Ask, Don’t Tell: A learner-centred approach to education

Many institutions teach by showing or telling and assess by asking. i.e. transmission of knowledge followed by elicitation of that knowledge. Whereas, in a learner-centred approach, both teachers and learners learn by asking and demonstrate acquisition of knowledge by building and showing. This mismatch in learning and teaching styles is at the root of many of the problems that occur when educators introduce a new regime of teaching approaches  that fail to take account of the misalignment outlined above.

The Socratic Method

Socrates teaching - Image via Wikipedia

Philosopher Richard Garlikov advocates use of the Socratic Method as a teaching tool, where the teacher asks leading questions of students rather than telling them facts to be recalled at a later time, such as during an exam. In an experiment conducted with 22 third graders in an elementary school (presumably in Birmingham, Alabama), he used a socratic approach to teach the basics of binary arithmetic over an afternoon teaching session.

Richard explains that there are four critical points about the types of questions asked during a socratic method session, i.e:

  1. “they must be interesting or intriguing to the students
  2. they must lead by incremental and
  3. logical steps (from the students’ prior knowledge or understanding) and seen to be evidence toward a conclusion (not just individual isolated points), and
  4. they must be designed to get the student to see particular points.”

This method is complemented by task or discovery-based learning approaches where students are driven by curiosity to discover knowledge, sometimes in order to solve a task or complete a quest.

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