After Four Months of Socratic Practice in an Inner City Classroom

A follow-up to “The First Three Days of Socratic Practice in an Inner City Classroom” for those who read it:

Four Months Later

Four months later the classroom has been transformed.  We have a group of business leaders, mostly women, come to evaluate each group using the Socratic Practice/Ready For Work class participation rubric that I designed.  My work had been funded by the non-profit organization Alaska’s Youth:  Ready For Work, which represented 25% of the private sector work for in Alaska.  They were concerned that young people were not graduating from high school with adequate skills, and in some respects they were even more concerned with the lack of social skills than the lack of academic skills.  I thus designed the following rubric to meet the needs both of my classroom practice as well as the needs of the Alaskan business community for skilled workers:

Academic Skills

  1. Textual Understanding
  2. Speaking
  3. Listening
  4. Knowing How to Learn
  5. Critical Thinking

Social Skills

  1. Teamwork
  2. Sensitivity/Good Manners

Personal Skills

  1. Honesty and Integrity
  2. Willingness to Accept Criticism
  3. Responsibility and Initiative

The businesswomen and men, in their observations of the class working together to understand difficult technical text (I had selected the instructions of the IRS 1040C as the text the students were assigned to understand together) that the students worked together as a group more effectively than do most groups of adults.  No one who had not seen both the beginning and the end of this process would believe the transformation that took place.

We had students write about their experiences in the class.  This is one young woman’s report:

At the beginning of the school year I viewed things in basically one way.  I didn’t try to see things at different angles or ways.  One way had always been enough, had been all I cared about.  I talked a lot.  A whole lot.  I still do, but it’s different now.  Before, I talked to get my point across or argue.  Now I talk to inform others of my feelings or thoughts, to make sure I have a clear understanding of what someone else has thought and to add new ideas.  I now talk to learn.

All the reading I’ve done adds to my vocabulary, my listening skills, and the understanding of feelings and emotions.  Books used to seem unrealistic and over-dramatized to me.  It seemed that someone in every book I read was either too stupid, too prissy, too snobby, too rich, too depressed, too suppressed, or too out of touch to even exist.  But now it seems that those people that were only in books and on TV are living next door.

I used to be the kind of person to do things without thinking, but now I think about what I’m doing too much.  And before it didn’t bother me when others tried to change my thoughts on things, maybe because I used to do the same thing too, but now I get angry and have attitudes when others try to change my way of thinking and feeling.

There is only one definition of the change I’ve gone through this year.  It’s not called growth.  It’s NEW GROWTH.  New growth is known to African-American women as the growth of hair.  Hair that is curly and wavy.  Hair that needs to be straightened out.  New growth is what lengthens hair and allows new styles to be tried.

I can see things differently and because of that I can try and learn new things.  And most importantly, new growth lengthens.  I believe what I’ve learned will lengthen my life.

Thanks for the New Growth.

                                                -A.T., female, grade 8

From an external observer’s perspective, she was a changed being.  Most observers encountering her at the beginning of the experience would have regarded her as slow-witted, and would have expected her measured IQ to be quite low. In addition to her subjective experience of personal growth, as well as that observed by adults, she moved from the 1st percentile to the 85th percentile on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal in four months.  Her performance at the 1st percentile may well have been so low because she simply gave up, but when she began the process the entire game of intellectual dialogue, as well as critical thinking as measured by the WGCTA, was entirely alien.  By the end, she had become fluent in intellectual dialogue, her WGCTA score ranked her among the top 15% in the nation, and to an external observer she seemed like a confident, articulate, intelligent young woman.

The cohort as a whole gained almost as much in the four months of the program in 8th grade as the average American student gains when they move from grade 9 to grade 10.  The WGCTA is highly correlated with both SAT and IQ scores.

About Michael Strong

Co-founder, Ko School + Incubator, Conscious Capitalism, Radical Social Entrepreneurs, lead author of Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.
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4 Responses to After Four Months of Socratic Practice in an Inner City Classroom

  1. Kelly Elmore says:

    How does a person learn to do this Socratic Practice? I am a teacher and very interested in learning these skills.

  2. flowidealism says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Email me at with the subject and grade levels you teach, as well as the type of school you teach in.



  3. Pingback: How to Make Learning Almost as Much Fun as Sex – So that Teenagers LOVE Doing It! | The Purpose of Education

  4. Pingback: If We Had a Way to Increase IQ and Develop the Prefrontal Cortex of Inner City Youth Would We Implement It? | The Purpose of Education

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