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The Socratic Method of Teaching

Ask Questions to Engage Students

The Socratic Method of Teaching
December 13, 2020 Eddie Renz
A smiling female teacher in a classroom. She reaches down and points to a difficult word in an open book as she helps them sound it out.

What is the Socratic Method of Teaching?

The Socratic Method is based on the philosopher Socrates. The definition is: the use of questions, as employed by Socrates, to develop a latent idea, as in the mind of a pupil, or to elicit admissions, as from an opponent, tending to establish a proposition. (Dictionary.com)

I remember growing up and my parents would tell me to do something and when I would ask “Why?“, their response was almost always, “because I said so.” While I believe that most of the time obedience in the moment is necessary, the more challenging thing to do as a parent is to take the time to explain the “why”, and as the child gets older, to even ask, “What do you think about that?”

Teaching students to think critically is a life skill that will be invaluable to them for the rest of their lives. While creating processes and procedures that create standardization are great for efficiency, forcing people to work like automatons without allowing them to provide feedback stymies growth.  Allowing people to provide feedback allows opportunities for new ideas and improvement.

The Leader is the Teacher

In a book called “Getting the Right Things Done” by Pascal Dennis, Dennis states “‘Thou shalt’, means the leader is the boss… when you tell people what to do, their minds close. You lose their experience, knowledge, and creativity…” Dennis continues, “‘What do you think?’ Means the leader is the teacher, like an open door, asking questions invites people in… people feel good so they get involved, which makes them feel even better.” This is the Socratic Method of Teaching.

In the video below, we look at the philosopher Socrates and how he persuaded people by asking them a serious of questions. This is a useful tool for the classroom and a different way of engaging students to think critically and possibly change their minds on an issue that before they were not willing to change.

HOW TO PERSUADE ANYONE - THE SOCRATIC METHOD

Don’t Tell People They Are Wrong

As soon as you tell someone they are wrong, you have already lost.” – This is a quote from the video above. I never really though about how true this is. When you are in an argument with someone, or you have a differing opinion, how much smarter it would be to engage the person with questions to try to determine where they stand on an issue and what their end goal is.

As teachers, a student might be resistant to learning math or writing long essays, however, if you ask them what their end goal in life is and explain why learning math or writing is important to achieving their goals, then it puts them in a place of taking responsibility for their own goals. Instead of forcing them to do something, you are offering them an opportunity to change their lives for the better.

Taking this idea one step further, a teacher could actually show a student multiple real world scenarios that applied directly to a student and show them how what they were learning in class had real world value. An example might be showing a student how geometry or physics applies to volleyball and football or how understanding code could help someone create a video game.

Resentment or Reward – Which do You Prefer?

I don’t know about you, but doing things without understanding the “Why” behind it always makes me resentful. However, when I know the benefit of something that requires effort, when I see the positive outcome I feel reward. In the video below, Simon Sinek outlines the importance of starting with “Why”.

Simon Sinek - Start with Why

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