Asking Good Questions: Socratic Method in the Classroom

To get students thinking critically about material, lecturing to students who remain passive recipients of knowledge won’t work. Students must be engaged and grapple with questions in order to think critically. Discussion helps students consider the material and tackle it using higher-level thinking (see figure) .
Bloom's taxonomy (modified): From low-level skills to high-level skills, they are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating

Teaching Critical Thinking

Every student within a discipline needs to learn facts and acquire basic knowledge in introductory classes. Students make flashcards, memorize terms, and gain a basic understanding of the subject. Sometimes, students may be able to apply the knowledge they’ve learned in order to solve basic problems. These lower-level activities are referred to as declarative knowledge, one of the three types of knowledge according to Joanne G. Kurfiss, author of Critical Thinking: Theory, Research, Practice, and Possibilities.

Using MyPlan

MyPLAN (My Personal Learning and Advising Network) is a campus-wide platform used for tracking student progress and facilitating student-instructor interactions at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Graduate instructors can manage appointments, learn more about their students, and promote communication between students and on-campus support services by referring students to the resources they need to succeed. 

Here’s an introduction, with hyperlinks to tutorial videos, to a few MyPLAN features. 

Socratic Questioning

Socrates taught by asking questions, drawing out answers from his pupils to challenge the completeness and accuracy of their thinking. Here are the six types of questions Socrates posed:

Clarifying concepts. These questions get students to think more about what they are asking or thinking about, prove the concepts behind their argument, and get them to go deeper.

Learning Names

Knowing students’ names helps improve the classroom climate, but for many, learning a large number of names can be difficult and frustrating. But take heart! Even if you teach large lecture sections, there are ways to achieve what seems impossible.

Preparing Students for Their Final Assignment

As the semester draws to a close, think about how to make the final assignment you require of students a learning experience they can carry with them as they move on in their course of studies. Your final assignment can be the bridge that connects the learning you have worked so hard to facilitate to your students’ future experiences. Such an important moment should not be left to chance, nor should it be overshadowed by the grading game.

Create a Positive First Impression

First impressions matter in most situations and especially in the classroom. As a TA, you might be concerned about your role as an authority figure. Can you effectively lead discussions, interact with students in a positive manner, and handle difficulties that may arise? The first few classes will help shape
how your students view you during the next 15 weeks. Speak clearly and confidently, establish your credentials within the discipline, show evidence of organization and preparation, and take steps to start the semester with firm, but gracious control of your classroom.

Your Course Syllabus

The first thing students look for on the first day of class is the syllabus. The syllabus gives them an idea of what to expect for grading, when important assignments are due and how much homework to expect. Creating a thoughtful and easy-to-follow syllabus will help your students understand your expectations, how the course fits their educational needs and what they will learn during the semester. A good syllabus will include:

Your Teaching's Impact on Undergraduates

Whether you teach a lab, recitation or lecture or work with students in a resource room as a tutor, you function as a role model and a mentor, serving the needs of undergraduate students in ways that many faculty can’t. But how? How do you, as a graduate teaching assistant, impact your undergraduate students? Do you influence their choice of major? How about their enthusiasm for learning the course material? How about their decision to stay until they complete their undergraduate degree?

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