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A Tip For Math Teachers: How to Use Socratic Questioning to Develop Student Reasoning Skills

by Scott A McKinney

posted in Reference and Education

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Hello math teachers.
First, a note of gratitude. The work you are doing is hard - the hours are long, pay is low, frustration level can be high - but the very fact you are reading this shows you are dedicated and part of the top 10% of your profession. The winners. The people who care. The good teachers.
And make no mistake - teaching is an honorable profession. You are helping your students grow, both in dirt-hard skills - skills that will help them throughout their chosen careers - and in soft skills, like problem-solving, reasoning, and logical thinking.
So, my hats off to you for your dedication. I myself worked for several years in a teaching role - as classroom teacher, as teaching assistant, and as supplemental tutor.
So - we have established that you are committed to helping your students grow, both in their practical skills, and in their softer, reasoning skills.
How can you help build their reasoning skills?
My suggestion is to use a dialectic, or Socratic dialogue, approach, in your lessons.
Try to present your classes in a way that engages student questions.
For example, if you are teaching calculus, and are introducing derivatives, make sure to include more than simple material on the mechanics of including derivatives. Be sure to question them about the basic meaning of the derivative - the rate of change of a function. You can do this by including questions about the derivative as it pertains to velocity - the rate of change of the position of an object - or the rate of change of the filling of a glass of water, or many other examples.
By questioning them about the exact meaning of the derivative, you will help them to build better understanding of what the derivative is: the rate of change of a quantity, and at the same time, help them improve their test scores, as well as help improve their reasoning about the subject. 3 birds in one stone.
Try to find a way to bring a dialectic, or Socratic questioning, approach to your classes, no matter what area you are teaching. The students will find it interesting and fun, their grades will shoot up as they come to grasp the reasoning behind the material, and they will develop problem-solving and logic skills that will help them, no matter what path they choose in life.
About the Author: For more information about mathematics and its applications in the real world, visit I am a university math tutor and independent business owner.
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