The third and final paper in the trilogy.
Socratic Discussion is a terrific and engaging method of discourse which can embrace everyone connected with a discussion. It is a genuine form of shared dialogue.
Socratic Discussion initially focuses on analysis of thought and meaning conveyed by text or some other ‘genesis’ of discussion. The pivot or focal point is the analysis of messages received by us as individuals. Viewpoints and perceptions are debated and defended. The focus is the opinion (message) not the person (messenger) offering the opinion.
In modern argument the issues are often neglected. The presenter is the focus of response, rather than what was said. This focus (on the presenter) is often negative and can take various forms. It may be gentle chiding, regular teasing or serious deriding and lampooning. The end result can be to discourage people from putting forward their opinions on issues. This leads to ‘dominant’ (as in dominating the agenda) and reticent group participants.
Socratic dialogue encourages speakers to bring their own authority (through knowledge) to debate. All opinions on the subject are sought and welcomed. The aim is to develop ‘issues focussed shared participation’.
Reflection (how do we explain what we know) is a part of the socratic process. Linear discussion (sharing through saying and not remaining silent) is an element of socratic dialogue.
Socratic discussion is healthy discussion because it enriches participants. You leave at the end of the period knowing more about the subject than when your entered the session. Participants also develop a respect for the ideas and opinions of others.
Socratic discussion is philosophical and clarifying in nature. We consider what we mean and what we know, from where our information is derived and what evidence we have in making statements.
A key purpose of socratic discussion is to enlarge meaning and enhance understanding. A key outcome is the honing of critical thinking skills, together with appreciation for the viewpoints of others.
In most adult forums of debate, especially parliament, children witness conversational methods that are hardly inspiring. In fact, question time in any parliament is a period during which a very poor exhibition of consideration and manners is on display. That is reinforced by the fact that it is generally question time which is shown on television. A very poor impression of how debate should be conducted is apparent.
Socratic discussion is an excellent, dialogue and discussion supporting tool. The method is a ‘model’ of dialogue which gently dissuades from the use of unacceptable strategies. Facilitation, with leaders leading from within and modelling procedure, enhances the socratic process.
AIMS OF SOCRATIC DISCUSSION
(Outcomes toward which discussion is directed)
* Socratic discussion focuses on analysis of thought and meaning conveyed by shared text and discussion of issues that arise.
* Messages conveyed are discussed with pros and cons being part of that discussion.
* Viewpoints and perceptions are debated and defended. People holding viewpoints are allowed to change their minds if persuaded by a counter-proposition.
* The focus of discussion is the OPINION not the person offering the opinion.
* In modern argument, issues are often neglected, with the presenter being the focus. This focus, often negative, can take various forms. It may be chiding, teasing, lampooning or bald and derogatory character assassination. With the advent of Facebook, twitter and other social media, personal attack can be quite hurtful, scarifying and even soul destroying. The result can be to discourage people from advancing their opinions on issues.
* Socratic discussion encourages speakers to contribute their knowledge and ideas on issues to the conversation. All opinions on the subject under discussion are weighed and valued. Socratic discussion enriches participants. One leaves the conversation knowing more about the subject than prior to the conversation. Participants also develop respect for the ideas and opinions of others.
* Socratic discussion is philosophical and clarifying in nature. Those involved consider what they mean and what they know. They learn about information sources and consider ‘evidence’ when adding their opinion into the discussion.
* A key purpose of discussion is to enlarge meaning and understanding about the subject under discussion. A key outcome is honing of critical thunking skills, together with appreciation of counter-viewpoints and the opinions of others.
SOCRATIC DISCUSSION: THE WAY IT WORKS
* Discussion leaders are facilitators.
* All participants get to lead if the group is sustained over time. As skills and understanding are acquired, participants gain in confidence and are prepared to accept the challenge of facilitating.
* All group members are equal. There are no hierarchical constructs.
* All participants get to speak. All have a right to question the opinions of others. All need to be prepared to justify their beliefs, but no one is ridiculed for holding particular and ‘different’ opinions on issues.
* Listening and considering the opinions of others is obligatory.
* De-briefing takes place at the end of each segment and session.
* Seating arrangements enable participants to sit in a circle facing each other. The facilitator is part of the circle. Standing is discouraged because seating places everyone on the same level and negates individual ‘shortness’ or ‘tallness’.
* Equal opportunity and equity are promoted by the process.
* The quality of ‘consideration’ is developed, including respect for each other and looking to draw others into the conversation.
* Discussion in open-ended. No belief is necessarily right, none necessarily wrong. Commitment to a position and willingness to share, defend and modify stance is a key element of socratic method. Influencing and being influenced by others is part of the group sharing process.
* Confidence is speech and verbal presentation are underpinning aims.
* Participants offer feedback, sharing what they learned with each other. Feedback is sought and must be willingly given. Group members have the right to pass during these personal response sessions if that is a preferred option.
POINTS ON FACILITATING
* When facilitating, ensure the following:
1. Children do not put their hands up in order to ask to speak. They wait for a pause in dialogue, and speak.
2. If more than one child begins to speak, encourage a process whereby one withdraws voluntarily, allows the other speaker to input, then enters her/his contribution.
3. Without undue intrusion, work to encourage recessive speakers while trying to reduce the impact that dominating speakers can have in group discourse.
4. If necessary and if there is a babble, call ‘time out’ offer praise and advice, then suggest when you call ‘time in’ a particular speaker, followed by another and another (by name).
5. Remind if necessary by calling ‘time out’ that the focus needs to be on the issue not the person speaking. (In time self realisation will cause participants to recognise that fact automatically).
6. As a facilitator call ‘time out’ for coaching purposes as necessary. As the group becomes more engaged in the process, the need for this intervention will become less frequent.
7. When participants are doing things right, it can be useful to call ‘time out’ and offer praise for the modelling.
8. The Facilitator
a. Sets the group in a circle ready for the discussion.
b. Reminds of basic rules including courtesy and politeness.
c. Offers a reading or discourse to stikulate interest.
d. Asks a focus question, repeating it twice.
e. Monitors the conversation and pros and cons that follow.
f. Asks follow up questions if necessary.
g. Allows the conversation to follow a natural course, including variance away from the original question – with a refocus of necessary through a supplementary question or questions.
h. Calls ‘time’ at the end of the discussion period.
i. Sums up the ‘ebb and flow’ of the conversation including the time the groups was involved in dialogue.
j. Invites participants to debrief, with each person in turn (working around the circle clockwise or anti-clockwise) invited to share something learned or something appreciated during the conversation.
k. Concludes by thanking participants and looking forward with them to the next session.
As Socratic Discussion becomes ingrained within a group or class, it is wise for the teacher facilitator to coach students so they can take on facilitating roles. This might be with the whole class, or with a sub-group of class members.