“Think Like Socrates” is an inspiring guide to using Socratic questioning in the classroom. Peeples shares relatable stories that show how this method sparks curiosity and empathy. She makes a strong case for prioritizing authentic dialogue over rote learning. The book’s best parts explore how Socratic seminars build vital social-emotional skills.

Peeples offers troubleshooting tips for common challenges. Her infectious passion will energize teachers to revitalize their practice with the power of questioning. Whether you’re new to Socratic seminars or a veteran, this concise, readable book is a valuable resource to transform your teaching.

Honoring Students' Experiences

Over the last few days, I’ve been huddled up with Shanna Peeples’ book, Think Like Socrates. The book jacket a la Amazon advertises it in this way:

Socrates believed in the power of questions rather than lecturing his students. But how did we get so far away from his method of inquiry? Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, will show you how teachers can create an engaging atmosphere that encourages student questions and honors their experiences.

What I Hoped For From This Book

Since I’ve been reading a bit about Socrates, Stoics, Philosophy, etc., my hope was that this book would be a re-introduction of critical thinking, the dialogic method into modern classrooms. Today, there is a fundamental desire to strip classrooms down to bare bones, dumping a lot of the ways things have been done in the recent past, to get back to…well…basics of teaching and learning. Of course, to do that without also throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Unfortunately, Peeples' book gave off strong writing workshop vibes (and it referenced writing workshop several times). I recognized it from my own efforts at writing workshop. She drops beautiful statements that capture the reader’s attention a la social justice. It is an authentic telling, very social and emotional learning friendly with echoes of culturally responsive teaching. That said, the title is off. I wouldn’t have called this readable, conversational text “Think Like Socrates.”

Quoting Peebles

You can easily tell Peebles was a journalist, and an English teacher. She will occasionally drop these amazing statements into the text that make you sit up and take notice. This book could have been condensed to a few pages of these engaging statements, and the lesson protocols she includes.

Here are Peebles' amazing statements:

Our students need to ask questions now more than ever. To shield them from thinking and questioning in a mistaken fear of “pulling them off task” is at best wasted effort and at worst an isolation from what truly makes us human.

In a world increasingly uncomfortable with the changes wrought by technology, we seek out authoritarian figures to tell us what to do and how to think.

Questioning, therefore is good citizenship. It is the anti-tyranny vaccine.

Or, consider this one:

One of our basic human drives is connection. We become smarter by participating in social learning

You just know Peebles is taking aim those restrictive efforts in schools that try to silence children. I love this quote:

We can’t order, threaten or guilt people to innovate. We can be systematic in creating the conditions and systems for innovation to regularly happen.

These are ideas that echo and rise above the title and confines of the book. They scream out for more attention. Here are a few more:

  • Maybe what students really want is for us to listen to them and trust the intellectual power inside them.
  • Writing is a way to be present with your own experiences.

The book, with it’s authentic writing, hits the mark on SEL and building safe learning environments, teacher-student relationships, but…I kept hoping for more practical suggestions on Socratic thinking than what Peebles offered in the included lesson protocols. I may have misunderstood what Peeples set out to do…I guess I wanted more Socrates, more on Socratic circles, and critical thinking. This text tried to cover too much, and ended up with a field of coal with a few gems throughout. I would have encouraged a more concise volume.

That misunderstanding aside, a fantastic read, well worth the time to seek out the diamonds Peebles scatters amidst the ideas in the book.

Quotable Quotes

These are quotes that Peeples included in her book. I liked some of them, so they appear here out of context.

  • “The biggest problem growing up today is not actually stress; it’s meaninglessness.” - William Damon, Professor
  • “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” –Leo Tolstoy
  • “We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned of it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage, we become temperate and courageous.” - Aristotle
  • “To believe that one can teach respect through coercion is to confuse respect with obedience.” Larry Brendtro and Nicholas Long, Reclaiming Children and Youth
  • “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and like Teflon for positive ones.” -Rick Hanson
  • “The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
  • “Don’t be afraid of philosophy–it has been spreading love and advancing human ideas for centuries. Be afraid of a world without philosophy. Be afraid of what you will become if you turn your back on the beautiful possibilities it has to offer.” - Sharon Kaye
  • “We can’t teach science as a bunch of facts. We have to teach them how to ask good questions and think like a scientist.” Randolph ?
  • “Men have no more ready corrective of conduct than knowledge of the past.” -Polybius

My Notes

  • When we make a space for students to ask their own questions, we validate them as meaning-makers and honor the hardwired capacity for inquiry that is in each of us.
  • Socrates believed that inviting people to question what they think they know, rather than telling them would result in deeper understanding.
  • The dialectic method compels one to think through a problem to a logical conclusion…it involves using questions to help students draw from the well of what they know, match it against what they have learned, interrogate it, and build deeper understanding.

