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The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching, and Learning


One of the reasons that instructors tend to overemphasize “coverage” over “engaged thinking” is that they do not fully appreciate the role of questions in teaching content. Consequently, they assume that answers can be taught separate from questions. Indeed, so buried are questions in established instruction that the fact that all assertions — all statements that this or that is so — are implicit answers to questions is virtually never recognized. For example, the statement that water boils at 100 degrees centigrade is an answer to the question “At what temperature centigrade does water boil?” Hence every declarative statement in the textbook is an answer to a question. Hence, every textbook could be rewritten in the interrogative mode by translating every statement into a question. To our knowledge this has never been done. That it has not is testimony to the privileged status of answers over questions in instruction and the misunderstanding of teachers about the significance of questions in the learning (and thinking) process. Instruction at all levels now keeps most questions buried in a torrent of obscured “answers.”

Thinking is Driven by Questions

But thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. Had no questions been asked by those who laid the foundation for a field — for example, Physics or Biology — the field would never have been developed in the first place. In fact, every intellectual field is born out of a...

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