Do You Have 21st-Century Skills to Help Your Students Succeed? Do Your Students Have 21st-Century Skills to Think for Themselves? The Power of the Socratic Classroom has the answers you are looking for—answers that will supply the strategies to show students how to succeed into the future. A future that has unknown products, unidentified jobs, and unanticipated challenges. In Socratic Seminar, teachers shift to the role of facilitator, where they help their students develop the collaborative interpersonal skills, the critical and creative thinking skills, and the speaking and listening skills to face the upcoming challenges of the 21st century.
Charles Fischer has taught in public and private schools in a variety of settings, from rural Maine to inner city Atlanta. In the past 20 years, he has worked with a wide range of students from 4th grade to AP English and has been nominated for Teacher of the Year four times. He has his Master’s degree in Teaching & Learning from the University of Southern Maine, and received his B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Binghamton University. His latest book, The Power of the Socratic Classroom, has won four awards, including the NIEA Best Education Book. His first novel, Beyond Infinity, won a 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award bronze medal (YA fiction). His areas of expertise are Socratic Seminar, Active Listening, Inquiry, Teaching & Learning, and Critical & Creative Thinking. He is currently working on a book of poetry, a short story collection, and several novels.
There is a strong caution about trying Socratic Seminars occasionally without trying to build better group cohesion. The main reason is that groups go through predictable stages, and without goals and norms, many groups stay in a frustrating stage called Storming. This is the phase of group development where participants remain unsure of their roles and many vie for power and attention by dominating the conversation. Others stay remarkably quiet, frustrated that there is no space to talk into.
Besides simply having more seminars more consistently, teachers can at least help the group stay connected to individual and group goals. In the pre-seminar make sure to revisit the goals and in the post-seminar debrief about how things went. Set new goals and post them in the classroom so the group knows where it is headed next seminar no matter how far away it is.
The Power of the Socratic Classroom
Be cautious about using Socratic Seminars intermittently without building toward goals. Because students need practice at working together and developing the necessary skills for successful seminars, only occasional practice (less than every few weeks) can be counter-productive. As Strong indicates: “If the conditions for improvement do not exist, it is much better not to practice seminar at all than to drag students through meaningless, unproductive class periods.” In my experience this is because intermittent practice will likely keep the group in the storming stage of group development.
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