Teaching With Questions:Socratic Method

Good teaching requires the teacher to ask open ended questions for feedback to evaluate progress,a method attributed to Socrates.

Teaching skills are important for teachers at all levels, as well as parents, especially those interested in home schooling. One of the key teaching methods that is of great importance is using questioning as a learning tool.

This method of using questions to teach and evaluate performance is called the Socratic Method. Based on Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher and teacher, who was a mentor directly or indirectly for both Aristotle and Plato. Socrates taught his students in a manner that was beyond some of the conventions of the time. The method involved questioning. While classically and still today we find many teachers and professors or educational instructors presenting lectures, as far back as Socrates we find questions being used as a key learning tool.

Questioning students not only allows the teacher to evaluate the level of understanding but also provides for feedback, fine tuning the levels of teaching, dealing with misconceptions early, as well as improving the educational material presented. Perhaps one of the most key thoughts beyond all the information above is very simple. Teaching is learning. To teach is to learn. Good teachers learn and adapt to their students, and expand or refine their teaching material as they learn about themselves as well.

Students help teachers redefine their own horizons and levels of knowledge. The Socratic Method of teaching raises questions and provides a powerful system that can useful across the board for so many purposes.

One of the most useful facets of the Socratic Method of questioning is that it allows for quick evaluation of what a student does and does not know. Many parents and teachers do use different methods of questioning, however fail to ask appropriate questions or use an inappropriate style. Many fail to ask open ended questions. Instead they assume the answer. For example: "Susy, you know what circumnavigation means, right?" Little Susy may nod her head yes and still not understand what Magellan did with his ship in sailing the world. It would be better to ask a more direct question: "Johnny, what does circumnavigation mean?" Or you could ask for a practical example: " Johnny, what does circumnavigation mean, using an example from history?" (or from something you just studied such as Magellan's explorations around the world).

Many children will not ask what a specific vocabulary word means and will just assume the meaning or remain silent, which can lead to miscommunication or problems later with basic concepts. The same is true for math concepts and much more. Failure to provide an adequate number of questions using open ended questions fails to challenge the student and incorrectly assesses their ability. Now here is another thought. Most students want to be challenged. It gives them a sense of positive reward or feedback to answer questions correctly and can also be a motivational tool.

Questions allow the instructor to continually adapt the material and level of the lesson to better meet the students needs. Some students do better with practical examples while others do better with definitions. By questioning students and seeing where their strengths and weaknesses are one can provide better educational material. In addition some concepts or examples are not effective. Some questions are too difficult, too confusing, too ambiguous, and if put on a test, do not measure the students true knowledge but only reflect that the question may be confusing. Fine tuning lessons can be very important.

Finally, to teach is to learn. This is very important and is the reason why so many teach. In many cases students shed new light on a subject with their questions, asking something from a different angle then was ever expected. This results in new answers or creative thought and expands everyones knowledge of the subject. As the teacher and the student interact and teach and learn with a back and forth rhythm, more is discovered about the whole process, and the student is drawn out into an interactive form of learning that is more healthy and exciting than any boring, dry, dull lecture can be. They are a part of what they are learning and in their own way they are teaching. To teach is to learn. That is the lesson, part of the continual paradox that we find particularly with the Socratic Method. To find the answers we must ask questions, and those very questions are perhaps one of the most important tools of teaching.

© High Speed Ventures 2011