This is the first of three papers
SOCRATIC DISCUSSION PAPER ONE
I first learned of ‘Socratic Discussion’ when attending an Australian Education Union summer school program in Canberra during the 1991/92 school holiday period.
The program was one of a number offered as workshop options for participants. The presenter was Nancy Letts an educator and facilitator from New York USA. I enrolled in the workshop out of curiosity.
The deeper into the workshop participants were immersed, the more convinced i became that this discourse and discussion methodology was one that would work well in classroom contexts. It had worried me for a long time that children tended to be ‘all mouth and no ears’ when it came to speaking and listening. Part of this was manifest by the ‘kill space’ syndrome. If someone was speaking, listeners listened only for a brief pause. That pause was licence to verbally jump into the space, whether the speaker had finished or was merely pausing for breath.
Children, along with adult models, tended to criticise peers for holding viewpoints, rather than appreciating speakers for putting forward particular views on subjects.
Socratic Discussion offered an alternative whereby students could be trained or developed as respectful participants, appreciating peers and considering points of view offered in discussion.
The workshop was one of the very best I have ever attended because it had applicability. During the years since, I have done quite a lot of work around the model.
* It has been applied since 1992 in class contexts and for all year levels from transition to Year Seven ( when the sevens were still in Primary School).
* I ran workshops for students drawn from a number of primary schools who came together weekly at Dripstone Middle School as those ‘enriched’ and needing to here challenged by extension. One student was James Mousa whose commentary about Socrates is reproduced elsewhere.
Part of this was an evening culmination when students presented and modelled Socratic Discussion to their parents, running the evening from start to finish.
* It has ben modelled to teachers who have taken the approach on board in their own practice.
* I have conducted six or seven workshops with groups, outlining the concept and having the groups practice the process. Feedback has always been appreciative and many of those attending have taken the approach on board in their own situations.
How the Socratic Approach helps children
I believe Socratic Discussion is of benefit to children for the following reasons:
* It dissuades from the old fashioned ideal that ‘children should be seen and not heard’ but in a way that encourages structured rather than unthinking and garrulous approach to conversation.
* It helps persuade children that ‘all mouth and no ears’ (over-talking and under-listening) need not be a perception held of them.
* It is a process that balances the skills of speaking and listening in a positive educational manner.
* It is also a process upholding the rights of children to hold and express opinions; it reinforces the value of youthful points of view.
* It highlights the honesty and impediment free factors generally inherent in the speech of young people.
* The value of student voice is reinforced, with children who participate appreciating the fact that worth and value is placed on what they and their peers say.
In a Nutshell
Socratic Discussion is an ISSUES BASED APPROACH to thinking and speaking.
The important element is the process. The issue is a means too understanding that end.
The process is issues focussed not personalities directed: It aims to build not destroy.
Listeninng, thinking and speaking are all key skills appealed to and developed by the process.
Paper two follows