Questions are the driving force behind the learning process in the Socratic method; they guide a student to discovering information the teacher already holds. The teacher must craft questions that lead students to knowledge and realizations. Additionally, student preparation can help enhance discussions and lead to more in-depth conversations with classmates.
How do teachers use Socratic questions?
Ultimately, as teachers prepare for a Socratic discussion in class, they will develop a list of starting questions to help jumpstart the conversation. In a science class, the questions can draw the students to a topic or point from a lecture or reading. In questioning students, the teacher will try to force the students to a deeper understanding of the topic.
For example, the teacher may ask students to describe cell mitosis. Using the student responses, the teacher may then ask students to describe or explain each stage of mitosis. The questions created by the teacher will point to specific elements of mitosis, forcing students to describe each stage and ultimately understand each phase.
Compared to a traditional lecture, the questioning approach used by the teacher is designed to achieve three goals:
- Summarizing information
- Identifying key points
- Understanding the overall process
The initial questions posed during a Socratic discussion serve to focus the lesson and guide student discussion toward topics predetermined by the teacher. Some questions may be geared toward clarification. The teacher may focus on one or two topics or keywords and ask students to create a clear summary or definition before moving on to broader themes and topics. Other questions may ask students to clarify their opinions and provide evidence for any hypotheses or assertions about the topic. In doing so, the questioning process will help students learn to develop evidence-based theses.
Once the pre-written questions have been exhausted, the teacher will continue to use questioning as a means of furthering discussion and challenging student opinions. Note that these challenges are not meant to refute student opinions. They are merely another way to ensure that the students have thought out their views and developed support for any claims from reading or previous lectures. Additionally, questions may be focused on asking students to create new assumptions and considering consequences.
What is the purpose of Socratic questioning?
The primary purpose of the question in the Socratic classroom is to keep the teacher from lecturing and allow students to engage in discovery. Questions also ensure that students are developing summaries of their reading and developing their own conclusions. Eliminating the teacher summary or lecture eliminates teacher bias.
Fundamentally, the questions shift the instruction from the teacher to an understanding by the student by removing the teacher's role as "explainer." Questions also allow the teacher to redirect students and ensure that all the major points about the subject at hand are covered.
The questions in the Socratic classroom also ensure that the discussion is a dialogue instead of debate. By using student comments and answers as a basis for additional questions, other students are encouraged to participate and create a dialogue. This gives all students a chance to participate and engage in the topic since disagreement comes in the form of a question. Thus, the questions allow students to buffer disagreement as a means of developing deeper understanding rather than creating an adversarial discussion.