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Rethinking the Socratic Seminar: Opportunities and Challenges in a Paideia Classroom

Session 2
Kevin Kelly — John Hancock Demonstration School: Labrum Campus, 8th grade literacy teacher; Temple University School of Education, Instructor of Early Childhood Education

I first learned about the Paideia classroom when I taught at a magnet school outside Nashville. Paideia, an ancient Greek word that refers to the educational process that prepares one for citizenship, was infused into our school charter and practiced from kindergarten to 12th grade. A central application of this philosophy is the Paideia Socratic Seminar: 15-20 students in a circle having an intellectual dialogue. Free from hand raising and having to focus on the teacher, students are trained from the earliest grades to engage in respectful, civil dialogue. The process ultimately allows the students to focus on their thoughts, as well as on one other, as they come to a deeper understanding of a chosen text.

When I began teaching 8th grade in a Philadelphia neighborhood school, I decided to bring Paideia with me. The challenges were obvious- this was not an academic magnet school and students have not been trained in the format since age five. Nonetheless, I have found ways to create a similar culture with students I meet eight years into their education. Moreover, students respond positively and show evidence of higher order thinking skills in their follow up assessments.

The goal of this conversation is to discuss ways in which students can be given the opportunity to develop civil discussion skills as well as collaborative thinking activities in a variety of school environments. Participants will leave with examples of Seminar texts and question formats.

A short overview of the Paideia seminar can be viewed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9GJYauGecw

Conversational Practice

Group members will participate in or observe an abbreviated version of a seminar around which we will base our discussion. During the discussion, group members will share their experiences and best practices on conducting seminars. In the latter part of our session, we will develop open-ended critical thinking questions based on texts of our choosing. Collaborators will conclude the discussion by exploring some ways they can utilize the Paideia Seminar format in their own classrooms.

Presenter Profiles

Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly
John Hancock Demonstration School


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