Teachers who facilitate several seminars with the same group of students often note an interesting phenomenon: Many of the straight-A students are remarkably quiet, whereas many of the students at-risk for failing contribute the most.
Some straight-A students take this compliance to an alarming level where they are virtually unable to generate original thoughts or opinions of their own. These students do not have a lot of practice with critical and creative thinking because they spend most of their time doing what they’re told and getting rewarded with high grades for it.
At the other end of the spectrum are the bright students who refuse to play the “school game” and are at risk of failing. Sometimes these students are rebelling against authority, but many of them are disengaged because to them regurgitating information is incredibly boring. Even worse, the “amazing” ideas and contemplations in their current classes were their routine thoughts from previous years. For such students, school is an uninspiring place of repetitive tedium. Some of the smartest and most interesting people I knew in high school hovered on failure and nearly dropped out of school.
Socratic Seminar benefits the students in both of these extremes. Students with straight-A syndrome are often quiet in seminar because they’re not sure what to do or how to behave without being passive recipients. They can find ways to participate, though. Because they are often very rule-conscious, some of them will become excellent guides for the structure of seminars. They will make sure procedures are followed, rules are obeyed, and expectations are met. Because they often have a good store of information, they can quickly learn to contribute by citing examples and making connections to prior knowledge. Eventually, they can be challenged to take risks with their own ideas.
The failing geniuses likely learned a long time ago that their coolest ideas will get them labeled as weird and nerdy, which is why they stopped sharing. In a supportive environment, though, their innovative and amazing ideas are valued and appreciated. They even have the time to fully explain themselves and how their outlier ideas are relevant. In safe Socratic Seminars, these students will hardly stop talking, especially older students who have years of insights and marvels stashed away for such occasions.
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