs to choose someone to ask a new question and move the discussion along, and red to indicate off task behaviors or inappropriate answers). You can also do thumbs up and thumbs down. Another thing students appreciate is a status update that let’s them know how many appropriate answers and answers with textual support they have made; quick updates really help relieve student fears and pressures. I try to interrupt or talk as little as possible, even when students really want me to answer the discussion question (of course sometimes I cannot contain myself). After the Socratic Seminar is over, I may conduct a debrief if it is needed. I use the checklist to help me complete a rubric for each child on how he or she performed during the seminar. I use the collaborative discussion standards under Common Core and use of textual evidence (Common Core reading standard 1) within the rubric.

9th Honors Lit Socratic Seminar on _Ender's Game_

9th Honors Lit Socratic Seminar on _Ender’s Game_

11 thoughts on “The Pollock Version of the Socratic Seminar — Student-centered Learning

  1. Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar
    one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam remarks?
    If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can recommend?

    I get so much lately it’s driving me mad so any help is very much appreciated.

    • I have not had much of a problem with spam remarks, but I’ve only been operating the blog since January. I will let you know if this begins to be a problem and what I do to fix the problem (if there is anything I can do). Thank you for following!

  2. Awesome blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused
    .. Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • I highly recommend WordPress. It works great for me, it was easy to set up, and you can use your own URL if you have one or want to purchase one. I find it works well on my iPad too, so I can use spare moments to write drafts and publish them later. Good luck in your endeavor! Start small and set small, manageable goals.

  3. I don’t know how I ended up here, however I thought this post was great.
    I do not know what you do but certainly you are going to a renowned blogger in case you aren’t already Many thanks!

  4. Wow! This is among the most beneficial blogs we’ve ever found on this subject matter.
    Truly excellent. I’m likewise a professional in this topic hence I can understand
    your effort.

  5. wonderful publish, very informative. I’m wondering why the other experts of this
    sector do not notice this. You should continue your writing.
    I am sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  6. Hi there everyone, it’s my first visit at this web page, and paragraph is truly fruitful in support of me, keep
    up posting these articles or reviews.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s