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Essential Readings

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Socratic Questioning
prepared by the National Education Laboratory

The Role of Questioning in Problem-Based Learning
The use of open-ended, probing questioning when initiating and perpetuating inquiry into the ill-structured problem is a key component to the success of the PBL experience. A strategy known as Socratic questioning is designed to elicit a wealth of ideas and facts from any group. When using Socratic questioning with younger audiences, considerable patience, coupled with a warm and inviting classroom atmosphere is essential. Socratic questioning promotes synthesis of information into discernible categories of "fact" and "opinion." This strategy will attempt to:

  • raise basic issues.
  • probe beneath the surface.
  • pursue problematic areas of thought.
  • help participants discover the structure of their own thoughts.
  • help participants develop a sensitivity to clarity, accuracy, and relevance.
  • help participants arrive at judgments based on their own reasoning.
  • help participants note claims, evidence, conclusions, questions at issue, assumptions, implications, consequences, concepts, interpretations, points of view, . . . all considered to be the elements of thought. (Paul, 1993)

While it is difficult to establish a concrete format for questioning within a variety of circumstances, Socratic questioning includes a taxonomy of questions that may be utilized diagnostically as the teacher/facilitator moderates discussion and verbal inquiry. The categories are as follows:

  • Clarification
  • Probe assumptions
  • Probe reasons and evidence
  • Reveal differing viewpoints and perspectives
  • Probe implications and/or consequences
  • Used for responding to questions

Even young children can appreciate the value of listening skills and respecting the views of others. Participants involved in the PBL experience must be willing to:

  • listen carefully to each other, and take the issues and comments seriously.
  • thoughtfully reflect on the issues and look beneath the surface.
  • look for reasons, evidence, assumptions, inconsistencies, implications and/or
  • consequences, examples or counter-examples, and respect other perspectives.
  • seek to differentiate knowledge from beliefs (facts from opinions).
  • maintain a "healthy" level of skepticism, or play "devil's advocate."
  • remain open-minded, and not allow themselves to "shutdown" when the views of
  • others do not match their own.

Source: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/trc/tutorial/pbl.html

Taxonomy of Socratic Questions
The following table has been adapted from: Paul, Richard, Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, 1993.

The taxonomy of Socratic questions, created by Richard Paul, is not a hierarchy in the traditional sense. The categories build upon each other, but they do not necessarily follow a pattern or design. One question's response will lead into another category of questioning not predetermined by the teacher/facilitator. In keeping with the PBL philosophy, this aspect of the model is most conducive! The role of the skilled teacher/facilitator is to keep the inquiry "train on track," but, also, to allow the students to "travel to a viable destination" of their own design.

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