Philosophy of Socratic Circles

By Catherine Devine, Convenor of the Melbourne Interfaith and Intercultural Socratic Circles Cluster

The principles of effective group collaboration include the elements of respect, responsibility, freedom and inclusion. These are four of the Values for Australian Schooling and are central to the process of Socratic Circle dialogue.

The underpinning notion of this form of classroom discussion is that learning is best achieved through disciplined conversation. – Matt Copeland

Both the physical and relational space of classroom is subverted in the process of the exercise. Two circles are created in the middle of the room engaging all students in a discussion. Students face one another participating in and observing formal conversation. In the study of a LOTE, students learn the conversational language by practising simulated conversational encounters. Yet, students who are native speakers of English seldom practise their formal conversational skills. The norms of formal conversational English are not part of the standard English curriculum. Classroom discussion is often characterized by the participation of a few students and the teacher.

Socratic Circle discussion keeps ‘teacher talk’ to a minimum. Teachers intervene with mediating questions or moderating statements where necessary.

Students learn skills in ‘asking questions’ to clarify understanding or to promote the exploration of a particular idea.

Socratic questioning dates back 2400 years to the time of philosopher and ‘Father of Teaching’, Socrates. His theory of knowledge asserted that the best learning took place through disciplined conversation.

Students learn to proffer genuine, relevant, and immediate feedback to their peers during participation in the outer circle of the discussion. Through this process they are learning the language of evaluation and constructive criticism.

The inclusion of a creative element in this activity is to enhance student engagement.

Outcomes:

  • relationship building
  • independent learning
  • communicative competence
  • intellectual depth
  • creative expression

 

For further information, refer to:
Copeland, M. (2005), Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking in Middle and High School, Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.