I’ve been asked, “What skills will be more important today that are no longer taught, that were once taught years ago.”
Without hesitation, I know that the Socratic methods used by Socrates are essential today. I would say more important than they were during his time.
Our students are barraged by information and are not equipped to process all of it.
Thirty-five years ago, education took a huge turn when it focused on test scores and earning their schools Medallions for the performance on those tests. Teachers were evaluated on the performance of their student’s on standardized tests. These very students do not feel safe in a world that asks them what they think, because they are so accustomed to answering to get the acceptable answer.
Socrates (470/469–399 B.C.E.) is remembered for his teaching methods and for asking thought-provoking questions. Instead of lecturing his students, he asked them difficult questions in order to challenge their underlying assumptions—a method still used in modern-day law schools. They can be used in classrooms beginning as soon as language is formed.
I left that system to teach in a school that valued thinking over passing tests. Daily, my students were given comprehension questions that offered multiple answers. They were required to offer evidence from the text to support their opinions and their peers were encouraged to ask for further clarification. They had to be taught how to ask respectfully.
I would begin this method in kindergarten. Ask the children to go outside to observe a tree.and prepare to share what they noticed. Follow-up with “Why” questions. For example, if the child said, “I saw that the leaves on the tree are all different colors.” Follow it with, “Why do you suppose they aren’t all the same color?”
Often you will hear, “I don’t know.” Children work under the assumption that if an answer does not come quickly, that it never will. They need to be shown that they need time for their brains to think about it. Follow that response with, “You may need a few minutes to think about it. Let’s all go outside and the look at the tree and see if we can figure out why they are not the same color.” Ask the child again, “Why do you supposed they are different colors?” With time to think and look at the tree differently, most children come up with some answer. I never validate nor negate the answer, but continue by asking peers what they think. Some students will want to tell their peers they are wrong, but this is not about being right or wrong. It’s about sharing possibilities.
Children need to be taught how to ask for clarification without telling a classmate he or she is incorrect. I encourage them to repeat what they heard and ask the peer to clarify it by explaining the thinking a little more.
When students want to only share their own idea, they often turn off dialogue by saying, “I don’t agree with you. I think…” Or “I respectfully disagree,” which turns off dialogue.
It is better to say, “I understand what you are saying, and I have another idea.” This sentence is positive and conveys that the opinion of the classmate was heard, not necessarily agreed upon, but heard none the less. The peer will be more inclined to listen to the other idea because his/hers was respected. I have seen hundreds of students compliment the classmate and validate that the shared idea was probably a better answer. Many times the discussion will continue with, “I hear you, and that makes me think…….” This leads to new ideas hatching from hearing different opinions..
I can recall sitting around the dinner table on a Friday night. My aunts and uncles would discuss a variety of topics and by time the discussion went around to each of my uncles a few time, the original answer was seen to be the weakest. I heard a lot of, “On the other hand..” That means, I see this idea, but when looking at it from the other perspective, I see it this way.
Children taught in this method will not fall pray to propaganda and will critically evaluate what they see on the internet.
There isn’t a site out there whose main goal is to capture our dollar. Whether it is through ads, commercials, or offers for better skin, hair, or car performance, they are all trying to capture our money.
Your children will be offered more FREE things on the internet that turn into costly FREEbies. They need to know “Nothing is FREE!” A student taught to look at all sides of a situation, will question how it is free, why it is free, and how much will this eventually cost me. If you ever signed up for a FREE trial offer, you will know what I mean. Unfortunately, our children are the target of advertisers, because they are the biggest influencers of their parents. So understanding and looking for the strategies they use to capture the dollar is another skill I will address in my next blog.
Children need to apply the Socratic methods with what they see, hear, read, and watch. When researching an idea, they need to see multiple possible answers. If none are provided, they need to question why.
Parents can begin teaching this method today. Use it with your two year old who asks constant questions. When they ask one, reply with “What do you think?” and give them time to think about it. Tell them you are going to give them time to think and go about distracting them with something else. Don’t be surprised if they shout out an answer in a few minutes. It’s how the brain works. We ask it a question and seeks the answer.
Please share what you have done to help widen your children’s viewpoints.
Please share this post with other parents and teachers. We need more students thinking outside the box.