pupil voice

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)

What do children think of Hands Up?

Pupil Voice is an important part of my Talk Audits; here are some recent responses when I asked Key Stage 2 children their opinions about Hands Up:

My hand is always tired!

Hands Up isn't fair because some people sit back and let others do the work.

I prefer random selection because it's fairer.

Sometimes more thinking time is needed.

Your hand gets tired when someone else is speaking.

Lolly Sticks are better than Hands Up because anyone could get chosen; we all have to have an answer. It gets everyone in the class thinking, not just one person.

P4C Pupil Voice

I think it is useful because you get to share your own opinions.

I like it because it helps us listen.

It’s good because you can express your feelings.

I really like it because you can see what other people think about the argument.

It’s interesting because you get to hear your and others’ opinions about how they relate to the question.

You get to listen and share. You can build on your own opinion by listening to others.

You get to settle the argument. It’s a really fair way to settle arguments because sometimes arguments can be hard to solve.


  Provocation at Challenge Partners Conference

Blackpool, October 2016

What is more important: developing curiosity or measurable academic progress?

I think we all agree that developing curiosity is important. Today I’m going to persuade you that there are at least two manageable opportunities to do this in your current situation.

I could stand here today and quote Einstein at you, and many other people who have said fascinating things about curiosity, but you can Google that. I could stand here today and tell you the results of the recent research using MRI scans. But again you can look that up – watch a TED talk. So in these few minutes today I want to say something to you which you won’t find on the Internet, and that is my experience, my experience that is possible to nurture curiosity in the current pressurised UK school system. It’s not easy and the stark reality is that today in most schools and most classrooms curiosity is indeed a very rare thing. But that is most schools, most ordinary schools. And I believe you are here today because you don’t want to be that. You want to be something better.

Your first opportunity is to ensure your team genuinely value pupil ideas. You may say they do. Sadly, research shows year after year that teachers dominate classroom talk and pupils are very rarely given time to think, very rarely given time to ask questions. Time to think, and time to try out ideas, is time to experience curiosity. If we give our pupils this, if we truly value their explanations, opinions and reasoning we will experience a shift. A very positive shift. But let’s be clear, it won’t happen by chance. Yes, it is something that your best teachers probably do naturally, but most teachers will need guidance and support to achieve productive pupil talk and deep dialogue. It is worth it - it affects learning in every area of the curriculum. It changes teachers. It changes pupils. It will change your classrooms, it will change your school (it will probably also change your results!). The difference between asking a plethora of recall questions and listening to a few reliable speakers give the correct answer (this is – research shows again and again – the most common type of talk in classrooms) vs a genuine dialogue with full engagement from all pupils… Which do you want in your schools?

Your second opportunity: incorporate some enquiry-based learning into your curriculum. We urgently need to make and protect space for developing curiosity in our students.  An easy, effective way to do this is through P4C – philosophy for children. If you introduce P4C carefully and systematically you’ll quickly see the benefits.  EEF research https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/our-work/projects/philosophy-for-children/

There are numerous other models of enquiry based learning. At Forest School for example I have seen children who didn’t used to speak start to speak, children who were disengaged become engaged, children who were passive become active, children who were followers become leaders. And these changes, if you’re wondering, did transfer back into the classroom.

We are here today because we all want the same thing: better life chances for our children.

However, if we prioritise measuring academic progress, we will restrict our children’s development. If we prioritise data over learning, we will stifle our children’s progress. If we prioritise teaching children to pass tests above teaching them to be curious about the world, we will limit their future potential. Take a moment to think how much time and energy we spend measuring and desperately trying to evidence academic progress.

Is this really the best use of so much of our time?

Instead we could be using some of that time to spark curiosity. If we prioritise curiosity, if we encourage it, nurture it, model it… Then, and only then will we be fulfilling our responsibility as educators of the next generation.

I would like to end with a call to action. I’m not telling you to throw away your assessment grids. I am asking you to do two manageable things. ONE:  Make some space to train your teachers to deepen dialogue and genuinely listen to your pupils. TWO:  Make some space for enquiry-based learning, be it Philosophy for Children, Forest School or something else. For, if we do nothing, we will breed indifference and disinterest among our students. Let’s not leave the development of curiosity to chance.