Advanced Social Studies Methods
Questioning, Socratic Dialogue, and Socratic Seminar
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The
important thing is not to stop questioning."
Among the instructional skills, questioning holds a place of prominence in many classrooms. Questions are used in a variety of teaching methods that range from whole classroom discussions to the teacher’s goal as a coach in an inquiry experience or when working with an individual student. The most important purpose of questioning is to stimulate students’ thinking, especially advanced levels of thinking, and to help them reflect on ideas. Good questions can trigger new understandings from previous experiences. The type of question asked, the sequencing of questions, and the wait time a teacher allows for students to formulate answers—all these affect the success of the teacher’s questions. Good questions encourage student participation in class as well as expand student thinking. When questioning is used well:
Good questions should be carefully planned, purposeful and meaningful, clearly stated, and to the point in order to achieve specific objectives. Teacher understanding of questioning technique, wait time, and levels of questions is essential. There are many strategies for questioning and range from the simple Q-A (teacher directed question-answer session) to a formally designed Socratic Seminar. The questioning strategy that teachers select needs to be driven by the intending learning outcomes of the activity. If teachers want to briefly assess student content knowledge then a Q-A session is appropriate; however, if teachers want students to think deeply about a controversial issue, then a Socratic Seminar would be more effective. This module provides an overview of several types of questioning strategies. The strategies presented are not comprehensive but are provide to being your study of questioning as a pedagogical technique. Seek additional ideas from professional social studies journals such as Social Education.
Teachers should also understand that asking and responding to questions is viewed differently by different cultures. The teacher must be sensitive to the cultural needs of the students and aware of the effects of his or her own cultural perspective in questioning. In addition, teachers should realize that direct questioning might not be an appropriate technique for all students.
Questioning as a Technique
The teacher should begin by obtaining the attention of the students before the question is asked. The question should be addressed to the entire class before a specific student is asked to respond. Calls for responses should be distributed among volunteers and non-volunteers, and the teacher should encourage students to speak to the whole class when responding. However, the teacher must be sensitive to each student's willingness to speak publically and never put a student on the spot. There are ways of ensure equal access to content knowledge so that all students are prepared to answer questions. It is also important to build a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable discussing, asking questions, and participating in Socratic Seminars. Students to not automatically feel safe sharing their ideas and many fear “being wrong.” The intention of questioning is not to “call students out” but to encourage them to think critically and to explore their understanding of content as well as challenge their own dispositions about issues. A good questioner is one who encourages students with probing questions and rich questions that model questioning as a thinking process.
Sequence of Questions
Normally one cannot just ask questions one by one. Questions often have to be sequenced, in a planned order. It usually is not wise to immediately jump to a high-level synthesis or evaluation question before the knowledge basis is established. This might however, be done to get an opinion at the beginning of the discussion. Then more factual questions could be asked. However, teachers typically spend most of the class time making sure that the basic Who, What, When, Where questions are answered. The result is that students do not move on to a higher level of thinking.
Wait Time and Probing
Wait time is defined as the pause between asking the question and soliciting a response. Providing additional wait time after a student response also allows all students to reflect on the response prior to further discussion. Increased wait time results in longer student responses, more appropriate unsolicited responses, more student questions, and increased higher order responses. It should be noted that increased wait time is beneficial for students who speak English as a second language or English as a second dialect.
Even with clear questions, the questioning process can be less than ideal if the wait time (Atwood and Wilen, 1991), the students “think” time, is too short. In many classes, teachers use a shotgun approach, allowing only one second for students to respond—with the natural result that students have little time to think. When you increase the wait time to five seconds or more, students can formulate longer answers, you get more volunteers, and many of their answers will reflect higher level thinking. This seems awkward at first, partly because your own teachers probably did not wait, either. Most teachers do not like silence and fear that the class might grow uneasy; they quickly move into rephrasing or answering their own questions.
If a student response is not correct, try to probe using a follow-up question to encourage the same student to complete, clarify, or support the earlier response. By asking more specific questions, you hint that the answer is at least partly wrong. In this situation, you want the student to continue to participate but you also need to clarify what is accurate. Probing is also a way of adapting questions to the ability of the students. You can provide clues or rephrase the question on a lower level. You can use questions for clarification. At times, redirecting the question to other students is helpful.
Don’t be the teacher who answers his/her own questions or poses rhetorical questions. Questions should be designed for students to guide them as they attempt to understand difficult and complex social studies content. Give students a chance to do the thinking.
Levels of Questions
As teachers we tend to ask questions in the "knowledge" category 80% to 90% of the time. These questions are not bad, but using them all the time is. Try to utilize higher order level of questions. These questions require much more "brain power" and a more extensive and elaborate answer.
While the need for factual recall or comprehension must be recognized, teachers also need to challenge students with higher level questions requiring analysis, synthesis, or evaluation. The consideration of level is applicable at all grade levels and in all subject areas. All students need the opportunity to think about and respond to all levels of questions. Teacher probes or requests for clarification may be required to move students to higher levels of thinking and deeper levels of understanding.
Levels of questioning should align with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Benjamin Bloom created taxonomy for categorizing the level of abstraction of questions that commonly occur in educational settings. The taxonomy provides a useful structure in which to categorize questions. For more information on how to structure questions for higher level thinking see the module resource title: Bloom’s Taxonomy for Questioning.
