Learner Centered (versus teacher-centered):
Learner-centered classrooms function as communities of learners, balancing student interests and mandated curriculum content. The teacher facilitates student-to-student discussions rather than asking all of the questions and leading discussions. Teacher talk diminishes as student talk and support increases. Students and the teacher become members of an interdependent community.
Socratic seminars, a form of classroom discussion, provide wonderful opportunities for the student-to-student interactions to flourish. They are “based on Socrates’ belief that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves than to merely fill their heads with “right” answers.”Prior to the seminar (discussion), students “examine” a text guided by prompts from the teacher. The “text” may be a novel, political cartoon, artwork, poem, etc. During the discussion, the teacher offers a few well-crafted, open-ended questions “to allow students to think critically, analyze multiple meanings in text, and express ideas with clarity and confidence.” A follow-up activity enables students to synthesize what they’ve learned from their preparation and seminar experiences. Ball and Brewerprovide extensive resources in their materials and check the collection of resources for others available online and in print.
During the seminar, the teacher remains silent as much as possible, to create space for students to run the discussion. The teacher’s prompts need not be questions. Dillonproposed a variety of alternatives to direct questioning when the purpose of a discussion is to explore ideas and prompt higher level thinking: declarative statement, reflective restatement, declaration of perplexity, invitation to elaborate, class questions, speakers’ questions and deliberate silence. Students can learn to use these techniques too. Descriptions are provided in Appendix E. More details are provided in Dillon’s article.