Putting ourselves in the childrens’ shoes

Adults love doing P4C just as much as children. I recommend that the school team regularly take part in their own enquiries - not only because it’s fun and interesting but because it reminds us what it’s like to

  • listen before we speak

  • connect our thoughts to others’ ideas

  • experience having our own opinions challenged.

Here’s a group of teachers on my P4C Level 1 course doing a mini enquiry resulting from a philosophical prompt.

Two groups of five primary school teachers, each sitting in a circle on chairs in a classroom and discussing a card containing a philosophical prompt.

Big Ideas

One of the biggest challenges of P4C is getting children to generate philosophical questions from a stimulus.  Helping them to spot the philosophical concepts or ‘Big Ideas’ is a great start. Once they have these, question making is a whole lot easier.

I sometimes show them a few Concept Cards, or Big Idea cards:

Eight yellow cards, each showing a concept word such as Work, Truth, Money, Revenge

I then ask them, Were any of these ideas in the story?

Here is a Concept Card grid that you are welcome to use.

The Birthplace of P4C

This summer I was lucky enough to attend the annual summer seminar organised by the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) based at Montclair State University, NJ.

It was inspiring to spend a week with fellow P4C advocates from the USA and further afield. As well as examining some of the academic papers written about P4C, we immersed ourselves in philosophical enquiry. Only by doing it ourselves can we get close to experiencing some of what children might think and feel when they do it.

Questions including 'Are all gifts burdens?' and 'Is there anything art shouldn't express?' engaged us all in the pursuit of finding possible - and reasonable - answers. We were challenged to give evidence and examples to back up our positions, all of us taking a turn to facilitate an enquiry.

Something that I found particularly useful was the practice of naming our 'moves'. I am going to give a counterexample. Or, I am going to add some supporting evidence for Sara's position.

This requires tight facilitation, and can interrupt the flow of dialogue, but, I believe, has huge potential for increasing the quality of dialogue and developing confident, articulate speakers.


Talk Promise

I was thrilled to see the newly-developed promise displayed in every classroom on a return visit to one of my 'talk schools'. And when asked for feedback on the talk project, a Year 5 pupil said, "the Talk Promise helps boost my confidence because I know that a lot more people will be listening."

Talk promise on display in classroom.jpg

Dialogic teaching guru Robin Alexander would be pleased...

Many schools and teachers fail to make students aware of the ground rules for effective dialogue.
— Robin Alexander

Active learning

One thing children love about P4C is that it can be one of the most active parts of the school day. In the session pictured here, the class developed philosophical questions in groups of three, then got out of their seats to vote for the question they most wanted to discuss.

P4C y4 blurred.jpg

P4C can motivate children to write

I’ve been working with a group of Manchester teachers to discover how to optimise P4C in the teaching and learning of English.  It’s been lovely to hear from pupils and teachers about some really positive experiences.  A few examples:

It makes me want to write so people’s lifestyles change.  It makes me want to write posters, and letters to the council.
— Year 3 pupil, following P4C enquiry about plastic pollution
P4C pervaded English.  I was really impressed with the amount they wrote.  They were all able to write well because of the verbalisation.
Another great impact has been that children feel like experts because they’ve been so immersed in the dialogue.  It’s been joyous to see some of the quieter children shining with confidence in English because of the P4C.
— Year 3 teacher
They were excited about going deep.  They genuinely enjoy probing for the deeper ideas.  They are using more language of reasoning; the dialogue was incredible.
— Year 4 teacher

Does P4C help you? Pupil voice February 2018

Year 4 (age 8-9)

  • "P4C makes me a good learner because it gets your brain thinking about big ideas."
  • "P4C helps people do the right thing."
  • "When you do P4C you get to say what you really think about things."
  • "It helps you get better at participating.  People have powerful ideas and they are all in your mind.  You can't just sit there, you have to say something - you really, really want to!"

Year 6 (age 10-11)

  • "It helps you so you know other children's viewpoints. If they have a different viewpoint, for example about religion, it's good to know so you don't offend them."
  • "It could link to jobs. In some jobs you have to understand and respect people's viewpoints."
  • "It could help you in life decisions, it could help you understand the consequences."

Ideas into your brain...

I often ask pupils and teachers how often they change talk partners; a typical answer is ‘not very often’.  Let’s switch things up!  When we try it, and ask the children what they think, they say:

  • “I like the idea of switching talk partners because then you learn more about others and their thoughts.”  (Yr5)
  • “I like that! I like talking to different people. Once I had someone who just sat there for a whole term!”  (Yr1)
  • “You swap seats and other people come and put other ideas into your brain.”  (Yr4)