Socratic Seminars

From John Piazza:

I was wondering if anyone on the list has conducted Socratic Seminars in their classes, and what their experience was, and whether they could share strategies, resources, etc. for doing it successfully in a CI context. My administrator brought up socratic seminars as a particular example of the kind of work she’d like to see my students doing in Latin, and it’s a challenge I’d like to work toward.

John

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3 thoughts on “Socratic Seminars”

  1. John I have a group of eighth graders with a very wide, frustratingly wide, range of background in French, from almost beginning to having studied French since 1st grade plus having lived in France. This sounds like a perfect thing to experiment with. Next week I will divide that class into two groups. For 30 minutes, with the fast group in the center circle, we will just talk. Those outside the center circle will just listen. Then for another 30 minutes the slow ones will get in the center. I’ll report back on how this works at the end of next week.

    If your admininstrators wants anything more than that (to use Socratic circles for anything more than TL exposure) then they are barking up the wrong tree. The pre-frontal cortex and the thinking functions have no place in a CI classroom. The language occurs in a part of the brain where higher order thinking is not involved. CI only works when the deeper mind is allowed to handle all the heavy lifting (grammar ordering, etc.) in sleep after a CI class. Higher order thinking/ reflecting is not part of what we do. We just get them focused on the message, as you of course know.

    Even if the thing I describe above works, and it might not, it’s still far from the socratic design. CI is not about thinking, higher order, lower order (verb drills) or any other conscious thinking order in between. Now try telling that to an admin who doesn’t know Krashen, right?

    By the way John, congratulations. Those of us on this blog for the past five years or so have seen you lift unimaginable weights off your shoulders as you transitioned from San Francisco MS Latin to Oakland/Berkeley High School Latin and we, or at least I am, are filled with respect for the way you muscled this change. You took the heat and met the challenge and won over minds and hearts. Dude. So proud of you! So proud of all the Latinists now throwing a monkey wrench into the centuries-old way of doing things. I know of two schools now where there are more Latin than Spanish students: Bracey’s (MA) and Hosler’s (KS).

  2. Good luck with those Socratic Seminars, Ben and John! The glaring problem, I see, is that even if the higher level students can have a discussion, they will not be able to speak at the slow pace and with accuracy so that the lower proficiency students can understand.

    Instead of the Socratic Seminars, how about the Philosophical Chairs activity that, I believe, Bob Patrick shared with us some time ago? I’ve modified his Philosophical Chairs activity into something I call Improvised Chairs, which is different in that a student from the back group can stand up and switch places with the student in the talking chair whenever there is a lull in the conversation and they feel like they can contribute. Granted, I’ve only had moderate success with this activity. It does get the gregarious students engaged but doesn’t provide much for a large portion of the class.

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