Class Reflection-Book Clubs and Socratic Seminar

The focus of this class was talking about the expectations for our book club assignment and hearing what libraries do for book clubs and lots of discussion about Socratic seminars. The guest speaker from the Ann Arbor District Library talked about two rather different worlds of book clubs, the book kits and sponsored book clubs of the AADL and a private librarian only book club that works more with themes and what’s going on in YA and teen literature. It cemented for me what makes a book club really work is having something that gets people talking and that the job of the facilitator is knowing how to keep things moving.

All of the discussion about Socratic seminars was fascinating because a lot of it focused on how Metzger’s article didn’t seem realistic and how many factors would need to be in play for what she talked about to happen. It was a nice reminder of how many different environments everyone in that class came from and how we all found the idea of a Socratic seminar interesting but were wary of it in practice. Only one or two people mentioned experiencing one and that was in selective classes where there was a lot of trust between teacher and class. I think that’s also important for book groups, because in a good discussion everyone needs to feel safe to say what they’re thinking. Since if everyone is agreeing about everything, there won’t actually be a real discussion but instead just an echo chamber. So its key for whoever is organizing things to set up a place where all the members are willing to say what they really think. I think this requires really knowing who’s going to be there and the kind of things that make them feel comfortable. So the books about recipes and setting the right atmosphere can help as that might be the right thing for one gathering but not for another. In terms of finding the best balance of questions, I think that too depends on having an idea of where your audience will be approaching the material and getting appropriate material. It seems like that could be one of the greatest challenges, because in a small group, there will be a huge range of reading preferences and levels of education and prior knowledge. Though depending on where the seminar or book club is happening, its possible to have far more control. I’m curious to see how my book club with Kayla goes since we chose something that requires some prior knowledge though we chose one that needed less than others.

We ended by doing a mini Socratic seminar about the article Three Jeremiads and I was struck by how everyone seemed away of being watched. It kind of felt like a perfect illustration of how when you observe something it changes. I wonder what would have happened if that discussion had happened without anyone watching. Would things have got more heated? Would the same ideas have come out? That’s rather speculative, but it still was going through my head as I watched it.

Overall I found this a great class and look forward to a time when I might be participating and organizing book clubs.

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6 Comments

Filed under professional practice reflection

6 responses to “Class Reflection-Book Clubs and Socratic Seminar

  1. Kristin

    I wondered how much of the SS formality came from the students arranging themselves in a half-moon instead of in a circle?

  2. asteino

    I agree that this class was an interesting reminder of the varied places we all hail from. Somehow I didn’t make the connection between Socratic seminars and book clubs. Duh! I think that a book club would actually be a more “acceptable” place for a Socratic seminar, because the participants don’t have to worry about a grade or what their friends think of them.

    I was also struck at how conscious everyone was of being put on display so to speak. On the other hand, there were a lot of really great comments and ideas that came out of that discussion.

    • I think as was pointed out below, the set up of the classroom didn’t really help. It just highlighted how on display they were. Yes, I wouldn’t have made the connection if we hadn’t learned about them at the same time.

  3. Kristel

    Or how much more on display they felt because they were literally in a physical space below the rest of us? That is to say, we were already physically looking down on them. Perhaps they felt anything they might say could be looked down as well.

    • I agree, the classroom really is set up like a tiered theater which just heightened the feeling of being on display. I’m glad that our book clubs are happening in more equal spaces.

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