8th Graders Experience "Aha" Moments During Socratic Seminars
  • Academics
Dani Steele, 8th-Grade Humanities
Students in the eighth grade's Reading Workshop are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird. While studying the classic coming-of-age novel, students are beginning to develop and sharpen their discussion and analytical skills. This week, all three eighth-grade sections planned and participated in a Socratic seminar about part one of the novel.
In a Socratic seminar, meaningful, student-led conversations are designed to encourage students to help one another understand the ideas, issues and values reflected in a text through a group discussion format. They challenge our eldest BZ students to examine and analyze the language to deepen their understanding and stretch their thinking. It is so magical to witness a group of young adults working together to decipher symbolism and analyze how a setting influences characters’ beliefs and actions. So many students had lightbulb “AHA” moments this week! 
As their teacher, I am not only looking at how independently or deeply they can comprehend a text. I am also focused on how they communicate their learning. Are they backing up their ideas with evidence? Are they able to revise their thinking based on new information? Do they recognize the value of learning from others? Do they take a chance in facilitating a discussion or asking an original question? After each Socratic seminar, students reflect on their participation and set a goal for the next discussion. Some of these goals include:

“My goal is to prepare more specific questions to ask the group. I also want to participate more and refer to quotes and the text more. I also hope to invite/include others in the conversation more often.”

“I hope to share the ‘airtime’ more and encourage others to speak up.”

“My goal for the next Socratic seminar is to come with prepared questions and thoughts and organized notes. I will do this by making a list of questions after I finish reading each chapter.”

“Next time I will challenge not only other people's thoughts but also my own. I will do this by adding on to people's ideas and coming prepared with new follow-up questions.”

“My goal for the next Socratic seminar is to help everyone stay on track. I can do this by restating questions or asking people to elaborate when we are getting off-topic or distracted from understanding the book more deeply.”

The beauty of these Socratic seminars proves that it helps students grow not only as an individual but also as a class. When reflecting on the experience, 97% of students agreed that they treated all other participants with dignity and respect. And 93% reported that their group was able to take the Socratic seminar to a higher level of understanding. This is a new style of collaboration for our students as they collaborate to make meaning. 
We will have plenty more of these Socratic seminars in Reading Workshop this year, about a lot of different texts! I can’t wait for eighth-grade parents to participate in our Family Book Club this spring—they will be blown away at just how confidently and expertly the eighth graders can analyze a challenging text!



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