Socratic or Shared Inquiry: A misunderstood Puzzle

Just a moment ago I saw a TV  advertisement encouraging teachers to allow more student talking, and it reminded me of an experience this past spring in my 8th grade class. I don’t remember the company who was being advertised, but that’s not important.

My 8th graders were in a Tier 2 class because they read 1-2 grades below grade level.  They needed support, and I designed this class a few years ago to help the “whole child” as ASCD (Association for School Curriculum Development) encourages.  This is not just a reading class — it is much more and helps the kids become “students and grow as individuals”.  Working with each one of them individually, they learn how to help themselves support their learning as a whole — at home and at school.

On the day I am remembering, we had just read a nonfiction article from Scholastic’s SCOPE Magazine;  I don’t remember the article title. After reading, I told them I would not be asking questions —  they would have to ask each other although they had no advance notice.  Suddenly 16 earful eyes stared at me.  After a few moments, one boy asked if they could brainstorm some questions in advance.  The joy burst from my heart, and I gave them my signature triple pat on my heart along with my words, “It’s a proud moment!”

Looking at me for guidance — but with very little response — the kids came up with 3 questions they thought everyone should answer.  It was not a clear shot of creating the questions. They struggled multiple times. They wanted my validation, but I moved my seat back and kept reminding them, “What do you think?”

Eventually, the most verbal students agreed on three questions everyone should answer.  Although 5 out of the 3 students tried to get buy-in, the others were pretty much non-committal.  I recognized that I had taught them well  — that all members counted in our class — not just a few.  Another gratifying moment!

Now that the questions were established on the easel for all to see, I asked the students to re-read the article with the questions in mind.  After checking that all had finished their re-read, I encouraged them to go ahead.  Again, those 16 eyes stared at me.

“Take a chance.  Think back to what I said.  You created the questions.  Go for it.”  They could see I was not taking notes because that would have created undue pressure.

“Ok…ay…,” Edgar said. (My student’s names have been changed for obvious privacy issues.)  “Who is going to start?”  There was no response.  “Let’s go with questions number 2,” Edgar continued and  read the question.

Dan answered with an amazingly deep response that I had not heard from him in months!  Although he was not pointing to the text, his paraphrasing was excellent.

Soon Jane joined — she is usually off task and reading some other page on her computer rather that the assignment. But not today!  She was referencing the article with specific  pages and paragraphs.

Can you imagine the pounding of my heart? The puzzle was coming together! This was a SOCRATIC SEMINAR BECAUSE BECAUSE I WAS NOT INVOLVED. Hence, the misunderstood puzzle of student discourse.

Eventually 5 out of the 8 students discussed a 3 page SCOPE article for more than 30 minutes and wanted to stay after class to continue. Rarely was their repetition and when it occurred, one of the students called their peers back on task. That is a rarity on all counts.

The only thing I reminded was that not everyone was participating.  And as another proud flash occurred, Edgar, my self-appointed student leader asked each student what they thought.  Obviously he was paying attention not only to the questions as they went through them but also to the participants.

The puzzle of Socratic vs Shared Inquiry is when the teacher is involved, it is Shared Inquiry.  Socratic is student-led not teacher-driven nor teacher-participating.

It doesn’t have to be a puzzle:  Just a puzzle of terminology.

And then:  GIVE THE KIDS A CHANCE — THEY CAN PUT THE PIECES TOGETHER.

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