Aristotle believed that learning should be fun and rewarding. To that end, he developed a pedagogy that he thought would maximize potential. As a result of his efforts, today we have the Socratic Method of teaching and learning. Before we get into the theory, it is worth noting that the Socratic Method is mostly applied to the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It’s a style of teaching that encourages student participation through questioning and debating. The name “Socratic Method” comes from the Greek philosopher Socrates, who, according to Plato, used a form of this pedagogy while under interrogation by the authorities of Athens.
Aristotle based his theory of education on the concept of potential. For Aristotle, humans have a fixed amount of potential. This is determined by how much potential each individual has at birth and cannot be changed. However, Aristotle did believe that you can increase your potential by exercising it through various activities. He called this concept “exercising one’s potential.” To that end, spending time with family, making friends, and engaging in community activities is thought to allay social anxiety and increase one’s potential to be happy and successful. Indeed, Aristotle proposed that the education should aim to “develop the capacities of the student, introducing him to new ideas and new things.”
Now that we have the theoretical framework in mind, let’s take a closer look at how the Socratic Method of learning and teaching operates.
The “Socratic” Question
Aristotle’s idea was that students should actively participate in the learning process. To achieve this, he developed Question-based Learning, also known as the Socratic Method of teaching and learning. The goal of the method is to have the teacher pose numerous questions to the students and let them lead the discussion. In this way, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator who encourages the student to think for themselves. Question-based learning can be applied to any subject from history to science or literature to math. It is most useful for teaching in a large group because it encourages each student to contribute and be part of the conversation. The teacher does not just present information; they actively participate in the learning process and ask questions that promote critical thinking. Furthermore, by posing questions and engaging in discussions, students develop an understanding of the concepts that they are learning. Finally, by asking questions and engaging with the class, the teacher shows interest in his or her students and demonstrates that they care about their education. In short, the Socratic Method is about forming relationships instead of just imparting information.
Encouraging Critical Thinking
An important tenet of Aristotelian thought is to encourage students to think for themselves. For the ancient Greeks, critical thinking was seen as a virtue because it enabled them to examine ideas and question their validity. In the Socratic Method, teachers help students develop this ability by continuously asking questions and encouraging students to challenge one another’s ideas. In this way, teachers can promote critical thinking and help students develop the skill of examining arguments and counterarguments. Additionally, by participating in debates and discussions, students develop the ability to listen to both sides of an argument and understand the reasoning behind both positions. Finally, teachers can encourage students to develop their own arguments and questions by asking them to respond to topics that they have not yet thought about. When students are engaged in this way, they are more likely to benefit from the learning experience because they are interested in what is being taught. Furthermore, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for students to function effectively in the modern world, and these skills can be strengthened through the use of the Socratic Method.
Above all else, the Socratic Method is about developing personal relationships between the teacher and the students. As we’ve established, family, friends, and community are some of the keys to a healthy and happy life for Aristotle. This is why he emphasized bonding and establishing close relationships with his students. To that end, he believed that children should be seen as young adults and should be treated as such. He also believed that students should be expected to show respect for their teachers and should be invested in the teachers’ wellbeing. Furthermore, students should be encouraged to develop a greater appreciation for their teachers and the learning process. In other words, the Socratic Method is a pedagogy that aims to form a personal connection between student and teacher. To be very clear, this does not just apply to teachers. Effective teachers are able to develop personal relationships with their students where they see themselves as friends or family and act accordingly. This is why when a teacher asks a question, the answer should not just be given but should be accompanied by an explanation. Additionally, when a student experiences trouble in school, they should not be afraid to reach out to their teacher for help. In turn, the teacher should be willing to provide help whether it’s in school or out of school hours. In this way, the teaching-learning process is more efficient because the teacher is available to help whenever needed. Finally, whenever a teacher asks a question, they should expect a response from the students and should not just content themselves that their students know the answer. This demonstrates that the teacher is interested in the students’ progress and committed to their learning. In other words, when a teacher asks a question, they want to know that the students have engaged with the material and can provide an answer. This establishes a level of trust between the teacher and the students which will lead to greater productivity and improved outcomes. Naturally, this type of interaction will depend on the teacher being approachable and demonstrating an interest in the students’ progress. The key is to make sure that everyone has an open space for personal interaction which promotes better understanding and greater trust between individuals. Ultimately, the goal of the Socratic Method is to have everyone involved in the learning experience which encourages independent thought and better understanding of complex ideas.
Practicing Informed Decision-Making
Another important tenet of Aristotelian thought is that of informed decision-making. In the Socratic Method, students do not simply memorize information or regurgitate what they have learned in a certain way. Rather, they are encouraged to actively engage with the material being taught and are expected to draw conclusions and make judgments based on the evidence that they gather. Of course, this is exactly what practicing informed decision-making entails. When a teacher poses a question and gives several options, the students are expected to come up with their own conclusion and defend it against the other choices given. Additionally, when a teacher presents several options for a problem, the students are expected to choose the one that best fits the situation and explain their reasoning behind their decision. In this way, the students are not just passive receivers of information but instead, they are engaged in a dialogue with the teacher. As a result of this active engagement, students can demonstrate that they have understood the information and can take action based on what they have learned. In short, the Socratic Method encourages students to be active participants in their own learning which will lead to greater understanding and confidence when making decisions. Informed decision-making is essential to successfully navigating the world of modern work which is why teachers need to be actively involved in the learning process. After all, if the students do not feel that they have enough information to make a decision, it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide that information. The key is to make sure that students have the skills to make the right decision for themselves when presented with a problem. Informed decision-making depends on a combination of critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well as the ability to gather the right information. In turn, these skills can be cultivated through the use of the Socratic Method. Finally, if a teacher poses several questions but does not provide sufficient information for the students to draw their own conclusions, it is the responsibility of the teacher to fill in the gaps in the knowledge that they have. This demonstrates that they understand the importance of actively involving their students in the learning process and ensuring that they have all of the necessary tools to be successful in the world of work. In short, just as with critical thinking and problem solving, the goal of the Socratic Method is to have every student feel confident in their decision-making skills which will contribute to greater quality of life and to the progress of the learning community as a whole.