Socratic seminars in a middle school science classroom
Davidson, Elizabeth Dorene
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The purpose of this action research was to examine the effects of incorporating Socratic Seminars in a middle school science classroom. Often in middle school science classrooms, whole class discussion turns into a question-and-answer session with the teacher, whereas the goal is for the discussion to be student-centered. Over the course of seven months, four Socratic Seminars were completed in two different 7th grade class settings, general and honors science. Students completed a pre-treatment and post-treatment survey using a Likert scale with open response explanations. During each seminar, students kept a note sheet and tracked the actions of their partner in the discussion, while the teacher recorded student participation and rated each seminar in terms of level of discussion and participation. In addition, other secondary teachers in the district that utilized Socratic Seminars were interviewed to compare experience and refine facilitating techniques. Majority of students in each treatment group agreed that Socratic Seminars were a valuable use of class time in science. Participation in the honors class was consistently high (above 70%), while participation in the general class grew from below 50% to 73% in the final seminar. Honors classes were more adaptable and reached greater participation level and depth of discussion. However, with proper scaffolding and practice, general classes were able to improve their participation rate. These seminars put a rigorous demand on students to contribute to class discussion. Overall, Socratic Seminars allow an opportunity for the teacher to conduct whole class conversations that are student driven.