Ofsted comments about P4C

In a recent SAPERE P4C update it was great to hear that P4C is being recognised by Ofsted:

Social, moral, spiritual and cultural education is well developed across the curriculum, particularly through the new philosophy curriculum that you have recently introduced. Pupils are well-prepared for life in modern Britain.
— from inspection of Middlefield Community Primary, Liverpool
Opportunities to develop pupils’ resilience and well-being are built into the curriculum. For example, through philosophy lessons pupils share their feelings and concerns.
— from inspection of Faith Primary School, Liverpool

Daily Philosophy Question for Early Years language and family engagement

This year I’ve seen rapid impact from introducing a Daily Philosophy Question to a Salford Early Years setting.  On arrival at school every day, children find the lolly stick with their name on and go over to the question table.  Parents read today’s question, for example Would you rather have dinner in a castle or a hot air balloon? This is supported by visuals.  The children make their choice by putting their lolly stick into a cup.

Reception children placing lolly sticks in one of two cups to show whether they’d rather have dinner in a castle or a hot air balloon. The cups are next to a board titled Question of the Day and there are pictures illustrating the two options.

Initially, staff modelled prompts for parents to encourage every child to give a reason. For example, Tell me why you think that.  Parents soon took this on and in many cases the children then began to use full sentences of their own – I would rather have dinner in a castle because I could meet the knights. With practice, most three year olds are able to give reasons for their choices.

The Daily Question has become a fantastic bridge between home and school; instead of just dropping off their child and leaving, there is a brief learning interaction at the school gates.  Children and parents look forward to this part of the day, and sometimes continue discussions at home.

The Nursery teacher has commented, It’s fantastic, some of them now make up their own Would You Rather questions. When a child is off sick, parents call in and ask for today’s question. Younger siblings also look forward to coming along to answer the question!

(With thanks to sarastanley.co.uk for publicising this great idea.)

P4C games

Children really enjoy the playful aspect of P4C. Here are a couple of fun warm-up games that you can use in your P4C practice (Step 1 of the Ten Steps).

Pass the Tambourine

This is a great game for young children to practise turn-taking. It also develops co-operation and focus.

I usually start by shaking my very loud tambourine and saying, I wonder if it would be possible to pass this around our circle without it making any noise at all?

It’s fascinating watching the children work out different ways to do it! And by the time they’ve concentrated on this they’ll be in just the right mindset to do some philosophical thinking.

If, then

A Year 4 class who I was working with found this challenging at first – especially the grammar! – but after half a term became surprisingly good at it.

Start by modelling a sentence such as If I had got up earlier today, then I would have eaten more breakfast. The next person begins with If I had eaten more breakfast, then …  etc.  Continue around the circle.

As well as often generating funny stories this is a great way to practise the language of reasoning and will impact on the children’s ability to reason confidently during the enquiry.

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.


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