8 Ways the Socratic Method Can Boost Tutoring Effectiveness

the socratic method

By Bob Lasiewicz, Managing Director, Crossroads of Learning

The Socratic Method (also known as Socratic teaching or questioning) is probably the most ancient of all teaching methodologies. In its original form, the master tutor questioned the student until the student actually becomes confused about what he knew regarding a particular subject. Then slowly the master tutor asked open-ended questions that not only reintroduced subject knowledge to the student, but also raised the student’s level of thinking to a higher level of synthesis and creativity.

The historical goal of Socratic Method questioning was to create an independent thinking student who could grasp subject knowledge, visualize themselves within the subject, analyze the information, manipulate the information internally and externally, and then synthesize the information into a larger, possibly more challenging concept. This dialogue was not a simple one and often continued for months on a single thought.

Today, Socratic Method questioning has come to mean the use of open-ended questioning to bring a student to realize an answer for himself rather than just giving the answer to the student. If the student doesn’t seem to be finding the answer, ask a different question or ask your question in a different way. According to Dr. Richard Paul, Director of the Foundation for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State University there are several universal standards for how questions should be formulated in order to keep students stimulated by and responsible for their own thinking.

The following are examples of questions for the most significant Socratic Method standards as outlined by Dr. Paul.

  1. Clarity: Could you elaborate further? Could you give me an example?
  2. Accuracy: How can we determine if that is true? How can we verify your statements?
  3. Precision: Could you be more specific? Could you provide more details?
  4. Relevance: How does that relate to the issue? How does that align with the question?
  5. Depth: What are some of the complexities of this question? What factors need to be considered?
  6. Breadth: Do we need to consider another point of view? Do we need to look at this from a different perspective?
  7. Logic: Does what you say follow from the evidence? Does all of this make sense?
  8. Significance: Is this the central idea? Is this the most important issue to consider

How would you use this method in your tutoring sessions?  What small adjustments could you make in the questions you ask to your students? We would love to hear some of your ideas. Share them with us and we will highlight your Socratic Methods in a future blog post!

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