Socratic Teaching: How to Lead Effective Seminars and Socratic Discussions

with Eva Brann, Hannah Hintze, Grant Horner, Chris Perrin, Andrew Kern, et al

Socratic Teaching: How to Lead Effective Seminars and Socratic Discussions

Mortimer Adler once said, “a lecture is an exercise where the notes of the teacher become the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either.”  How can classical educators avoid the folly of such lecturing and lead discussions so that both the mind of the teacher and the minds of students are fully engaged and illuminated by a growing, gradual perception of truth? 

This course will be a living, growing course as we continue over the next year to add more video samples of great Socratic teachers in action in live seminars and classes. Check back every month or so to view samples additional teachers in action.

In this course, we address why classical educators must learn the skill of Socratic teaching, and describe several approaches to leading a Socratic seminar or discussion, noting various advantages and disadvantages associated with each approach. We do this by interviewing presenters who use each approach and by showing them leading live, recorded seminars and discussions. Here are four approaches described in the course:

  1. The St. Johns Approach
  2. The Harkness Method
  3. The Ambrose Method
  4. Hybrid Methods

This course will continue to develop as we visit schools and record teachers who lead excellent seminars and interview them!

  • An example of Socratic Teaching (Grant Horner)
  • Introduction to Socratic Teaching Part 1 (Christopher Perrin)
  • Introduction to Socratic Teaching Part 2 (Christopher Perrin)
  • What is Socratic Teaching (Andrew Kern)
  • Interview and Discussion with Andrew Kern
  • Interview with veteran St. Johns tutor Eva Brann
  • Interview with St. Johns tutor Hannah Hintze
  • Recording of live seminar led by Hannah Hintze on the Odyssey
  • Post seminar interview with Hannah Hintze

There is an associated discussion forum for this course. The forum provides an excellent opportunity to explore the history and relevance of the liberal arts with other classical educators from across the country. Occasionally, within the sequence of this course, you may be prompted to post a response or reflection in the class forum.

Several instructors are featured in this course–and more will be coming as we add samples of Socratic teaching to the course!

Eva Brann, PhD, tutor at St. Johns College (for over 60 years!)

Christopher Perrin, PhD, publisher with Classical Academic Press

Andrew Kern, President of the Circe Insitute

Hannah Hintze, PhD, tutor at St. Johns College

Grant Horner, PhD, professor at The Master’s College, Humanities Educator at Trinity Classical Academy

Here are some useful books on Socratic teaching that we recommend.

  • Teach Like Socrates by Erick Wilberding: This book is a good general introduction to Socratic teaching with a survey of both ideas and practices.
  • Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland: This books is useful in particular for teachers who teach classes of more than twenty students.
  • Thinker’s Guide to The Art of Socratic Questioning by Richard Paul and Linda Elder: This is a pithy pamphlet or short book of 96 pages that presents a summary and survey of Socratic teaching.

Please Note: ClassicalU is currently developing a certification to accompany our course offerings. The certification credit component of this course is now active but also undergoing refinement and testing.

To obtain a certification credit for this course, simply complete the quiz that follows each presentation in the course, and then also take the certification test at the end of the course. The quizzes are designed to ensure that you have understood the essential content of each presentation, and they can be taken more than once if necessary. The cumulative certification test at the end of the course is given as a pass/fail test and requires that you upload one short essay (of 400-600 words) demonstrating your understanding this course. When you have completed the course, a certificate that you can print or email will magically appear under the “My Courses” section of this website.

For this course the essay assignment is:

Offer a definition of what Socratic teaching is and explain why it is a helpful, needed pedagogy in classical education.

Please allow approximately 2 weeks for essay submissions to be reviewed.

By taking the course for certification credit, you also will be on your way to obtaining a Level 2 certification.

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