Socratic method can hinder learning and make classroom environment exasperating

September 17, 2019 — by Lihi Shoshani

As students crowd around the teacher’s desk, time passes and the period ends, yet the line never shortens. Many students don’t get the chance to have their questions answered while the teacher works one-on-one with a student, trying to use the Socratic method to teach them how to solve a problem.

It seems this method is a new technique many teachers have attempted to adopt this year as an alternative to the traditional teaching style. The Socratic method is a style of questioning where the teacher asks leading questions to help students understand the material. If students have questions, teachers won’t give them the answer or explain the problem step by step, but rather, they’ll try to let students figure out how to get the answer themselves so they can truly understand the subject.

This method, rooted in the teachings of Socrates during 400 B.C., was used to clarify the concepts of good and justice and to help examine beliefs.

However, the method often fails when implemented in a modern classroom setting in tough subjects like science. Many students who need a teacher’s assistance don’t have the chance to ask questions and get a clear and concise answer. This can be exasperating for students who continue to not understand the question, or when the method prevents teachers from sharing all of their knowledge with the students. 

The Socratic method can be rather frustrating to students asking simple yes-or-no questions. The student wants a simple confirmation to make sure they did a problem correctly, not a question back from the teacher.

When teachers repeatedly question students, it can be irritating to seek clarification and not understand how to get to the answer. When surrounded by classmates, it can be embarrassing to continue to misinterpret the teacher’s questions, which — in this case — are doing more harm than helping students understand the subject.
    Furthermore, this technique takes too long to be effective in an hour and a half class period. During English class, it may be better for students to have the teacher explain a line from Shakespeare than to have them wrestle with it on their own and not understand the work they’re covering. Without enough knowledge, these "self-discovery" lesson plans seem to go in circles with not much actually being learned.

At its best, the Socratic method does grant students more independence and gives them a chance to discard their previous ideas to form new opinions. It teaches them not to take things at face value and to find out for themselves whether or not  they agree with others’ opinions. In the right circumstances, students can understand and explore certain topics in great depth. 

Still, an overcrowded classroom might not be the best place to implement this time-consuming strategy. The Socratic method is often inefficient and frustrating, and teachers should recognize these problems and modify their techniques, not try to recreate a cumbersome, slow process that merely serves to impede actual learning. 


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