Confidence, Then Skill
A first step in seminar is getting students to start participating. Once students get involved, once they are excited by genuine conversation, then helping them to refine their contributions through effective feedback is fairly easy. A student I had years ago is a good example. When she first started Socratic Seminars in sixth grade, she was extremely quiet. She had low reading comprehension skills and was not widely read, so she could not contribute much intellectually at first. However, she did speak from personal experience once or twice a seminar. Over the course of her sixth-grade year, she developed more confidence, ranging into three or four contributions per seminar by the end of the year.
In seventh grade she started the year strongly, taking a leadership role in nearly all of the seminars. Although she still wasn’t able to analyze the texts well on her own, she encouraged others to speak, asked for clarification when people weren’t clear, and began asking very insightful questions. Like a bloodhound, she developed a sense of when a line or sentence had significant or metaphorical meaning. By now she was contributing seven to twelve or more times per seminar, effectively guiding the conversation like a skilled facilitator.
Her confidence grew in eighth grade and, as she contributed more and more, the quality of her leadership improved. She completely stopped interrupting people and politely stopped others from interrupting. She stopped criticizing people’s ideas and instead began encouraging them to develop their thoughts, even if she disagreed. With practice came confidence and with confidence came skill.
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