The Socratic Method

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Clemente sophomores recently participated in a Socratic Seminar for the first time this school year. Socratic seminars are named for their embodiment of Socrates’ belief in the power of asking questions. They prize inquiry over information and discussion over debate.   Socratic seminars acknowledge the highly social nature of learning and align with the work of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and Paulo Friere.

The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions.  Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others.  They learn to work cooperatively and to question intelligently and civilly.

The subject of this particular seminar aligned with the theme of the 1st quarter unit: morality. Students read an excerpt from a college-level Sociology book titled: Eating Your Friends is the Hardest: The Survivors of the F-227. The text chronicled the true story of a group of rugby players from Uruguay whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains. Clemente students were shocked to read on that these rugby players had to make the difficult decision to eat the bodies of their deceased friends in order to survive.

 In order for Clemente sophomores to fully participate in the discussion, they were required to come prepared by having read a complex text. They also had to be inquirers preparing their own questions related to the text. Students asked questions such as: What was the psychological impact of this event on the survivors who returned home? In what way would the public react differently if this event occurred today?  In the seminar, students led the discussion by asking their questions to a small group. Others responded to their open-ended questions by citing textual evidence and getting into a few “healthy debates.”