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Socratic seminar in Common Core classes
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 03, 2014 09:42 AM

Socrates gifted society with a foundation for Western thinking. His ideas became the basis of Western philosophy and the scientific method. While he contributed much to the science of thought, he also provided concepts to enrich education. For instance, Socrates taught his pupils by asking a question. Students discussed the idea, supporting or refuting one another by using evidence. This method later became known as the Socratic method or seminar, and it's used in many schools today. In fact, the seminar is a great accompaniment for Common Core State Standards goals.

How it works
In a Socratic seminar, students arrange their desks in a circle to facilitate discussion. The teacher then presents a main idea or question. Students discuss the topic in detail while the teacher acts as a guide, ensuring students stay on topic and everyone has a chance to speak. Students should come to class having completed whatever reading or work the teacher assigned so they can pull evidence from the text to support their claims.

Should the class be large (have more than 15 students), teachers often divide it into groups of two. In this case, students create two circles, one on the outside and one on the inside. The students on the inside discuss and the outer ring students listen. The teacher should switch the active groups at some point during the class so all students have a chance to discuss. 

The benefits of the seminar
Socratic seminars give students a chance to debate. They have to come prepared, and use evidence to defend their ideas and question others. This all facilitates critical thinking, which is a key element of the Common Core. The seminar also teaches students how to debate civilly and intelligently, a skill they'll need later in life. By sharing and refuting ideas, students learn to know when to alter their opinions based on new evidence.

When to use it and how
Most classes can use the Socratic seminar approach to education, though it's most often seen in English/language arts, history and social studies, as those courses have the most reading. Students can read either fiction or nonfiction as homework. They should circle or highlight important points they see while reading. In some cases, the teacher may give students questions to think about while reading. During class, students can use the sentences or concepts they highlighted to build an argument.

The Socratic seminar is a good tool for students of all ages. Teachers can modify the challenge level by choosing a text appropriate for the students' age group and questions that they'll be able to answer, albeit after some work.