How To Teach Smarter, Not Harder!

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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One of the outstanding features of the Project Renaissance forms of modern Socratic Method, is their simplicity and ease. These versions of modern Socratic Method are much easier to do than anything you are now doing in the classroom—and I challenge you to find anything more potent in production of learning and development!

Teach smarter, not harder.

With these methods, the teacher has respite, and time and freed-up attention to regroup his or her forces, and time and freed-up attention to observe their students in action discovering where they really are in relation to what the teacher is teaching. We’ve had professors exclaim, after they’ve used these methods, that this was the very first time in twenty or thirty years of teaching that they actually felt that they were educators.

How easy are these methods? Review the instructions for Dynamic Format, the core of simple provisions which enable you to freely have your students “buzz,” interacting with each other to explore and discover the key points of your lesson. It takes you less than twenty minutes to discover how to easily keep all your students focused on topic and on task… and productive.

How easy are these methods? With Dynamic Format as a given, here is a sample template for a lesson plan in almost any subject or topic in the curriculum. For teachers who just want to dip a toe in the water first and not yet commit to anything larger, here is one simple template:

  • What is the key point you want to make in this lesson?
  • What question or kind of question could you ask your students to buzz on, which they would have good likelihood of being able to answer successfully from their own experience, perceptions and/or knowledge?
  • When you get close to that point, tell your students, “Turn to the person next to you and between you, see what answer you can develop for this question:” (and then give them that question to buzz on. Have chime or similar object to sound in keeping with the “waterglass” provisions in Dynamic Format, and use it gently when the time comes.)
  • Take a deep breath, then wander around among your students while they are buzzing, to discover how they are really processing on this point of your lesson.
  • Compare results, following which you may either want to ask another question for buzzing, or go back to your main presentation mode.

Even a full modern Socratic lesson plan is this simple and easy to conduct—as per this template:

  • What is the key concept or key skill to be learned in this lesson?
  • Turn that into a question such as the student discovers or arrives at that skill or concept himself, in his effort to answer that question.
  • Check the type of question—what trait(s) in your students do you most want to reinforce? (See these Reference guidelines.)
  • What prior information in your subject should the student be or become aware of that will help enable him to answer that question?
  • Turn that prior information into lead-in questions which your buzz-grouping students have a good chance of answering successfully, so that momentum carries over into their handling of your main question. What are several of these lead-in questions?

Back in plenary session, compare results from buzzgroup to buzzgroup. Where you can readily do so, toss in a follow-up question for students to buzz on which will consolidate the main point of the lesson.

Here is another invaluable element of modern Socratic Method, which you can use with the above or use even if you haven’t used any other elements of the method. This simple step will double the value of today’s classroom session.

Devote the last 6 minutes of class to having each student buzz for 3 minutes in turn with the person next to him, on

  1. “What for you was the most significant or meaningful point you learned or were reminded of today?”
  2. “What was it that made that the most significant or meaningful point for you?”

The several minutes of students’ searching and reviewing and finding meaningful relationships in what you’ve just taught them, as easily as that will more than double the value of what you’ve just taught them.

That easily!

Teaching with a fuller command of these methods is a much more rewarding experience than even those obtained by the forms above, but either template above plus study of “Dynamic Format” will make teaching easier, more productive and more rewarding for you even so.

Going beyond those templates: the best book on modern Socratic Method, at present, is by Win Wenger, Ph.D., and Harman Benda, Dynamic Teaching: Proven Techniques for Full Engagement of Every Student.

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