The Philosophy Shop’s Blog

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Finding the holes

Posted by Philosophy Foundation on October 24, 2010

Socrates: This knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning. [The student] will recover it for himself.

Plato, The Meno (circa. 4th century BCE)

To transform your teaching try the following experiment for the next week. Begin by adopting the following principle: maximise your question-asking in your teaching.

When you have a puncture the first thing you do is look at your inner-tube to see where the air is escaping, but this is a futile exercise as you can’t examine the entire surface carefully enough. This problem is solved if you place the inner-tube in water. It is as if the water examines the inner-tube for you. The process of questioning acts like the water revealing exactly where new information needs to be introduced but only where it is necessary to do so.

Teaching does not consist only in asking questions; at some point you will need to teach your students something. Just teaching, however, results in passive students; questioning engages students actively by requiring that they think in order to consider and then respond; the dialogue that follows between the teacher and student builds their understanding. So, clearly you want to maximise the thinking, the considering, the responding, the dialogue and therefore the understanding among your students. Adopting the principle of question maximisation will help to achieve this.

The point at which you can think of no further questions that you can ask until the student has some further information, is the natural point to introduce the information. But do so asking questions where you can and by introducing the relevant information step-by-step; followed, at each step, by a question to engage the student with the new information. By following this method you will only ‘tell and explain’ where you really need to just as you know exactly where to apply the adhesive to your puncture only when it has been placed in water.

Next time a student asks you a question ask yourself the following question: can I get them to answer their own question by only asking them questions? If you succeed, notice how much better they understand than if you had just told them.

(This article was first published as a Break Time feature in Teach Primary magazine entitled ‘Ask only this’).


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