Socratic Questioning is often referred to in teaching, and has gained currency in as a concept in education particularly in the past two decades.
According to Paul and Elder (The Art of Socratic Questioning, 2006), teachers, students, or indeed anyone interested in probing thinking at a deep level can and should construct Socratic questions and engage in Socratic dialogue.
When teachers use Socratic questioning in teaching, their purpose may be to probe student thinking, to determine the extent of student knowledge on a given topic, issue or subject, to model Socratic questioning for students, or to help students analyze a concept or line of reasoning. Students should learn the discipline of Socratic questioning so that they begin to use it in reasoning through complex issues, in understanding and assessing the thinking of others, and in following-out the implications of what they, and others think.
In teaching, then, teachers can use Socratic questioning for at least two purposes:
Socratic questioning illuminates the importance of questioning in learning (indeed Socrates himself thought that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching). It illuminates the difference between systematic and fragmented thinking. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of our ideas. It teaches us the value of developing questioning minds in cultivating deep learning.
The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. What the word “Socratic” adds to the art of questioning is systematicity, depth, and an abiding interest in assessing the truth or plausibility of things.
Both critical thinking and Socratic questioning share a common end. Critical thinking provides the conceptual tools for understanding how the mind functions in its pursuit of meaning and truth; Socratic questioning employs those tools in framing questions essential to the pursuit of meaning and truth.
The goal of critical thinking is to establish an additional level of thinking to our thinking, a powerful inner voice of reason, that monitors, assesses, and reconstitutes—in a more rational direction—our thinking, feeling, and action. Socratic discussion cultivates that inner voice through an explicit focus on self-directed, disciplined questioning.
Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2006). The Art of Socratic Questioning. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.