Elements of Acton: Socratic Discussions

Socratic Discussions: What They Are

Socratic dialogue stimulates critical thinking by facilitating inquiry and debate. In a Socratic discussion, a guide sets up scenarios and asks questions. The guide may launch and moderate a Socratic discussion, but the students lead it by asking most of the questions and answering each other.

How We Use Socratic Discussions at Acton

We believe that asking the right questions is as important as knowing the answers. Each day is launched with a Socratic discussion to highlight the focus of the day and build energy, bring up a community need, or just inspire and encourage students. Launches often begin with a story or video that sets the framework for the discussion. Or a guide might simply read a quote, such as this one by Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The students might then grapple with whether they believe what you do, what you say, or how you make someone feel has a more lasting impact.

In addition to the daily launches, core skills and project times begin with Socratic discussions to reflect on the purpose of the activity. Outside of discussions, guides employ the Socratic method with students throughout the day by not answering questions. The purpose of this is to build and reinforce independent learners who are able to answer their own questions by consulting the four “B”s: their Brain, a Board (information posted on a white board or bulletin board), Blinks (books or links), or a Buddy (another student).

More on Socratic Discussions

Here are some helpful resources on Socratic discussions:

Brewing Up a Socratic Summer
Acton Academy cofounder Laura Sandefer provides a “cheat sheet” for parents interested in having Socratic discussions at home. Sandefer writes, “The true purpose of a Socratic discussion is to come to new or deeper understandings of oneself, others and the world through an authentic wrestling with thoughts, information and ideas. And the real adventure is that you have no idea where you will end up.”

A Socratic Launch
In this video, Acton Academy cofounder Jeff Sandefer leads a Socratic discussion about entrepreneurship with the elementary students in Austin. Sandefer and the students begin with a review of the Socratic rules of engagement.