Lightning in the Classroom: One School’s Experience


This excerpt from Teaching Critical Thinking by Terry Roberts and Laura Billings, shows the power of Socratic seminar to inspire and motivate students:

Some years ago, we visited a magnet school in Chicago that was defined in part by its dedication to the Paideia Program and in particular, the Paideia Seminar. As we visited classrooms that day, we asked students to describe their experience in seminar, and they told us about especially memorable texts and discussions. It was obvious from their enthusiasm that they took great pride in their ability to discuss big ideas.

When we walked into one sixth-grade classroom, a girl turned the tables on us and started to ask questions. “What caused you to become interested in seminar in the first place?”

Terry replied that he had long been moved by the thrill that comes when we learn something for the first time. “It doesn’t matter how many others have had the same thought before; when you experience an idea for the first time, it’s as if it’s being born inside your head.”

Students were nodding, many smiling in recognition of this experience. Terry added, “It’s like a flash of lightning, isn’t it, sudden and bright, and it seems to me that seminar is the one place in school where the most lightning strikes.”

One student suddenly called out without raising his hand, “You got that right!”

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