Socratic Method of Teaching

socraticAs a classical Christian school, New Covenant Christian School is committed to an emphasis on teaching by using the Socratic method of instruction. This time tested method of teaching and learning requires the teacher to lead discussions which direct the students to engage consistently in the process of coming to conclusions on their own rather than being spoon fed the answer by the teacher.

The Socratic model is based on each student’s innate desire to learn and their ability to reason even at an early age (have kindergarten students ever amazed you with their ability to reason?) The Socratic method engages the mind and the heart and moves toward a purposeful goal. This method establishes a template of sorts wherein students learn to engage unknown material on their own.

The goal of Socratic questioning is as much about achieving self-knowledge as it is about discovering a truth. Socratic dialectic in the classroom might look at the purposes, nature, and conclusions of a system of thought or big idea (e.g. democracy, freedom, goodness, etc). Or, it might probe into the very nature of a question and consider data gathered in alternative ways. This method of dialectic (or the process of back and forth questioning) trains young men and women in sound reasoning and inquiry. For example, students might be introduced to the idea of “multiculturalism” in the context of studying American history. The standard approach would be to define the term for the students and assess their ability to regurgitate the correct definition on a test. The Socratic method, on the other hand, takes seriously the idea that deep questions often drive our thought underneath the surface of things. Investigating these deeper issues and questions forces students to deal with complexity. Therefore, the question “What is multiculturalism?” would be approached by the Socratic teacher by leading students first to settle the question, “What is culture?” Then to settle that question, students must grapple with the still deeper question, “What is the basis of culture?” This process of dialectic questioning by the teacher enables students to get to the larger questions that are most important rather than simply repeating definitions or teacher provided answers.

The final result is a lively classroom where students are engaged in the kind of great conversation that has been going on since the dawn of time, leading students to think deeply about any topic they put their mind to – a key goal of classical education.

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