Socratic Seminars

Socratic seminars are named for their embodiment of Socrates’ belief in the power of asking questions, 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.

Elfie Israel succinctly defines Socratic seminars and implies their rich benefits for students: “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.” (89 – Israel, Elfie. “Examining Multiple Perspectives in Literature.” In Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions n the English Classroom. James Holden and John S. Schmit, eds. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002.)

At Bronx Latin, all students will be participating in at least 3 Socratic Seminars a year in each of their classes, and it is an established part of the culture at Bronx Latin to have our students grow as learners, thinkers, and have text based discussions and debates with one another.

Example past Socratic Seminars have had focus questions on a wide range of topics, exhibiting a the depth of the Bronx Latin curriculum. Here are sample Socratic Seminar topics that have been covered in the last few years at Bronx Latin, along with the school-wide Bronx Latin Socratic Seminar Rubric used to evaluate students during the seminars.

BronxLatinSocraticSeminarRubric

 

Socratic Seminar Focus Questions from previous Bronx Latin Socratic Seminars:

 

  • Math Socratic Seminars:
    • Can the exponential growth rate of this ebola epidemic be slowed or stopped, and do mandatory quarantines help stop the spread of ebola or do they discourage health care workers from volunteering?
    • Is it necessary to make students in the United States learn Algebra in school?
    • As the Earth’s population continues to grow exponentially, can it continue, and are policies like China’s one child policy valid?

 

  • English Socratic Seminars:
    • Is the American Dream still achievable in the 21 st century?
    • How did the events perpetuating genocide and slavery affect those who experienced this type of violence?
    • Are people inherently good or bad? Was Eddie Carbone a sympathetic or evil character?

 

  • Social Studies Socratic Seminars:
    • Should Puerto Rico become a state, stay a commonwealth or become independent?
    • The Rise of Big Business: Does Wal-Mart HELP or HURT America?
    • How do different perspectives emerge? Why do some gain popularity?

 

  • Science Socratic Seminars:
    • Is it inhumane to keep animals in zoos and aquariums?
    • Are viruses alive?
    • Is the Earth round and how can we prove it?