Mentoring the Gifted: Promoting Socratic Dialogue and Ensuring Substantive Answers

The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer.

—Alice Wellington Rollins

Socratic Dialogue

question mark Socratic dialogue is your main method throughout this course of study for determining what a student understands and what a student does not understand. Methods of Socratic dialogue are particularly helpful as you ask a student to describe, explain, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize course knowledge and skills. When the student completes the interactive lessons, problem sets, problem solving and homework assignments, quizzes, and activities, you often need to discuss the student's answers in detail and help him or her improve the quality of reasoning and responses.

As you lead a discussion with your mentee, keep the following strategies in mind, offered by Dr. Kristen R. Stephens, PhD, in the article "Nurturing Critical Thinking," (Duke Gifted Letter (now Digest of Gifted Research), Summer 2006), reprinted with permission:

"Everyone thinks. The key is to cultivate our quality of thought. The Foundation for Critical Thinking states that 'human thinking left to itself often gravitates toward prejudice, over-generalization, common fallacies, self-deception, rigidity, and narrowness." But not to worry: good, sound reasoning can be nurtured. Critical thinking can be traced at least as far back as Socrates, who emphasized asking deep questions to cultivate thinking. The Socratic method, which exposes the logic of one's thought, typically uses several forms of questioning:

This kind of inquiry helps us reach thoughtful and comprehensive conclusions, a skill that is an essential foundation for future problem solvers."

Substantive Answers

mentor_discussion.jpg Whenever the student completes a problem set, he or she has the option to show his or her work. Many gifted students can think well without paper and don't feel the need to take this step.

For tougher problems, such as Digging Deeper problems, you may need to require that students demonstrate thinking on paper or a screen. Having this evidence will help you as mentor and the student as a thinker.

 The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.

—Mark Van Doren

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