There are many recommendations for how often to have Socratic Seminars, but the simple answer is to have them as often as possible. Howard Zeiderman suggests at least once a week for the Touchstones program. The National Paideia Center recommends “that teachers dedicate 15-20% of classroom time to seminar discussion in order that students will row in their ability to think conceptually.” My own experience has shown that students must engage in seminar at least once every two weeks to maintain continuity.
For many teachers this will at first mean stealing time out of the schedule to try a Socratic Seminar here or there, building up to a goal of having seminar once every two weeks or so with all students. With practice, planning, and effective text selection, Socratic Seminar can become an integrated and regular part of any curriculum.
Because seminars can be mentally exhausting, students and teachers will most likely need to build mental stamina. In the beginning, start with shorter seminars in greater frequency, maybe 10-20 minutes for young students and 20-40 minutes for older participants. Mortimer Adler (1984) recommends: “At the lower level, where the classroom teacher engages in all three kinds of teaching, seminar-like discussions should occur much more frequently than at the upper level, perhaps every day, though only for relatively brief spans— at most a half hour or so for the very young, and a little more for those who are older.”
As students gain experience, the seminar sessions should be longer. In fact, they will most likely get longer on their own as students excitedly engage with their own interests and inquiries. As this happens, longer sessions become better, since students can go deeper into the material. Adler (1984) recommends, for example: “At the upper level, seminars should occur less frequently, once a week or at most twice a week, depending on the character and length of the book to be read in advance. They should never run less than ninety minutes and should usually run for two hours.” Michael Strong suggests developing seminars starting in the earliest possible grades, with K-3 students meeting up to 30 minutes a session for 1-5 sessions a week. For grades 4-6, he suggests three to five, 60-minute seminars a week; grades 7-9 three to five seminars a week each 2-4 hours; and grades 10+, as many as is appropriate. This seems like a lot, but the program he outlines is essentially the Seminar as a Course of Study model.
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