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The Socratic Seminar Values All Voices


This month grade eight social studies teacher Brian Devine introduced the Socratic seminar as a primary discussion format in his classroom. The student led seminar values all voices and develops academic autonomy. Before discussion, students prepare by generating or answering questions. During discussion, the class divides into two groups. “The inner circle carries the conversation,” Mr. Devine explains, “While the outer circle observes and offers feedback later.” After a set time, the roles switch. Everyone has an opportunity to speak. 

As his classes begin using the Socratic method, Mr. Devine challenges students to value all voices. “Equality of voice matters in a community,” he says. He also believes the Socratic method encourages students to listen and respond to each other to build a conversation rather than simply answer a question. Through discussion, students interact with a variety of viewpoints. Listening to new perspectives clarifies your own thinking, perhaps even challenging your own ideas. Though Socratic seminars can feel a little awkward at first, the structure empowers all students to be part of their learning community.

Mr. Devine also develops classroom community and civic engagement through a reciprocity circle. Reciprocity is the idea that in a community, we all have something to exchange or share to our mutual benefit. Over the course of the first semester, grade eight students learn to ask for and offer one another help. Each class contains a multitude of knowledge! The reciprocity circle gives students a way to reach out. Again, providing a structure creates an opportunity for safe risk taking as students build compassion through responding to each others’ needs. “We make a point to help someone else,” Mr. Devine says, “And think about an individual’s impact on the greater community.” 

Be inspired! Mr. Devine recommends Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant and the “Everyday Leadership” TED Talk from Drew Dudley.