Questions A Powerful Method For Helping Learners Learn, and "Go Deeper" By Robert Bacal
The use of questions in instruction (The Socratic Method) is one of the most powerful and flexible methods for helping people learn in teaching and training classrooms, because it takes advantage of the "live" interactions between one person and another, and "engages" students in THINKING, when done properly.
Tips For Effective Use Of The Socratic Method
- Keep your use of closed-ended questions to a minimum. Closed-ended questions are those that require a short, specific answer: (i.e. yes, or no). Use close- ended questions to START a questioning interaction with a student, then move to open-ended questions that push students to think more deeply.
- Easy, closed ended questions, because they tend to be easier to answer, are good for encouraging the shy, or less vocal participants to enter the discussion, since they are less intimidating.
- Questions work best as part of a sequence with each "follow-up" question pushing the individual to think further or elaborate on his or her answer. Use questions to initiate a conversation with the learner.
- In a group setting, use follow-up questions to spread the interaction to others in the group. For example, you can ask another learner if he or she agrees with the first student's response, then ask him or her for elaboration based on the response.
- Instead of throwing out a question to the entire group, TARGET the question to an individual. So, instead of saying: "Does anyone know what..?, a better form is "Jan, do you know what...".
- Target with the person's name BEFORE the question. The reason is that you want to alert the person that a question is coming for him or her. Remember the point is NOT to catch someone not paying attention, but to encourage thinking and involvement.
- If you are in the habit of using "rhetorical questions" (questions you don't actually expect an answer to), stop now. If you use too many questions and don't actually solicit answers, learners will stop paying attention to the questions, once they realize you aren't really asking a question.
- Use questions to break up your lectures. While lectures often get a bum rap as boring, you can completely change the dynamics by using questions to get people in the group involved and using critical thinking. Basically, questions turn lectures into two way communication and create learner engagement.
- Tailor the difficulty level of questions to the skill and knowledge levels of the individuals in the group. For students more advanced, ask and target more difficult questions that require more sophisticated thinking. For those that are less able, use easier questions.
Remember that you want students to be able to get to the answers correctly -- engineering success. That's why you individualize and target questions.
- NEVER use questions to embarrass a person in the group. Ever. Some teachers and trainers use questions to catch someone not paying attention. Not only is that passive-aggressive, but it shuts down interactions, and creates an environment that is hostile to learning.
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