My mentor, Dennis Gray, worked for San Diego City Schools in the mid 1980s to mid 1990s. Under the direction of then superintendent, Dr. Tom Payzant, he was to train as many teachers as he could in Socratic Seminar Leadership Skills. I was lucky enough to be one of those teachers in 1988. It changed my life. Below is short document for you to read and comment on. Enjoy!


Dennis Gray, Consultant
San Diego City Schools
Circa, 1998

The Why and How of Socratic Seminars

In contrast to the use of a Socratic method in some universities and law schools, the goal of the Socratic seminar in elementary and secondary schools is not to arrive at a “correct” interpretation of a text via the seminar teacher’s skillful questioning. Instead, it is the assumption of this method that knowledge and understanding are constructed by learners themselves rather than discovered or received. In other words, understanding is emergent, uncertain, and subject to revision; it is connected to what learners already know; and it is a new creation by cooperative action rather than a product solely of the author’s or teacher’s effort.

What this means in practical terms is that it is the foremost responsibility of the seminar leader to draw out multiple perspectives on texts, to insist that all interpretations be supported by textual evidence and clear reasoning, to force consideration of alternative views, and to help participants identify and think about substantive agreements and disagreements.  In short, the seminar leader’s main purpose is to assist participants in the making of justifiable meaning using high standards of thought and discussion. It is through this approach that participants are given practice in critical thinking and are encouraged to pursue their curiosity about the context of the ideas in question: the author , the historical period, possible connections with other texts, importance in their own lives, etc. In this way, the method of seminars (rather than debate or lecture), promotes a balanced and open-minded consideration of ideas, values, and issues.

Another goal of Socratic seminars is to expand participants ‘ familiarity with works drawn from many sources, including those from non-Western traditions and from minority groups within American society.