Thursday, May 26, 2016

A New Type of Socratic Questioning

The use of the Socratic method in first-year law classes has been frequently criticized.  Among these criticisms are that it is not as effective with female students and monorities as it is for white, male students.   However, questions remains an important teaching technique.  Maybe, the solution is to change the questioning method that law professors use.

This article concerns the Socratic method in medical schools:

Socrates Was Not a Pimp: Changing the Paradigm of Questioning in Medical Education by Amanda Kost, MD, and Frederick M. Chen, MD, MPH.

The slang term “pimping” is widely recognized by learners and educators in the clinical learning environment as the act of more senior members of the medical team publicly asking questions of more junior members. Although questioning as a pedagogical practice has many benefits, pimping, as described in the literature, evokes negative emotions in learners and leads to an environment that is not conducive to adult learning. Medical educators may employ pimping as a pedagogic technique because of beliefs that it is a Socratic teaching method. Although problems with pimping have previously been identified, no alternative techniques for questioning in the clinical environment were suggested. The authors posit that using the term “pimping” to describe questioning in medical education is harmful and unprofessional, and they propose clearly defining pimping as “questioning with the intent to shame or humiliate the learner to maintain the power hierarchy in medical education.” Explicitly separating pimping from the larger practice of questioning allows the authors to make three recommendations for improving questioning practices. First, educators should examine the purpose of each question they pose to learners. Second, they should apply historic and modern interpretations of Socratic teaching methods that promote critical thinking skills. Finally, they should consider adult learning theories to make concrete changes to their questioning practices. These changes can result in questioning that is more learner centered, aids in the acquisition of knowledge and skills, performs helpful formative and summative assessments of the learner, and improves community in the clinical learning environment.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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