Essential Elements #5 and #6 – The Socratic Method and Trial & Error Learning

We are halfway through this series of posts laying down the essential building blocks of an Acton learner driven community.

So far, we have a group of mixed age children fueled by a belief in their unique potential, carrying a map of the Hero’s Journey, bound by their promises to each other and lit up with a growth mindset. They are ready to go. 

Now what?

It’s at this point we inject a combination of two elements: The Socratic Method and Trial & Error Learning. 

Simply put, questions are more powerful than answers; and learning is deepest when it is driven by the freedom to make mistakes. 

Because of these combined elements, young learners – with full agency – are trusted to think critically, resolve problems and recover from mistakes.

Like an alchemy for learning, this combination replaces the traditional method of lectures, memorization, tests.  In its place arises a golden opportunity for energetic, intimate learning that goes beyond acquiring facts and content.  The treasure now is the lifelong mastery of knowing how to learn, how to do and how to be.

Such learning is hard. It’s messy. It’s chaotic at times. That’s how trial and error works.  It’s a process. It’s unpredictable. Even uncomfortable. But in time, order returns in minds and spaces as the learners reflect, rest, try again and get a bit closer to mastery.  

Because of the growth mindset and the hero’s identity (let alone their contract to each other) quitting is not an option. Each day, with every Socratic challenge, these learners are sent out to find the answers to their questions, which in turn emboldens them to ask more.  Curiosity begets curiosity. 

How can this play out at home? Here are some tips to try it out:

  1. When you ask questions, give options rather than simply open ended questions. Would you do A or B?
  2. Listen intently and follow up with more questions such as: Why? What do you mean by ___? 
  3. Silence is your friend. Don’t rush in to answer your own question. Count to 10. Wait. 
  4. Consider it a gift when your children make mistakes – even though it’s painful to watch. Also, let them see you make mistakes without becoming overwhelmed or filled with anxiety. Let them hear you recovering and strategizing.
  5. Talk about lessons learned and what to do differently next time.