Book Clubs and Socratic Seminars: Better Discussions

I enjoyed reading about book clubs and socratic seminars this week. Mostly because I did them both as a child and my experience with both of these things was very different from the ones outlined.

Firstly, I remember socratic seminars from high school, and I almost laughed out loud at the mention of “preparing thoughtful citizens for active involvement in a democratic society” (Trenway). What I remember most vividly about the socratic seminar process was that it was mostly just a couple of very strong personalities dominating a classroom conversation. If you were a hand raiser or felt like you needed some prodding, you were sort of out of luck. It was novice learning at its best- people who thought the quickest and the loudest were the ones who dominated the discourse. It makes me feel like our first weeks reading and this weeks reading were in this way a bit at odds.

I also was in book clubs as a kid. And I never read the book. This did not stop me from engaging in a lively discourse about the cover of the book, about the part I skimmed, about the back cover summary. Because of this, I really gravitate toward the book club exploded article from the library journal. I like the de-emphasis on the supposed transcendental nature of reading a book from spine to spine. If the purpose of book clubs is to give people an opportunity to be on the same page (pun intended) about a subject, author or idea, then there are a thousand other ways of doing that than making them all buy the same boring group. I think book club rogues like me have been interacting with book clubs in this manner for quite a while, and it was strangely validating to hear it in the literature.

Finally, this whole theme of keeping the discussion going has me really thinking about social media. If social media is indeed about conversations, then wouldn’t book clubs make sense to be linked with social media? I’m thinking book hashtags would be easy, maybe some other types of quick tweets with small communities. No full ideas, just short and sweet bits and pieces. That way, book clubs could be asynchronous and you wouldn’t have to put everyone in the same room. And wouldn’t a tweeting model taking the hand-raising stigma out of Socratic seminar, allowing people to more fully interact?

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About Ilana the Librarian

I am an aspiring librarian at the University of Michigan.
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6 Responses to Book Clubs and Socratic Seminars: Better Discussions

  1. Laura B says:

    I agree that it’s nice that people can participate in book clubs in some form or other, even if they haven’t read the book, but I do think that if I had read the book carefully from cover to cover, I might be looking for a book club where the fellow participants had also read it as thoroughly. Not that I’ve ever been in book club really, but I just wonder if the hard-core cover to cover people might be frustrated.

  2. Mary Buchner says:

    I think it’s always tricky to use social media such as Twitter to foster a good discussion. While everyone might be able to throw an opinion into the ether, the moderator, professor, or other people in the discussion could still totally miss it. Also, it can get confusing with people responding to comments that are “way down the page” or whatever, depending on what you’re using.

    Social media definitely makes it easier to interrupt and ignore people, I think. Technology in general does that. I mean, who HASN’T received a less-than-stellar text from someone and then simply said that you didn’t get it when asked about the text at a later date?

  3. adamsliz says:

    I agree with Laura that while people can and should participate in book groups in many forms, certain people might want one where the focus is on a single, specific title. Book groups and Socratic Seminars do tend to be dominated by certain people, and those people are kind of clueless about it. If someone is a talker by nature, and if s/he chooses a separate title, s/he might dominate any discussion even more. From my own experience, there is nothing that people love more than to talk about something unique or that only they have knowledge of. I think this extends to book groups, as well.

  4. I really appreciate everyone’s perspectives this week on Socratic seminars. I don’t recall having ever participated in one and the readings presented them as a very effective tool for increasing understanding and building life skills. However, from most people’s blog posts it seems there are quite a few downsides to Socratic seminars if they are not facilitated well.

  5. Kristin says:

    In “real” Socratic Seminar, the facilitator actually keeps a tally of how often each person has spoken. It makes it obvious very quickly who is hogging the conversation. I’ll try to show you guys in a future class. It’s also interesting when you give each person say, three chances to speak, after which they must cede to others. People develop interesting strategies to hold onto their chances to be heard.

  6. The Atlantic has a Twitter-based book club that I peek into from time to time… it works pretty well, as far as I can tell, especially because participants vote for the book, and if you’re not into a given title you can just wait until the next round. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/category/1book140/

    I also have to say that I totally appreciate you “book club rogues” who keep the discussion going without having read the whole thing–mostly because the saddest thing in the world to me has always been English classes full of people who HAD read the whole text and still had nothing to say. Engagement is so much more important than precision, at least in my mind.

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