Socrates Was Wrong

(Originally posted on the Cooperative Catalyst)

Socrates was wrong?

I don’t believe that necessarily, but read on and you’ll see why I wrote it (on top of shooting for a subject line controversial enough to increase the open rate of my post 🙂

I attended a workshop this summer at the Right Question Institute in Boston. We spent two days working hands-on with the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), a process developed over the last 20 years to help people improve their question-asking skills. The technique was originally developed during work with parents from low income schools when parents said they were not getting involved in their children’s schooling because they did not know what questions to ask the teachers. The technique was then adopted by the medical community for use in patient advocacy development, and has more recently been moving into the education arena.

This short video, entitled “Did Socrates Get it Wrong?”, is a TEDx talk given by one of the developers of the method. It provides a nice overview of the technique, suggesting that perhaps as teachers we have taken on too much of the question-asking load from our students – that getting the students to improve their questions-asking skills is an important goal.

“Socrates was wrong” is in the form of a statement in the subject line above because that mimics the form of a Question Focus Statement, or a statement that is used in the technique to prompt questions. The Question Focus Statement does not need to be true, and sometimes might intentionally be false. The goal is to use a QFocus Statement that will generate the best questions in a particular area of interest.

Here are the steps involved in the Question Formulation Technique:

Produce Your Questions
• Ask as many questions as you can.
• Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions.
• Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
• Change any statement into a question.

Improve Your Questions
• Categorize the questions as closed or open-ended.
• Name the advantages and disadvantages of each type of question.
• Change questions from one type to another.

Prioritize the Questions
• Choose your three most important questions.
• Why did you choose these three as the most important?

I began using the technique last year to mixed results, only to find that I was executing it improperly. The mistakes I made were:

  1. I used a QFocus Statement that contained my own bias in the form of the answer that I hoped all my students would come to
  2. And fatally, that I based a very long unit on this statement. QFocus Statements should begin as very short-term commitments until one has begun to get a good feeling for what types of questions they will elicit.

At the workshop I was able to speak with teachers of subjects across the spectrum who use the technique in their classes to establish prior knowledge at the beginning of a unit, gauge progress at mid-points formatively for use in adjusting lesson trajectory to best fit areas of interest, and summatively as a means of assessing what has been learned and understood.

This workshop was one of the few I’ve attended that used the espoused methodology and pedagogy during the teaching of it, which was very refreshing.

I recommend the technique and the workshop!

Published by Aaron Eden

What's your Give? I think that is a critical question in everything we do. What value are we creating? The core of my work is educating for a sustainable future. Value-oriented learning. Community-integrated learning. Social entrepreneurship. Emergent, inquiry-driven, entrepreneurial learning. I've spent the last 20 years designing and facilitating face-to-face and online learning experiences and co-creative processes that help individuals and organizations develop the skills and attributes to transform themselves and the world. I have extensive experience in instructional and learning experience design, innovation, and technology spaces.

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