In this model, Socratic Seminar is used to explore the major themes, essential questions or big ideas before standard content begins. Seminars are used to frontload or anchor a thematic or conceptual scaffold for the subsequent curricular content to build upon. Strong writes: “For example, a conventional geometry class may begin with four weeks of seminar geometry, using Euclid’s Elements. In this case, students would be thinking about proof, rigor, abstraction, truth, reality, making their own judgments about the nature of mathematics, the relationship of mathematics to the physical world, their standard of rigor, and of reality … At the same time students are getting a deep understanding of the concept “geometric proof,” which will serve them well for the remainder of the year as they work through textbook geometry … The time spent on the seminars will not be sacrificed from a content-coverage perspective because the deep conceptual knowledge the students will have gained ultimately allows the class to cover content more quickly.”
The main benefit of this model is that it will help students subsequently piece together disparate bits of knowledge into a more cohesive understanding. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, authors of Understanding by Design, write: “A big idea may be thought of as a linchpin. The linchpin is the device that keeps the wheel in place on an axle. Thus, a linchpin is one that is essential for understanding. Without grasping the idea and using it to ‘hold together’ related knowledge, we are left with bits and pieces of inert facts that cannot take us anywhere … For instance, without grasping the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law, a student cannot be said to understand the U.S. constitutional and legal system—even if that student is highly knowledgeable and articulate about many facts of constitutional history. Without a focus on the big ideas that have lasting value, students are too easily left with forgettable fragments of knowledge.”
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