Stanford professor Rob Reich describes the Socratic method of teaching as a pedagogical tool that has come under some criticism, although the method is “considered a relevant framework for actively engaging students with the critical thinking process.” In a proper Socratic seminar, the teacher is neither the sage on the stage nor the guide on the side. Dr. Reich explains his thoughts on the process.

Essential Components of the Socratic Method
  1. The Socratic method uses questions to examine the values, principles, and beliefs of students.
  2. The Socratic method focuses on moral education, on how one ought to live.
  3. The Socratic method demands a classroom environment characterized by “productive discomfort.”
  4. The Socratic method is better used to demonstrate complexity, difficulty, and uncertainty than eliciting facts about the world.

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Tips for Using the Socratic Method
  1. Set down conversational guidelines
  2. Ask questions and be comfortable with silence.
  3. Find ways to produce “productive discomfort.”
  4. Above all else, develop follow-up questions
  5. Always be open to learn something new.
  6. Welcome the “crazy idea.”
  7. Brevity is key for the teacher.
  8. Discourage deference to authority
  9. Change classroom space
  10. Don’t be scared of class size.

As many teachers that have worked with me know, I am a big proponent of the Socratic method. Recently, the method has become more trendy and I welcome the trend. But, I am always curious as to why I receive so much pushback from administrators and teaching colleagues when the method is sound. There are many different ways to hold Socratic seminars in order to teach FOR discussion, and hit multiple “power standards” for literacy. Professor Reich just offers a few. To see more details of the remarks by Professor Rob Reich, read the Stanford University newsletter “Speaking of Teaching” (Fall 2003).

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