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What's the Buzz?
Socratic Questioning!

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.


"Drawing forth"

Here is an easy way to make your next presentation, or lecture, or AV-based session, better than double its effectiveness and educational value. It is a new element in, and derived from, modern maieutic Socratic Method, to which method two schools have now gone over and then tested its effects. Please see the reported results from this method at St. Andrews Country Day School.

You may notice that people whose profession relates to education, who otherwise may be reflexively dismissive of other reforms in teaching method, may have a hard time dismissing this one:  their own profession, "education," is named after its central concept—that of "drawing forth" the sought-for understanding which is already within the learner. In fact, their office or institution is, in nearly every instance, chartered "to educate the public," which legal charter is not being fulfilled if they are settling for merely teaching at the public.

Here is an interesting way they—and others—can begin to fulfill the terms of their legal charter, after all. Note that the Teachers' Union in Buffalo, NY, community of the first school to test our version of maieutic Socratic Method, has endorsed this reform in teaching method. Perhaps some of that is not only teachers' delight in using so easily something which works so well, but an easing away from the precarious legal position our schools have placed themselves in by ignoring the core principles on which their profession and function were founded.

A further reason why education-related officials may have some difficulty in reflexively dismissing this particular maieutic Socratic method is that the establishment paradigm in educational psychology defines learning itself as the making of associations between the material being learned and other elements of one's perception and experience. Thus, for learning to be meaningful, one has to make such associations.

Every student is different, and every student's background from which to make such associations is also different. For learning to be meaningful and useful, therefore, one must facilitate the students into making their own, unique associations between their unique and direct, personal experiences and perceptions and the material which is meant to be learned.

How simple and easy this really is! And how many human beings and huge human resources are at stake—


Question buzzing

Prepare beforehand a blown-up, poster-sized display of questions, any of which or each of which can be usefully asked in almost any situation or context or topic.

With the poster up as display, the teacher, presenter or speaker or AV-based session leader makes the microlecture or presentation, then asks,

"Please turn to the person next to you and, in just a minute or so, tell him or her your answer to this question—" (such as one of the numbered questions below).

As an ongoing reminder to keep students focused on the specific question being asked, the presenter or teacher places a colored sticky-pad sheet over the number of that question on the poster.

After a minute or so, the facilitator then sounds a very pleasant chime or flashes the lighting on and off as an attention-capturing interrupt, causing a pause in the "buzzing" so the facilitator can then have the students reverse roles, the talkers now the listeners and vice-versa, without having to yell down the students first to get that pause.

For how to make this into a convenient and productive ongoing way to conduct many types of discussion, please see Dynamic Format.

By having such Socratically evocative questions so readily to hand, any time a class needs a bridge to recapture a previous learning context, or the teacher needs at least a break to re-gather his or her train of thought, any break can be made more educationally productive than the lesson itself, and can refocus attention and perception on key concepts just taught.

So much more than just an easy way for teachers to use a break and still get educational production far beyond the lesson, this is also an easy way for teachers to really get to know their students and to discover how in fact they are relating to current topics and materials for learning, far more readily than by the usual paperwork, homework, tests and pop quizzes which are as wearisome to teachers as they are to the students.


Focus

If the display box below is blown up to poster size as a wall or board exhibit, with the aid of a colored sticky-pad sheet slapped up over the number of the question that is being posed, it becomes that much easier for teachers to pose whichever Socratic questions they prefer and to keep their students oriented on that question as the students "buzz" on and process it into the best answers each pair or threesome or foursome can come up with.

Furthermore, if this becomes an ongoing practice, the students will be expecting that such a question will be asked of them personally to answer, even if only to each other; and they will be consciously and also with beyond-conscious attention constantly scanning their own experiences, memories, and other elements in their perception—constantly reinforcing these as they search for material there with which to make successful responses to the anticipated question(s).

They will thus be making connections/associations between the material being learned and the other elements of their perception and experience which make such learnings memorable, understandable, usable in differing contexts, and meaningful.

With this poster on the wall, you thus have the beginnings of yourself understanding the crucial concept behind Socratic Method, especially maieutic Socratic Method—the concept of Socratic listening!

On specialized topics, teachers may readily make up their own, most Socratically evocative questions to post and use those that most directly pertain to the subject they are teaching.

Here is that panel to print out, have it enlarged to wall-poster size, and post on a wall to assist maieutic Socratic learning:


WHEN PROMPTED, PLEASE TURN TO THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU AND, IN JUST A MINUTE OR SO, TELL HIM OR HER YOUR ANSWER TO THE QUESTION INDICATED—

  1. What, for you, are some of the ramifications of the main point of this session/lesson?

  2. What main point in this session/lesson should we give further attention to, and why?

  3. What in your experience—or at some point in your whole life thus far—does the main point of this session/lesson remind you of?.... What came to or caught your attention, or what had your eye while we were on that point? .... (Also, wonder aloud to your partner why that somehow reminded you of that....)

  4. How do the various points on this lesson relate to one another?

  5. — Or to the special question that is being asked by your instructor/facilitator at this time?

Comments to
Win Wenger
 
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