Sunday, April 19, 2015

Socrates in a Snapchat World

“We model an inquiring, probing mind by continually probing into the subject with questions.” (1)

In a perfect classroom with perfect students in a perfect world with a perfect teacher, Socratic Teaching is the perfect pedagogy. Teaching critical thinking through asking guided questions moves the teacher to the facilitator chair and puts the onus of thought and inquiry on the students. The Center for Educational Leadership’s “5D+ Self-Assessment and Professional Development Plan” insists that, in order for a teacher to be “distinguished” (which aligns with “highly effective”), they must do 40+ things, including the following 8:
  • The success criteria for the learning target(s) are clear to students. The performance tasks align to the success criteria.  Students refer to success criteria and use them for improvement.
  • Teacher sets expectation and provides support for a variety of engagement strategies and structures that facilitate participation and meaning making by students. All students have the opportunity to engage in quality talk. Routines are often student-led.
  • Teacher provides scaffolds and structures that are clearly related to and support the development of the targeted concepts and/or skills.  Students use scaffolds across tasks with similar demands.
  • Teacher consistently uses strategies for the purpose of gradually releasing responsibility to students to promote learning and independence.  Students expect to be self-reliant.
  • Students consistently assess their own learning in relation to the success criteria and can determine where they are in connection to the learning target.
  • Students consistently use assessment data to assess their own learning, determine learning goals and monitor progress over time.
  • Routines for discussion and collaborative work have been explicitly taught, are evident, and result in effective discourse related to the lesson purpose. Students independently use the routines during the lesson. Students are held accountable for their work, take ownership for their learning and support the learning of others.
  • All available time is maximized in service of learning. Transitions are student-managed, efficient, and maximize instructional time. (2)

These 8 items on the rubric require the students to: lead the class, monitor themselves, assess their own progress, set their own goals, and “take ownership for their learning and support the learning of others.” And herein lies part of the problem with this specific teacher evaluation rubric; it's also part of the problem with Socratic teaching: it asks the students to do things that students (and most adults) aren’t really that interested in doing. Let’s face it: we want to find the shortest, fastest path to the correct answer, so that we can get back to our lives. LOLcats are decidedly more fun than formulating answers to guiding questions; in a Snapchat world, we want to find and send the right answer in 6 seconds or less.

My research project is fundamentally based on Socratic Teaching. Instead of giving students a checklist of criteria that their sources must pass in order to be deemed “good,” I am asking them guiding questions, and demanding that they think critically about the information and formulate their own guidelines to determine source reliability. Right now, my students are crashing and burning. They treat the Internet like a scavenger hunt: click quickly, skim for information, copy it down, move on to the next question. I am fundamentally challenging the way they do research on the Internet (and maybe even the way they do school), and they are frustrated by the lack of “answers” that they find.

A 2011 study(3) in which a Socratic lesson was re-enacted with modern students found that students “gave answers astonishingly similar to those offered by Socrates’ pupil”(4); however, more than half of the contemporary subjects failed to understand the importance of the questions themselves. This study raises questions about the Socratic method and students today. In a world that moves as quickly as ours, where the right answer is the celebrated one, and the bubble sheet is the final dictate of success, is Socratic teaching even truly possible? Can students truly learn critical thinking by being presented guided questions, and is that method truly valuable to them and to their lives?

I would answer, resoundingly... “maybe?” 


(1) Foundation for Critical Thinking. “Socratic Teaching,” 2013. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available:

(2) “5D+ Teacher Evaluation Rubric,” n.d. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available:

(3)  Goldin, A. P., Pezzatti, L., Battro, A. M. and Sigman, M. (2011), From Ancient Greece to Modern Education: Universality and Lack of Generalization of the Socratic Dialogue. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5: 180–185. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01126.x.

(4) Paul, Annie Murphy. “Why Asking Questions Might Not Be the Best Way to Teach.” Time, n.d. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available:

“research cat says Wikipedia not acceptable source - Cheezburger,” n.d. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available:

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