A New Concept:  Socratic Listening

and initial ways to induce its phenomena

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 121 (January/February 2014)

As you know by now, to the extent that the Establishment paradigm in education is correct, learning is a matter of making connections between the material to be learned and other elements of one’s experience and perception—and the more meaningful those other elements associated, the more meaningful (and subsequently useful) that learning becomes

The variations in students’ proclivity, preferred learning and cognitive styles, life history and background, to say nothing of educational and developmental levels and histories, requires that teachers facilitate their students into making their own unique, most meaningful-to-them associations between the material to be learned and other elements of their own perceptions and experience.

This, of course, is one of the many reasons why Socratic Method, in most of its various forms, has consistently proven to be the best, most effective teaching method throughout its several thousand years of history, consistently leading toward highest levels of intellectual achievement. Not that anyone much has bothered to investigate, as we have, or even to ask for scientific bases of why Socratic Method has performed so very well in contrast to other teaching and learning methods over time and over the range of diversity of students with whom it has been used.

However, you can easily check it out in your own memory and experience, if you have ever been in a good argument in which you have staked out your position. When that happened, didn’t you find yourself searching everything within your perception and experience —thereby reinforcing perception and memory and reasoning power—for the best responses you could make to the ongoing argument or challenge?

So that teachers can readily and easily use the Socratic method and begin to truly educate instead of merely impart stuff while penalizing students for whatever was missed, some years ago we in Project Renaissance borrowed numerous facilitation techniques and tactics from the movement in CPS (Creative Problem-Solving), which is a very rich source in ways to help people figure things out.

These techniques and tactics are summed up in Dynamic Format, a way to turn everyone in the classroom or lecture hall or meeting-room into being a Socrates to each other and to oneself, being thus “drawn out” in depth, in detail, and at length on every topic. Everyone there is enthusiastically involved, in arguments and lines of thought and perception which usually continue long past the time when the bell has rung, no matter how large and how diverse the lecture section might be.

Dynamic Format, in turn, is developed into specific step-by-step classroom techniques and procedures in our book, Dynamic Teaching.

A second good source of such facilitation techniques and tactics for figuring things out is, of course, classical psychoanalysis, which we are checking into now for what helps people to dig deeper into their own perceptions and to make sense of what they are dealing with.

Meanwhile, we have taken the first context, that derived from Creative Problem-Solving, forward into new realms of development, including the one described here—that of Socratic listening.

Learning and teaching made more accessible

A key achievement in our efforts has been to create ways to make Socratic learning and teaching more and more accessible, more and more easy and convenient and understandable for teachers to use, brought into focus in our recently published book, 3 Easy Tactics to Use In Your Classroom—specific tactics spelled out step by convenient step which enable any teacher or any school to have its students gain multiple years per year in their intellectual development, with both teachers and students loving every minute of the processes used from our modern maieutic Socratic method.

Below is one example of how much easier we are making history’s very best teaching method, once so difficult for most teachers to use that American education abandoned educating in favor of merely teaching, Prussian-style, in the late 19th Century—in fact, much easier and more convenient to use than any method they are using today.

To invoke some of these same benefits for YOUR audience or YOUR students or YOUR clients, you have our permission to copy the following poster material and to enlarge it to a poster size which is easily seen and referred to from all over the space where you are lecturing, or teaching, or following up a Khan Academy presentation or TED Talk or M.I.T. lesson or other media or distance-provided educational event…

Here is that suggested poster, which you can copy, print out, enlarge to poster size, post on a wall, and use to greatly improve the value of almost any educational event or presentation:


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

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

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….)

How do the various points in this lesson relate to one another?

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

How to Use

Start about 5 to 8 minutes before the scheduled end of your talk, session or lesson, or as needed at other times.

Become familiar with the “Waterglass Rules” section of Dynamic Format.

To keep students oriented to task during their “buzz” and have the ongoing reminder easy for them to refer to and stay in focus, place a small colored sticky-note sheet over the number of the question chosen for the occasion.

Besides for end-of-session review as suggested above, with the aid of the “Waterglass Rules” from Dynamic Format, you or any teacher can use this easy tactic to regroup and recover your train of thought while students are really producing. Or bridge over gaps in time or over interruptions in a lesson or learning-context you had been setting up, or to underscore the key points you intend in a lesson or exposition. While the students are “buzzing,” you can stroll among them, overhear what and how they are processing, and get a far better picture of how listeners or students are grasping and handling the current lesson than can any amount of written and busywork attending the usual methods.

Socratic LISTENING, as distinct from Socratic Teaching

After a round or so of this experience, with these questions posted in the lecture hall or classroom, your students will know that some such question is coming at them sometime during the session. Their natural response will be, while the exposition is going on, to be searching the oncoming material in their perceptions and experience, and to be searching their perceptions and experience for what matches with or can be associated with that oncoming material! What students thus search, they reinforce. Hence the entire exposition and its unfolding will be a process of such reinforcements strengthening not only the session or lesson itself but the skills employed by the students throughout that session or lesson.

Triggering this ongoing searching process in students, with effects way beyond just the lesson itself, appears to be a new concept in Socratic method. One very promising new lead for research, therefore, will be to look for additional ways of triggering this ongoing growth process, not only in schools and in specific lessons and courses but in human development generally.

The method is broadly applicable, as shown by the differences between the schools which have achieved the same nice results with our modern maieutic Socratic method. Find out in your own experience why the Teachers’s Union in the Buffalo, NY, community where is situated the first of the two schools to do a full comparison test of our modern maieutic Socratic Method, has warmly endorsed this method.

If you are involved with and/or an advocate of some other worthy educational method which gets such nice results (and there are some), know that (1) this kind of method or approach is compatible with other methods now in use and can be used with them to create further and synergistic benefits; and (2) there are aspects to our “easy tactics” strategy for pursuing acceptance from the educational establishment which we can suggest and which can be used to forward the development of your own program!

Working together we might be able to accomplish much more than we have been doing separately. Let’s talk, and together look at how best to fix what is so in need of fixing.

We’d very much like to hear from you on this. We can show you, or any school or school system, how to easily improve your listeners’ or students’ average rate of intellectual improvement by multiple years-per-year, essentially cost-free!