Aveson Charter Schools: Socratic Seminars are Key to Developing Critical Thinking Skills
“Let us examine the question together, my friend, and if you can contradict anything I say, do so and I will be persuaded.” – Socrates
Reflection and critical thinking are two things that Aveson Global Leadership students are asked and expected to do every day. By the time students graduate, they have not only completed coursework to obtain grades and grade point averages, but also have been challenged to think critically about what they’re learning and how they have grown through their learning. Students’ learning stretches beyond memorization and dives deep into comprehension.
Socratic Seminars are a significant part of the AGLA learning process. Starting in middle school, students participate in this highly effective method of exploring texts, theories, and ideas. Student take the reins and articulate their perspectives. In the process, they are improving their comprehension and challenging each other to think and ask questions. Socrates would be proud of how AGLA asks its students to ponder, question, and discuss as critical thinking is at the core of learning at Aveson.
Two AGLA students recently shared their perspective of why Socratic Seminars to important to their learning and how they’ve grown as learners because of them.
Drew, Grade 12:
It has always been difficult for me to feel comfortable in voicing my opinions. Instead of feeling that my ideas held value to those I shared them with, I thought I was merely opening myself up to criticism. My Aveson classrooms, however, have provided an environment in which to cultivate this skill. Socratic Seminars are a common practice at Aveson in which my classmates and I are given the resources and time to lead small-group, academic discussions. In these discussions, students are responsible for asking questions, keeping the conversation moving, and deciding the direction it goes. The student’s ideas, questions, opinions, and references make up the meat of the time. However, a teacher is always there to alleviate stress as they regulate or provide speaking prompts, an occurrence that is rarely necessary at AGLA!
Through Socratic Seminars, my peers and I can practice intellectual communication in an area familiar to us with those we already associate with academically. These discussions offer perspective on content and one’s opinions. If you are unsure of your ideas or do not understand the text, this is a space to listen and ask questions. If you feel passionate, it is a place to voice your ideas and get an outward reflection on them. I’ve learned how important it is to do the work to come into these informed, a skill that extends to many other classes, and the higher education I will pursue. Socratic Seminars require you to be analytical and open. You learn how to fit yourself into a fast-paced dialogue and how to frame questions when you want clarification, or the conversation comes to a halt. You must enter the discussion flexible and willing to consider ideas new to you while learning what language to use when addressing a view you do not agree with simultaneously.
I have learned to speak, respond, and listen, respectively, in all academic environments while maintaining the validity of my ideas. I have been met with no judgment for voicing my views and have become much smoother in my delivery. I have gotten better at deciding what details are important and what questions to prioritize in a limited time. These skills tie into my day-to-day communication, my presentations, and any argumentative writing. After participating in many Socratic Seminars over my Aveson career, I realize that many of the academic skills I rely on are not second nature, but a result of lots and lots of practice.
Jadyn, Grade 12:
For one specific discussion, we had read John Krakauer’s Into the Wild as a class. The Socratic Seminar was an academic discussion to highlight and discuss themes and big ideas found in the book. The class was split into four groups of five. Each small group had five minutes to talk while the rest of the class observed their discussion. Students were paired up with someone outside of their group that marks down a few questions to consider.
Socratic Seminars have helped me learn and grow immensely. I believe Socratic Seminars are a great testament to what Aveson is. Reflection is part of Aveson’s core, and that’s what a Socratic Seminar is, a group reflection. It is easy to get wrapped up into your thoughts and opinions about the course material. But being able to listen and discuss with others offers so many insights that I may have otherwise never considered. Being someone who can be afraid to voice opinions, having a space that is so accepting and open is incredibly beneficial.
For more information about Aveson Charter Schools, visit www.aveson.org.