Home Winsights
No. 40 (April 2000)

One Way to Make a Huge Swing Factor
in Education, and in Productivity
and Human Well-Being

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

We've said much here about Socratic method and the value of getting people to examine their perceptions and to describe what they discover there:  "The Principle of Description" — anything you describe in detail while examining it closely, you discover more and more and more about. — and "The First Law of Psychology" — you get more of what you reinforce. Describing your own perceptions, in detail, reinforces:
  1. the particular perceptions being described;
  2. the behavior of being perceptive.
We've noted how having bright people hanging on your every nuance of thought, and relaying it to an eagerly awaiting world, not only produced genius in British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking but literally has kept him physically alive despite a disease from which he was supposed to have died decades ago; and how having your staff members listen effectively to each other and draw each other out will produce equivalent geniuses among your own employees.

In education (which itself is named after that drawing-out effect), we've always known that practice of Socratic method was historically associated with not only high-quality educational results but with a dramatically higher incidence of emergence of world-class geniuses among the students so educated. If you do the numbers, the count comes out somewhere between ten million to one and one hundred million to one times higher incidence of world-class genius among those who've been taught Socratically, as compared with those taught by current conventional classroom methods. This seems to this writer to be a fairly significant difference.

The problem in education, though, has also been a matter of numbers. Traditional Socratic method was where one instructor would draw out one, two, maybe four students at a time. If you had a classroom full of thirty or forty restless students, you could keep the rest in line only through sheer terror, as in some law schools which claim to practice Socratic method. "Next week, half of you won't be here!"

Another problem with numbers was, even if you recognized that individuals learn far more from what they do and say than from what's told to them, in a large group discussion or large class:  how can you get enough of that effect in? There are too many people competing for air time in the same limited span of time. Not only do you get speaking time sliced too thin to do much good; if the discussion gets hot you have everyone sitting there mentally rehearsing what they're going to say when they get the chance, rather than listening to one another.

Both problems, happily, have been resoundingly solved. A complete set of specific instructions for modern Socratic method now is readily available, suitable to elicit genius from just about any group, on just about any topic, whether in a club meeting, a class room, a board (bored?) meeting, a staff or faculty meeting, even those people you have to work with! Under CPS Techniques in this website, see Dynamic Format and you'll have that set of instructions for free.

A more involved set of instructions, with examples in different school subjects, is published by Project Renaissance in the book How To Be a Better Teacher, Today — While Reducing Your Workload. You don't have to chase your recalcitrant crew around with homework, pop quizzes, drillwork and other paperwork:  your students will involve themselves and pull you along as they do nearly all the work for you.

During the 1960s there was indeed some recognition of the need of participation and involvement, and schools flirted with "interactive learning" only to end with disorder or even chaos. In contrast, the modern forms of Socratic technique, in "Dynamic Format" and in Better Teacher, allow you to have a much better focused, orderly, on-task classroom than you have now by current practices. Besides being Socratic, they are remarkably easy and efficient group management techniques.

These modern group focusing techniques enable any leader or teacher to give every member of the club, group or class extensive Socratic growth experience while maintaining the strongest possible focus on the topic being addressed or taught.

In recent work, we've taken Socratic principles a few steps further, working to instill more powerful skills-of-listening which enable your staff, your co-workers, your students or anyone to more effectively draw each other out to produce the wonderful Socratic "miracle" effects. In this very Winsights series, see Number 33, published in April 1999 — "Add Depth and Richness to Every Facet of Our Mutual Lives." Both that article and the original "Dynamic Format," cited above, are completely free on the World Wide Web for anyone with the gumption to make use of these truly remarkable resources.


Language Skills
We've already remarked on the higher quality of group-produced outcome and, indeed, on the rather higher incidence of genius produced by Socratic method, whose factors we understand well enough that many of Project Renaissance's methods now even let you become Socratic to yourself, eliciting truly genius-level ideas, perceptions, awarenesses and breakthroughs from yourself.

It is now pretty obvious as well that much of one's classroom experience is through focused buzz-grouping rather than through passively attending didactic lecture. It is not only one's understanding of the subject that will improve, and not only one's morale:  one's language skills will improve.

And improve pretty substantially — even reading skills, if the language faculties behind them are getting pretty good exercise. A "well-buzzed" classroom hour will exercise students' language and language-related faculties more, in that one hour, than they get in a whole month in ordinary classrooms. Student language quality and skills will advance a year or more each month when several of their courses are taught through these modern Socratic techniques. One of the quickest, easiest ways any school or school district could improve its achievement scores is to utilize these modern Socratic techniques.

The issue of language skills brings us to a related matter — the education of cultural minorities.
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