Socratic Practice: A Powerful Method for Learning

“It is a sign of crudity and indigestion to throw up what we have eaten in the same condition it was swallowed down; and the stomach has not performed its office, if it has not altered the figure and shape of what was committed to it for concoction…Let the tutor make his pupil thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon mere authority…To the fragments borrowed from others he will transform and bend together to make a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment. His education, labor, and study aim only at forming that.” Michael Montaigne

This is the fourth part of the four-part series on an ideal University Education; the first part is here, the second part is here, and the third part is here.

Socratic Practice is a formidable discussion methodology that, when used properly, incorporates Active Listening at its best and nurtures reasoning skills and independence powerfully. Classrooms using Socratic Practice are active learning environments—they are intellectually, socially, and physically engaging. By encouraging the learners to ask their own questions of what they are studying, the motivating power of individual interest is harnessed.  Furthermore, because they are so engaging, Socratic Practice discussions don’t tax attentional resources, making learning much easier and enjoyable; students often get into a Flow state, forgetting how much time is passing because they are engaged.

I am referring to a very specific, carefully crafted methodology of teaching, which I will describe shortly. Some of you may have been to classes called Socratic Seminars which are quite different from what I mean. In these, a teacher might ask a question like “What is justice?” and then proceed to tell students they’re wrong when they give an answer the teacher doesn’t want. However, Socratic questioning is meant to develop the student’s ability to think about a subject, not to test them and catch them when they are wrong or call them on the carpet for the right answer.

Teachers looking for the right answer encourage students to focus on pleasing the teacher, not on thinking for themselves.

Teachers looking for the right answer encourage students to focus on pleasing the teacher, not on thinking for themselves. But the truly excellent teacher aims at helping students learn how to find the right answer on their own….(read the entire article here.)

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