Principles of P4C
Here are some of the principles that underlie philosophy for children. We'll see how these could lead to some simple, everyday practices to help children and young people become for thoughtful, curious and reasonable. Then we'll outline the important concept of the community of inquiry and explain, in summary, a sequence of activities that most p4c lessons would use.
- Good thinking is learned from dialogue with others.
- Children need to take part in dialogues that provide examples and models of good thinking .
- The wellspring of knowledge and intellectual excitement is questioning.
- Claims should be tested in argument. Argument is seen not as a quarrel but as a collaborative search for the best answer to a question.
- To think well is to be creative as well as critical. Creative thinkers make connections, speculate and explore alternatives.
- Good thinking depends on attitudes as well as abilities. Children should be encouraged to be reasonable in the fullest sense of the word.
- People make sense of the the world though a web of concepts. We should talk with children about significant concepts.
- It is good for children and adults to talk together about philosophical questions -- questions that matter and that link thinking about one area of experience to thinking about experience as a whole.
Many of the principles of p4c can be applied with all ages of pupils and in most subject areas using some straightforward practices. We've grouped them together under the heading: encourage questioning, develop concepts, encourage dialogue and argument, and work for reasonableness. The p4c.com website has many resources tailored to helping you achieve these practices and with your pupils.
Practice 1: Encourage questioning
- Encourage pupils to ask questions by structuring a question-creation session into some of your lessons. Allow pupils to talk to a partner before coming up with their question. Get pupils to write their questions down.
- Collect pupils' questions and study them with the pupils. Discuss the kinds of questions they are and how they could be answered. Display the questions and write them up in 'question book collections' or display them on the walls.
- Make space and time in your lessons to discuss pupils' questions with them. Help them to spot assumptions and significant (or 'juicy') concepts contained in their questions.
- Help pupils discriminate between those parts of questions that require information, inference and considered judgement.
- Help pupils to choose questions they will discuss together. (See practice 3)
Practice 2: Develop concepts
Pick out some significant concepts and make some time to discuss them with pupils. Stimulate discussion by introducing some 'borderline cases', that is scenarios or questions involving the chosen concept that allow pupils to explore their understanding and lead the discussion to deeper levels. Have a look at our key document on concepts to give you some ideas about what this means in practice. Here are some concepts that could come up in the various subject areas:
- Literature: love, democracy, fairness, justice, goodness, power, anger.
- Humanities/social studies: justice, globalisation, nation, history, truth, cause, evidence, interpretation.
- Arts: beauty, art, imagination, reproduction, real, copy, meaning.
- Religious education: belief, faith, truth, morality, tolerance.
- Design technology: purpose, economy, value, elegance, simplicity, effectiveness, originality.
- ICT: knowledge, entertainment, game, reality, legality, morality.
- Citizenship: rights, duties, justice, fairness, freedom, welfare, community, enterprise.
- Science: science, experiment, evidence, knowledge, theory.
Practice 3: Encourage dialogue and argument
Here are some steps you can take to encourage dialogue and argument in your classes:
- Have the pupils sit in a circle so they can see each other and listen in a more focused way.
- Establish some ground rules for good dialogue and help pupils put them into practice.
- Establish the idea of argument as a means towards finding the best answer to a question where possible answers are contestable. Encourage pupils to argue without rancour by testing claims and reasons in a spirit of collaborative dialogue.
- Give pupils thinking time by allowing short 'breakouts' where they can converse with a partner to gather their thoughts or rehearse their arguments.
- Give children examples of the sorts of moves they can make to get the dialogue to a deeper level. These would include: thinking of alternative points of view and speculating about the consequences of each one, giving examples, noticing similarities and differences, examining reasons and establishing whether statements about people and things apply to 'all', 'many', 'some' and or 'none'.
Practice 4: Work for reasonableness
If you have done all the other things above, then your pupils should be well on the way to becoming reasonable in all senses of the word; they are open to new ideas and alternative points of view, they don't prematurely judge the opinions of others and they value arguments that are supported by reasons. If you value reasonableness and draw attention to its various aspects, then perhaps pupils will come to value it too.
The community of inquiry
A Community of Inquiry may be defined as a collaborative and reflective approach to discussion built up over time with the same group of learners. It aims to achieve:
- Community: cooperation, care, respect and safety
- Inquiry: a search for understanding, meaning, truth and values supported by reasons
The community of inquiry can play a positive role in combating what is perceived to be a drift in society to the idea that opinions can’t be judged and don’t need to be justified. Even very young children can come to expect reasons to support claims. The community of inquiry is not a mere exchange of opinions where anything goes. On the contrary, it is a context for discussion wherein people are challenged to justify their opinions regularly. At the same time, the community of inquiry contrasts with classroom debate with its emphasis on winning the argument rather than understanding the issues in question or the beliefs of other participants. Argument is seen as a collaborative effort to come to the best answer to a question.