Chapter 1

  • An opening for professional development sessions with teachers is: What do you struggle with the most as a teacher?"
  • When we encourage natural social behaviors, we are making ourselves and our learning experiences necessary.
  • The fastest way to engage people’s brains is to ask it a question.
  • When students make predictions about content, even content they don’t know, they must have an answer. If teachers set up students' questions in a way that points toward the content they need to teach, teachers enlist students' natural tendency to find answers to deeper learning experiences. These experiences allow them to develop their vocabulary, speaking, listening, writing, reading, and critical thinking skills.
  • One of our basic human drives is connection. We become smarter by participating in social learning, according to Vygotsky’s social development theory.
  • The theory emphasizes the importance of the learning environment in determining how children think and what they think about.
  • An opening to a session by the author:

I accept that bad things happen to good people. What I can’t accept is when good things happen to bad people. Why do some people ‘get away with it?’ It’s a question that haunts me. What about you? What are the questions that haunt you? Or make you sad? or make you angry? Or just confuse you no matter how much you try to think about it? I’ve asked your teachers to give everyone a piece of paper. I’d love to know what your questions are. What are the things you’ve kept inside you that you’ve been afraid to ask? Would you mind sharing them with me? If you want to, please write them on the paper.

  • Maybe what students really want is for us to listen to them and trust the intellectual power inside them.

Chapter 2

  • We can’t order, threaten or guilt people to innovate. We can be systematic in creating the conditions and systems for innovation to regularly happen.
  • Design thinking is a continual action always in search of newer and better ways to solve problems. It uses analysis to separate a problem into pieces as in….
  • Divergent thinking creates multiple perspectives and generates many kinds of solutions. An easy way to start is to use cubing. A question (a total of six) goes on each side of the cube.
  • After cubing, use convergent thinking that brings together all of the information gleaned from cubing or other brainstorming exercises to focus on the most promising ideas.
  • If we want kids to connect with the heart of learning, we have to risk the messiness of it. The risk is the reward.

Cubing Design Strategy

  • Describe it, Think about it, Try it
  • Compare/Contrast It, Think About it, Try it
  • Associate it….
  • Analyze it…
  • Apply it…
  • Argue for or against it…

Chapter 3

  • This stance–teaching from who we are and connecting to those who are in front of us–is what raises teaching from a set of discrete skills into the realm of something only humans can do.
  • It calls on us to be unguarded, empathetic, authentic, and brave.
  • When you find five similarities with your students, Harvard researchers found, the relationship between teachers and students improves by over 60%.

Chapter 4

  • The process of writing in short burst is easy, but committing to it as a daily practice is more difficult.
  • ==Writing is a way to be present with your own experiences.==
  • A set of sentence stems to use includes:
  • What I’m feeling right now…
  • I hate/ I love
  • What I wish people understood is…
  • What I’m wondering about is…
  • Talk less; ask more questions
  • A magic phrase for beginning difficult conversations is, ==“What’s going on that I need to know? What do you need me to understand? Can you say more about that?"==

Miscellaneous Notes from Subsequent Chapters

Some additional items from my notes and the book, but there’s a lot more to consider that would take a lot more time than I have:

  • In my class, there are a few questions that I ask all the time: “1) What is this telling us? 2) How does it connect to what we already know? 3) Why does that matter to us as citizens and us as individuals?” - Nate Bowling
  • Asking questions, defining problems, and engaging in argument from evidence are core practices.
  • When engaging in inquiry, students describe objects and events, ask questions, construct explanations, test those explanations, against current scientific knowledge, and communicate their ideas to others.
  • Students identify their assumptions, use critical and logical thinking and consider alternative explanations. In this way, students actively develop their understanding of science by combining scientific knowledge with reasoning and thinking skills.