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February 23, 2019

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A Teacher’s View:

Parents can help engage students by asking questions

Aristotle said, "To find yourself, think for yourself."

In an era of proficiency testing and an emphasis on standards-based instruction, teachers are working hard to find a balance in teaching students thinking skills. While teachers are required to align their instruction with state and national teaching standards, they often struggle with developing their students' abilities to understand how to think for themselves.

If students lack this skill, they find reading and analyzing literature, as well as writing proficiently about it, an impossible task.

As standards are focusing more on reading, writing scores are dropping.

It seems that education has become reactive in its approach. When one area drops, the focus on that area becomes all-encompassing.

A small movement has developed both here in Clark County and nationally. Educators and researchers are finding that before students can read and write proficiently, they must first learn to think critically and analytically.

To achieve this end, the Socratic approach is being tried with much success. This method of teaching began with high school and middle school, but it is now being tried out in the elementary level.

Socratic seminars are defined by academic researcher L.L. Lambright in a 1995 article he wrote as "exploring intellectual conversations centered on a text." It is a group discussion model that is designed to resemble the way Socrates taught with his instruction-through-questioning method. They are held in a student-centered environment that fosters engagement and prompts the discussion of ideas. Students learn to support their opinions and position through the use of the text, and thus learn to look beyond the words to identify ideas and concepts.

The reasoning behind Socratic methods is to help students develop critical thinking skills. The method has been highly successful on the middle and high school levels and is now, according to the current issue of Teaching Exceptional Children, being tried on the elementary level.

This model can be adapted perfectly at home for parents and children. In essence it is a question-and-answer format that parents tend to use naturally. Ask your children questions about what they have read and then allow them to explain what the information meant to them or how they interpreted the new concept. You act as facilitator to what the child is discussing.

Children are naturally inquisitive, and with encouragement, they can develop critical thinking skills that will serve them throughout their lives. It only takes time and encouragement.

Rene Hill is an English teacher in the Clark County School District. She can be reached c/o The News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074 or [email protected].

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