Teachers develop their class towards being a community of inquiry by following the practices described above. For p4c, those practices are usually embedded in a regularly repeated sequence of activities summarised below. There are many variations on the sequence but the basic structure remains.
Preparing the context
It is important for the group to sit in a circle or horseshoe, not only as an aid to good listening but also to indicate that everybody's participation is equally valued. Before beginning the first p4c session, the group should spend time deciding a set of guidelines for good discussion. These can be developed over time as groups gain experience.
Preparing the text
Inquiry seems to work best when dialogue is focused on shared experience such as any the following or a combination of them:
- Reading stories, poems, news items or dialogues.
- Looking at images, watching short films or listening to music.
- Reflecting on artefacts.
If we refer to all of these ways into experiences as 'texts', then teachers often look for texts that they think will have to potential to lead into dialogue that is rich in concepts. Teachers will spend some time considering what concepts might arise from the text and how best to prepare for dialogue around those concepts. p4c.com should be a great help with is kind of preparation.
Preparing for progression
Teachers will have ideas about what needs to be developed for the group to progress towards the ideal of the community of enquiry and for individuals to progress towards being more reasonable people. She will be thinking about what to encourage, what to draw pupils' attention to and how best to intervene in the dialogues that will follow. She might for example decide to highlight:
- The importance of careful listening and asking questions to clarify meaning.
- The necessity of identifying what is the same and different in what people say.
- The importance of identifying assumptions in the questions that pupils put forward.
Sharing the text
Whatever text the teacher has chosen, it is shared in an appropriate way so that pupils are able to give it their full attention share thoughts about anything that interests them, puzzles them or that they find significant. The teacher will provide time and sometimes a structure for this initial reaction to the text. For example she might:
- Give pupils some thinking time in pairs to identify 'juicy concepts'.
- Present pupils with a couple of images and ask them what they think are some significant similarities and differences.
- Present pupils with words and pictures and ask them what they think the connections are between the two.
- Ask pupils to identify 'hot spots' or parts of a text they find interesting or significant.
- Ask pupils to write or draw some initial thoughts -- perhaps using one of the previous points in this list as a structure.
Creating and choosing questions
Following the sharing of the text pupils are asked to create questions that are based on what they are curious about or interesting in. Questions may reflect their ideas about the whole story or part of it. Pupils are encouraged to create questions that lead to a good dialogue, though their understanding of what this means in practice will develop over time. The extent of the teacher's involvement in creating the questions will depend on the age and abilities of the pupils'. Sometimes pupils are set into groups to discuss their questions and agree on one to put forward for the group. Finally the pupils and teacher together create an agenda for dialogue by choosing one or more questions. During this stage the following practices are common:
- The teacher or pupils ask for clarification about a question. What is it asking? Where might it lead?
- Assumptions in the questions are identified and 'questions behind the questions' are recognised.
- Similarities and differences between questions are noted.
Dialogue about the pupils' own questions is at the heart of p4c. But dialogue that is more like building something together than exchanging ready-made opinions. Opinions are still expressed but final judgements are held back until other points of view have been explored. In a good dialogue people disagree without getting angry with each other and they want to understand what others are trying to say. Careful listening is as important as careful speaking and active listening will show up in questions learners ask each other. In p4c dialogues, we notice that:
- The teacher will elicit appropriate 'moves' from pupils in response to what others have said. Such moves might include those mentioned in 'Practice 3' above: thinking of alternative points of view and speculating about the consequences of different of each on; giving examples, noticing similarities and differences, examining reasons and establishing whether statements about people and things apply to 'all', 'many', 'some' and or 'none'.
- There is a effort to arrive at some clear statements in response to the question(s) that can be tested through collaborative argument.
- There is sometimes an effort to keep track of the discussion through verbal summary, short writing task or use of diagrams such as concepts maps.
- There are sometimes 'breakout sessions' to allow pupils in pairs or small groups to gather their thoughts about a particular concept or argument. Sometimes the teacher will provide a structure for the breakout such as listing examples of a concepts like 'democracy'.
- At the end of the dialogue there is summary and an opportunity for pupils to have their 'last words' either in response to the content of the dialogue or to the process. Last words could be given as an oral response or in writing.
The teacher will consider each dialogue plan for further progression towards a community of enquiry. For example:
- She might highlight a concept that is worth exploring in greater depth through structured questions or examples before the next dialogue.
- She might identify a behaviour, such as giving examples, that needs work or encouragement.
- She may set some writing, artwork or research as a response to something that came up in the dialogue.
- She will be planning the next session in the light of the last one.