Monday, July 8, 2013

Socratic Method? What? (Teaching the Classics ~ A Review)


I had the delightful experience of sitting in on a couple of sessions with Adam Andrews a few years ago at our state homeschool convention. I enjoyed listening to Adam then, and was pleased to be given the opportunity by Institute for Excellence in Writing to review his seminar, "Teaching the Classics: A Socratic Method for Literary Education." This is available as a DVD series (4 discs/6 sessions), with an accompanying workbook for the teacher, or upper level student.

Andrew Pudewa introduces the seminar here: 

Adam Andrews is very engaging and animated to listen to, neither dry or boring. He projects a lively interest in the bones of literature, and shows that using the Socratic method is an accessible option for everyone. I LOVE that he starts every writing class (High School and College included) with great books, that just happen to be chosen from the Children's Picture Book section of the library. Good Literature is Good Literature, is Good Literature, regardless of the age for which it is intended. 

You can get a taste of Adam's style, and his reasoning for the importance of teaching the classics in this short (3 minute) clip:


Now that you have a sense of how engaging Adam Andrews is, let me give you a little summary of what you will be listening to for approximately 5 1/2 hours of seminar (Don't worry~ each disc is split into seminar sessions, so 45 minutes-ish for a whole chunk, or you can listen to it in little bits... there is even a helpful DVD guide that includes each section broken down my minutes, so you can find where to skip to if your watching is interrupted).

You can download a sample from the IEW website that includes the table of contents, introduction, and some of the first lesson, as well as a much clearer sample story chart than the one below.

Disc 1
Adam Andrews uses "Paul Revere's Ride" to discuss literary structure (briefly), literary style (devices like onomatopoeia, personification, and symbolism, to name just a few), and historical context and authorship. Wow... It can totally increase the depth of understanding of a work of literature if one knows just a couple of facts about the author and the historical context! I have a new appreciation for "Paul Revere's Ride" now that I've thought about the context! 

Disc 2
Here Adam Andrews delves more into the concept of the Socratic Method v. the Lecture method. Teach your students how to discern the difference between a good book and a bad book. The Socratic Method involves the student, and teaches the student HOW to think, not WHAT to think. 

Adam claims that there are basically 3 kinds of Education:

Education that teaches What to think 
(typical education of the masses, so that they can at least survive)
Education that teaches When to think 
(education for those who want to be specialists-college majors)
Education that teaches How to think 
(historically the education of aristocrats and statesmen)

Socrates professed to know nothing in and of himself, but only knew what questions to ask, which in turn taught his students how to think for themselves. Basically, the Socratic Method is the asking of good, leading questions, and the discussion that ensues.

Thankfully, Adam has provided a Socratic List of 21 basic "general" questions (with sub-questions that start very simply and become gradually more complex) that can be used to guide discussion, as I am often not so good at asking good questions myself. Note: It is recommended that you really only choose a few questions per book to discuss ~ too many would be overkill, killjoy, etc... (And we do NOT want to kill the love of good literature!).

Even just a few questions could be a little painful for some of my children, occasionally, because it is more work to learn how to think for themselves. It is far easier to be told what to think, and possibly to become specialists... ;) I have the suspicion that I have one of the three who will thrive with this particular sort of learning/discussion. He's only 6 right now, so it remains to be seen, but I do plan to incorporate this in his learning where it isn't already included. :) 

This disc then focuses on Plot and Conflict, walking through a story chart with Adam and his audience after Adam reads "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." There is so much interesting information to be gained by watching the seminar~ many little notes to scribble in the workbook! :) Adam then quickly works through some adult literary works, which helps us see how the Socratic Method and Story Charts can be used with much more complex bits of literature.

From there Adam moves on to a discussion of "Setting" using the story "Rikki-tikki-tavi," while still filling out the rest of a Story Chart, in a similar fashion to "Peter Rabbit."

Disc 3:
The sessions on this disc focus on Character (Via "Tom Sawyer") and Theme ("Martin the Cobbler"). Adam goes through a Story Chart during this part of the seminar as well. The more I see of this, the easier it will be to replicate it in my own teaching. Once through certainly wasn't enough for me to have a really good handle on it, myself, so I appreciate the repetition!

Disc 4
This disc contains a Practicum (Interesting concept for an individual watching this DVD course) that was used in the group setting of this seminar. This would be most effectively done with a group, or with your student(s), but is still very useful to watch, and participate on your own, following the directions, choosing questions from the Socratic List in the syllabus to ask about the poem "Casey At the Bat," and filling out a story chart for "Casey At the Bat."

The final section of this disc is a nuts and bolts discussion on how to actually implement the techniques from this seminar in your own home. Adam does a great job of distilling this information in a clear and memorable fashion.

For those who choose to do this with their upper level students, IEW has a free lesson plan download by Jill Pike, that will guide you in using this as a 6 week course, with weekly teacher notes, homework pages, and extra stories to use, in addition to those included in the workbook.

I highly recommend this seminar/workbook for every homeschool teacher. I think it will be especially beneficial for those who don't live anywhere near a homeschool convention,  as well those who lean towards "Classical Education," as well as just about anyone who wants their children to be able to ask the good questions, and be able to discern quality literature from brain candy, even from the very earliest ages.  

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
Blessings~



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1 comment:

Thanks so much for letting me know you were here. I appreciate "thoughtful" comments. :)

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