VIGNETTES SERIES 15: SOCRATIC DISCUSSION

VIGNETTES SERIES 15: SOCRATIC DISCUSSION

These three vignettes encapsulate a superior method of developing classroom discourse for students of all ages. It is a method that worked for me over many years and I’d highly recommend this approach when developing classroom discussions.
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VIGNETTE 45

SOCRATIC DISCUSSION (1)

Please consider the following as a method of introducing quality discourse to students in classrooms. From experience, I can confirm this approach to conversation and discussing issues works really well. It can be tailored to engage children from early childhood through to upper secondary. it is a method that also works well with adults.
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1 SOCRATIC DISCUSSION

MY CONNECTION

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.
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VIGNETTE 46

SOCRATIC DISCUSSION (2)

This is the second part of a topic offered in three segments. There is some repetition but this is a very significant topic. It begins with a focussing statement prepared by a student from Alawa School (many years ago).
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SOCRATIC DISCUSSION SECOND PART

MY CONNECTION

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.
____________________________________

VIGNETTE 47

SOCRATIC DISCUSSION (3)

This entry is down to the nitty gritty of making Socratic Discussion a classroom focus.
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SOCRATIC DISCUSSION PART THREE

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.

COACHING

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.
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