What is Paideia Seminar?

Paideia Seminar is an approach to Socratic seminar that is rooted in the Paideia method of education, which encourages active learning. A Paideia Seminar is a collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text. Thought-provoking seminar discussions are one of the “three columns” of a Paideia education, along with intellectual coaching and didactic instruction.

In Paideia schools, children don’t just memorize information. They learn to think. The Paideia approach to Socratic seminar is designed to promote critical and creative thinking.

What Sets Paideia Seminar Apart?

Paideia Seminar shares the essential characteristics of all Socratic dialogue: it is a formal thoughtful discussion, guided by questions and focused on ideas and values.

However, the Paideia Seminar differs in some respects from the classical Socratic method. Paideia educators have refined classical Socratic dialogue in order to engage students and to build intellectual skills that students need to thrive in today’s society.

Socratic seminar topic - Aesop's "The Crow and the Pitcher"
Seminar topic: Aesop’s “The Crow and the Pitcher”

Focus on a text: Paideia Seminar centers on a text that is a tangible human artifact — such as a poem, a painting, a song, or a science experiment. By contrast, classical Socratic dialogue centers on issues and situations, which are usually theoretical or intangible. By focusing on a specific text, Paideia Seminar creates an entry point to engage students with more abstract ideas. Focusing on a text also creates opportunities to explore profound and influential texts within an academic discipline.

Personal questions: Paideia Seminar includes a specific sequence of questions, including both Socratic and maieutic questions. Classical Socratic questions are logical and analytical in nature. Maieutic questions are more personal, asking students to relate the discussion topic to their own lives. (The term maieutic comes from the Greek word for midwifery, because students give birth to their own ideas.) Paideia Seminars open and close with maieutic questions, which promote more lively engagement with the seminar topic. The core of a Paideia Seminar relies on Socratic questions for close text-based analysis. As noted in The Paideia Proposal, teaching through questioning includes both maieutic and Socratic questions.

Teaching speaking and listening: Whereas Socratic seminar typically refers only to a discussion, Paideia Seminars include steps to take before and after the discussion, in order to coach speaking and listening skills. Just like reading and writing, speaking and listening are skills that must be learned — and they are essential skills for success in school and in life. For this reason, speaking and listening are included among the language arts standards in the Common Core curriculum.

Learn the Paideia Method

Thousands of teachers in public and private schools throughout the United States and internationally are using the Paideia method to engage students in active learning. We offer trainings for experienced Paideia educators as well as teachers who are new to this approach. Check our our resources, including: