If thinking about attending a math class still gives you jitters, you are not alone. Math is an analytical subject, requiring a lot of critical thinking, hard work, and practice to understand and even more so to master. It is a tough nut, even harder to crack for individuals with learning differences like dyscalculia.
Simply hearing the teacher explain a concept in class and copying everything that is being written on the board seldom helps children in actually learning math, if at all. Here, a more interactive approach that actively involves the students in not only understanding the concept but also deep thinking, probing, and questioning, might be more useful. This is where the Socratic Method comes in handy.
This blog discusses the advantageous educational strategy that is the Socratic Method and how it can be implemented in learning mathematics.
ABCs of the Socratic method
The Socratic Method, named after and proposed by the great philosopher Socrates, proposed a way of teaching and learning that involves critical thinking and questioning.
It digresses from the model teaching where the teacher is the only one talking and explaining the entire concept while the students take down notes and copy whatever is being said, without paying much attention to the meaning of it all. Instead, it promotes active engagement with the subject and concept at hand by shifting the lead and responsibility of learning and teaching from the educator to the students.
The Socratic Method of teaching has been found to have several benefits, including promoting greater concept clarity, a higher propensity to engage in critical thought, and reduced susceptibility to believing in ill or misinformed opinions. It also has applications for daily life, where individuals who know how to use the Socratic Method can be seen applying it in different areas like decision-making, critical evaluation of events as well as oneself, problem-solving, etc.
Math and the Socratic method
The Socratic Method is a unique way of approaching and teaching difficult subjects like Mathematics. Using it in the classroom usually follows a three-step progression:
1. Laying out the topic
This is where the educator gives a brief introduction and overview of the topic at hand. A critical analysis of a topic and further discussion on it is not possible if the students don’t really understand what the topic means to begin with. The educator can take a class to just explain what the concept entails and can even give some readings for the students to enhance their understanding before the next class. For example, while teaching division, the teacher can give an overview of what the word means, who devised the concept and gave the mathematical formula for it, etc.
2. Opening the space for dialogue
This step is where the Socratic Dialogue comes into play. Here students are encouraged to critically analyze the topic that was introduced and share their thoughts on the same. Other students are then encouraged to question the perspectives that have been shared in a manner that is both respectful and inquisitive.
This perpetual cycle of critically analyzing, questioning, and also intently listening furthers the understanding of everyone involved. Sometimes new perspectives are brought in that even the teacher might not have thought of themselves.
For example, in a Socratic Dialogue about division, the students can begin by questioning the real-life applications of the concept, how different contexts call for different mathematical operations, how to solve a real-life problem that might require multiple operations like both addition and division, etc.
3. Closing the space and summarizing the learnings
The final step in a Socratic Dialogue entails closing the space that was opened for discussion, questioning and critical thinking and analysis, and summarizing everything that was discussed. Sometimes students can come to a natural stopping point where they might feel they have exhausted everything that could have been discussed about the topic and have considered every perspective possible. At other times, the teacher might need to step in to conclude the discussion if it is getting a little too heated or giving in way too many divergent directions and no consensus seems plausible.
Either way, when the Socratic Dialogue is concluded, all the learnings from taking different perspectives, engaging in critical thinking about the topic, and inquisitively questioning each other’s takes on the same, are summarized. A recapitulation of the session is provided where all the different takes and opinions that came up during the discussion are acknowledged.
For example, while the real-life applications of the concept of division, the discussion might conclude with a different formula might be required for conditions that require multiple operations like both addition and division, etc.
Reviewing the research
Several studies have attempted to gauge the utility of the Socratic Method in the classroom. A 2011 paper, while evaluating the effectiveness of this technique, asserted that the Socratic Dialogue aids in making students independent thinkers who take charge of their own learning process and experiences as well as increases their abilities to engage in higher-order thinking like that of critical analysis.
This method can be effectively used in teaching complex subjects like mathematics. In a series of classes adopting the Socratic Method for teaching mathematics in 2002, the teachers found that questioning the students about various concepts instead of just telling them and then further encouraging them to ponder on the concept and ask more questions not only improved engagement but also enhanced understanding. The students, who earlier found it difficult to converse and express their thoughts regarding various mathematical concepts, by the end of the classes, became quite fluent in it. Additionally, the teachers noticed that the discussions would get so engrossing for everyone involved that almost every student would get a little disappointed and protest at the end when it was time to close the classes.
Another 2008 paper evaluated the utility of the Socratic Method as a technique of teaching in the 21st century. It found that the method has several benefits such as making students responsible for their own thought and learning and helping them in organizing and articulating their thoughts better. Additionally, it was found that this technique has several benefits from the teacher’s perspective because encouraged by the idea of discussing the topic in class the next day, students tend to spend extra time learning and preparing for the lesson.
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The Socratic Dialogue is an interactive teaching and learning technique that directly engages the students in the process and encourages them to take a more active role in their education. A subject as tough as that of Mathematics, when taught with this technique that involves critical thought, analysis, and questioning, can seem easy and even fun.
Instead of just telling what the formula is, using the Socratic Method, the teacher asks leading questions that help the students in discovering the formulas and applicability of various mathematical concepts. Hence, the Socratic method is used a lot of times in everyday life.
Studies have also shown that when used appropriately in the classroom, the Socratic Method enhances an individual’s independence of thought and learning, makes them more engaged with the lessons, and helps them better organize their thoughts and express them. Additionally, introducing some quotes that can help kids become more inclined toward this learning method can be beneficial.
- Lam, F. (2011). The Socratic method as an approach to learning and its benefits.
- Koellner-Clark, K., Stallings, L. L., & Hoover, S. A. (2002). Socratic seminars for mathematics. The mathematics teacher, 95(9), 682-687.
- Ford, C. M. (2008). The Socratic method in the 21st century. Retrieved from United.