Review of The Great Books Core Sequence

I recently had the privilege of attending a Junior Great Books Training Core Sequence (courtesy of our building/district). The primary focus of the three courses is learning about and practicing the Shared Inquiry discussion, which is a Socratic-style model for discussing literature and other texts. I might post my notes here, but after taking 3 courses over 2 days, there’s a lot of them. That said, here’s a quick summary of the basics.

  • Shared Inquiry is all about students interpreting a text and sharing their interpretation – and the evidence they find to support that interpretation – with their classmates
  • Every SI discussion begins with a single interpretive question – an open-ended question that asks students to provide an interpretation of the text
  • In a SI discussion, the teacher’s role is to come up with a genuine interpretive question and facilitate the discussion with authentic follow-up questions that are raised by genuine interest in the response
  • Both teacher and student focus the SI discussion on the text – the text is the one thing everyone has in common, and a good text can more than adequately lead a discussion into other realms without students bringing in personal beliefs or experiences
    • This does not mean you avoid connecting texts to personal experience. There are other times that are perfect opportunities to discuss evaluative questions, such as “Do you think X is right or wrong?”
  • Shared Inquiry is not a curriculum in and of itself – just part of a larger picture. This sort of discussion will fit in perfectly with whatever else you are doing in your classroom.

My overall perception of this program is overwhelmingly positive. I’ll admit that I’m a little biased – I am a big fan of the Great Books series (though I don’t have a GB bookshelf…yet). However, this training actually had little to do with the literature. Rather, it was a great introduction into the style of Socratic questioning and discussion. As a young teacher, this is the sort of training I wish I’d had in my teacher preparation courses. I feel more confident and competent to lead text-based discussions, and I have resources to share with other young teachers who might want the same. Definitely glad I took the time out of my summer to attend.

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