Socrates was one of the founders of Western philosophy, and is often credited for saying that true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing. His method of elenchus involves breaking down a problem into a series of questions. In contrast to today’s scientific method, which begins with a hypothesis, the Socratic method uses questions to identify flaws and misunderstandings, refining or changing the hypothesis along the way. This is a powerful means of inquiry that we should be using in our classrooms regularly. It causes students to examine their own beliefs and knowledge and stimulates high-level thinking.
Socratic questioning follows as a systematic framing of questions that challenge students to inquire completely and accurately. The questions are normally categorized into six types:
- Questions for clarification
- Why do you say that?
- What do we already know about it?
- How does this relate to what we have been discussing?
- Questions that probe assumptions
- How could we verify or disprove that assumption?
- What else could we assume?
- Do you agree or disagree with that?
- Questions that probe reasons and evidence
- How could we be sure of that?
- Why is this happening?
- What evidence supports your statement?
- Questions about viewpoints and perspectives
- How could you look at this another way?
- Why is that better?
- What would be an alternative?
- Questions that probe implications and consequences
- How does it affect ___?
- How does that connect to what we already know?
- What generalizations can we make?
- Questions about the question
- Why do you think I asked this question?
- Which of your questions has led to new insights?
- What else could we ask?
Head over to this page for a more in-depth read. And then go on to Part II: Using Socratic Questioning in Music for examples of how we can use this kind of thinking (but in smaller bits) in Music class.