The Book Seminar is the
primary mode of learning in a coordinated studies program. The seminar
in coordinated studies is what sets this class
apart from other types of classes. So what is a seminar? How
do you prepare
for a seminar? What and how do you learn in a seminar?
brings together an interested group of learners who have done some
preparation, including having read, thought about and written
a particularly good book. This solitary preparation should
include marking the text for interesting passages, reviewing those
one’s thoughts on paper and producing significant questions
that need to be explored.
In the seminar the group
is responsible for exploring the text and probing the ideas people
from their individual
of the text.
It is a time to "mine" the text, to work it over
as a group, to think outloud about it, and to test some ideas
against the group.
For example, the following might be overheard in a seminar: "I
know if this is valid but it seems that the author is saying...." Or: "Here
on page l5 at the bottom of the page the author says [read
from text]. This seems to be his most important point. What
I think he is saying
A seminar is not an arena
for performance to show you’ve read the
text or a reporting session to read your papers. It’s
more than a class discussion and it definitely is not a
time for a lecture
an expert who will tell the group what they should get
from this book. There may be places for those activities
is a special time for a unique intellectual activity. The
exchange of ideas is focused on a source (a book, play
A good way to keep focused
on the text at hand is to respond
to the following three questions:
1. WHAT IS THE AUTHOR
SAYING? —Point to the exact
page and paragraph so everyone can read along.
WHAT DOES THE AUTHOR MEAN? — Explain the passage
in your own words.
3. WHY IS THIS POINT IMPORTANT?--Agree
or disagree, or compare it to other ideas
Make sure you keep
these three questions distinct, because each question forces the
group to discuss
the text in
different ways. The first
one asks for the facts. The second searches
for concepts behind the exact
words, or inferences between the lines. The
third seeks a synthesis — your
own interpretation, reaction, or insight.
the seminar will be focused and free-flowing. Sometimes it will
be searching, questioning,
going deeper to understand
a book, from others or from within yourself.
Sometimes the group will come to some conclusions.
it will seem
like a series of disconnected
activities, like a pop corn popper, with
ideas jumping around the table without clear connections.
seminar is a place to
discover new ideas, to re-look at old ideas,
or to develop insightful connections among
The teacher’s role
in a seminar is, at best, to be a model of an experienced
learner; not to be
the focus of attention, or the
who will tell you what you should learn.
Don't let the faculty member give a lecture
in seminar! Everyone
must take responsibility for
co-leading and sharing ideas.
must learn to actively listen to each other and speak openly to
just to the
group must learn
sensitive to the needs of all. The natural
talkers must be disciplined in order
to learn how to
people must learn
to be more assertive. They must resolve
to share their insights, even if
they are not comfortable doing that.
Shyness is neither a virtue nor is it an excuse
to withhold your thoughts
should speak during each seminar.
in turn and allow others to finish their thoughts. Do not interrupt
OK. Silence gives
time to process thoughts,
so try to become comfortable with it.
Address an idea or argument by connecting
are responding to, then provide your
Finally if things are not
going well, it is our responsibility individually
collectively to put things right.
Keep taking the pulse of the
group and make adjustments so that
have the opportunity to have
a meaningful intellectual experience
in seminar. The best question to
ask is not "how am I doing," but
is our seminar going?"
the seminar with more questions
than you came with, or being somewhat
confused and overwhelmed
is a sign your
seminar is working. You will come
to realize in seminar that a great
not something you read once and
then feel satisfied you have learned all
Rather, a great
one which stimulates
continuing intellectual curiosity,
and which demands from you a re-reading
of it — maybe for the rest
of your life.