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Socratic questioning is a process where questions are used to construct and examine knowledge; it's named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who lived circa 400 BC. It is considered to be a vital part of the critical thinking process and has educational and therapeutic applications. Socratic questioning helps students to interact with and think about knowledge, thus making it their own rather than simply accepting and absorbing it. Specific types of questions are designed to elicit information from students and guide the active examination and expansion of knowledge. Question types include clarifying the issue as well as probing assumptions, reasons, evidence, and considering consequences and implications.
The art of skillful Socratic questioning is designed with the purpose of making the student an active participant, rather than a passive recipient, in learning. It encourages critical thinking and has many applications in education across multiple disciplines such as science, literature, history, and psychology. Through the use of carefully constructed questions, students are able to interact with the knowledge and the teacher, thereby thinking about the subject at hand from all angles in the quest for greater understanding. It is also used by mental health professionals as a cognitive behavioral therapy technique. Applied therapeutically, Socratic questioning can help patients learn more about themselves, including their motivations and actions, as well as exploring ways to adjust behavior so that functioning can be improved.
There are several distinct types of queries utilized in the Socratic questioning process. The first type are clarification questions which encourage deeper examination of what exactly is being considered; these inquiries may ask for restatement of known information or examples. Another type of query is designed to probe and examine assumptions and beliefs. These questions encourage consideration of information assumed to be true and examine whether or not that assumption is correct.
Another type of Socratic questioning probes reasons and evidence. These questions examine the reasons for seeking information as well as considering evidence that supports and helps prove the matter being discussed. Questions that look at the perspective or viewpoint of the student are also useful and can be used to show that there is more than one way to look at an issue that may be equally valid. An argument used during the discussion with logical predictable consequences or implications can be another avenue for questioning, including examination of the desirability of the probable outcome. Finally, questioning often ends up with reflective inquiries to determine if the desired goal was accomplished, and if the answer is satisfying or raises even more questions.
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