Educators recognize that knowledge is more than correct answers and can be gained through creative inquiry and active participation by students. Discussion can be meaningfully adapted to many classroom situations. For example, whole class discussion may occur if, during a presentation, the teacher notices that students are particularly interested in a topic and initiates a discussion. Whole class discussion can help build a positive classroom climate and lead to student interest in a school subject. In addition, the teacher can model active listening and build on student responses.
Effective discussions are normally based on material familiar to the students. The problem or issue can be one that does not require a particular response or one where it is important for students to discover an answer. The teacher should stress with students that opinions must be supported, and then ensure that the terms and concepts needed are understood. Discussion should conclude with consensus, a solution, clarification of insights gained, or a summary (preferably one provided by the students). Students should have a clear understanding of the major points and their applications to other situations. It should be noted that some discussions can lead students to conduct further research.
Pedagogical Strategies for Questioning
Question and Answer
When the question and answer method is used effectively, students feel they are being personally addressed by the teacher. When responding, students should speak, not only to the teacher, but also to their peers. Frequent use should be made of probes, prompts, and redirecting techniques. 'Wait time," the pause between asking a question and soliciting a response, should be used to advantage by the teacher to increase participation and improve the quality of student responses. An important aspect of the question and answer method is the wording of questions in order to help students think more deeply about the material or unit under study.
Didactic questioning offers the teacher a way to structure the learning process (McNeil & Wiles, 1990). Didactic questions tend to be convergent, factual, and often begin with "what," "where," "when," and "how." They can be effectively used to diagnose recall and comprehension skills, to draw on prior learning experiences, to determine the extent to which lesson objectives were achieved, to provide practice, and to aid retention of information or processes. Teachers should remember that didactic questions can be simplistic, can encourage guessing, and can discourage insightful answers or creativity. However, effectiveness of this method can be increased by the appropriate addition of "why" questions, and the occasional use of "what if" questions. Didactic questioning is an effective technique that seeks to draw the student into the lecture as a participant.
Resource: Rating Scale for Assessment and Evaluation of Didactic Questions/Action Plan PDF
Socratic Seminar as a Questioning Strategy
History behind the Teaching Model
This method of instruction is based on the teaching method of Socrates and the Greek work “paideia” which means the general knowledge or learning of values needed by all humans. Socrates is known for his axiom, “Know thyself through questioning.” Thinking is driven not by answers but by questions. Questions define tasks, express problems, and delineate issues. Socrates established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before acceptance of ideas as worthy of belief. He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications. Socrates believed that knowledge and awareness were an intrinsic part of each learner. The word Socratic adds systematic depth and a keen interest in assessing the truth or plausibility of topics or concepts or ideas. Socratic questioning is at the heart of critical thinking. Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely, to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant belief. Socratic questioning requires students to make assumptions, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant points. It is more than eliciting a one-word response or an agreement or disagreement from students. Socrates believed that enabling students to use their minds fully was more important than filling their heads with "right answers." The goal of a Socratic Seminar is not to arrive at a "correct" interpretation of a text via the teacher's skillful questioning. Instead, the leader assumes that knowledge and understanding are better achieved when constructed rather than received.
Instructional Uses of Socratic Seminar
The goal of education is to help students to become critical thinkers. A critical thinker is one who analyzes, syntheses, and evaluates his/her own beliefs and viewpoints as well as those, which are diametrically opposed. Teaching critical thinking enables social studies educators to help develop informed and articulate decision-makers who act who critically analyze all sides of an issue, who are aware of cultural, social, and economical differences of individuals, and who exercise the skills of deliberative discussion. All of which align instruction with the primary purpose of social studies education: “to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world” (NCSS, 1992).
Critical thinking must be developed though the methods that challenge students to consider various perspectives, question their understanding, and formulate a sound and justified interpretation. This can be achieved though the implementation of critical Socratic questioning. It is instructors, not textbooks, which shape students’ minds. Seminar/Paideia and Socratic Questioning are excellent teaching strategies at any grade level. They can be employed from kindergarten to adult learners and utilized in any subject. Connections of the topic discussed and course guidelines must be generated by the seminar leader. Appropriate use applies to any ability level and it has proven to be a successful teaching approach with at-risk students.
Seminar Module Resources
Seminar is a fairly structured process. I have developed some general rules that will help you in implementing a seminar. These are presented in a PowerPoint and accompanied by a handout with more detailed explanations of the pedagogical process.
· Seminar PowerPoint
· Understanding Through Deep and Rich and Questioning Handout
· Seminar Content Examples Handout
Socratic Instructional Implementation Plan Example
Extending Deep and Rich Learning through Service Learning
|This example can be found in the document titled “Socratic Seminar Example: The Lorax.” This resource provides the overview of strategies of before, during and after a Socratic Seminar. It is a unit of inquiry that I have used with K-12 learners which brings together visualization strategies, seminar, technology (i.e. WebQuest) and service learning. More information will be provided on technology applications in social studies in a future module.|
To learn more about Service Learning as a pedagogical model, review the following resources:
· PowerPoint: What is Service Learning?
· Article: Service Learning as an Essential Component of Social Studies
SEMINAR & PAIDEIA TEACHING
This method of instruction is based on the teaching method of Socrates and the Greek work “paideia” which means the general knowledge or learning of values needed by all humans.
Socratic Seminar Resources