Sunday, 1 February 2015

Why Philosophy 4 Children?

All teachers at our school, including single subject teachers, have just completed the two day Philosophy for Children Training lead by Dr Vanya Kovach from The University of Auckland and Krystyn Marr from Opawa School here in Christchurch. P4C is a thinking skills program which engages children in rich philosophical discussions. At many schools it is offered to children on the GATE register and it is exciting that all of our students will now take part in P4C. I am completely and utterly fizzing over this. My mouth is watering over the ways I can integrate P4C into my classroom programme to nurture a culture of questioning, thinking deeply and sharing. I'm excited!

I am very fortunate in that this is the second time I have completed this training. Four years ago, I took part in the training and left feeling incredibly inspired. My enthusiasm was huge- we had weekly P4C sessions that year and there were many benefits from those frequent sessions particularly with regards to the development of the students questioning skills. Somewhere along the line, I got super-busy and the P4C sessions disappeared. Silly me.

I love this sketchnote from George Couros, sketched by Sylvia Duckworth.

What hits me in the face when I study this graphic is that P4C is a brilliant way to bring these elements into the classroom.

1. Voice- Well that's fairly obvious..... P4C literally gives students a voice through the chance to explore ideas and share opinions.I have seen students do a 180 degree flip on an important issue after learning from and exploring the issue deeply from their peers. For some, sharing is other but for others sharing our deepest thoughts will be challenging. I like Vanya suggestion that when nervous about sharing a potentially controversial idea, the phrase, "Someone might say....." can be very helpful.

2. Choice- P4C gives learners the chance to direct the learning as the topics discussed come from the students themselves. Even when the initial stimulus for discussion is provided by the teacher, the learners generate questions and then vote on the one they most want to explore. P4C can be easily integrated into our Units of Inquiry but it also has enormous merit when it stands alone and we explore an entirely new concept or issue. Our Unit of Inquiry on leadership offers multiple opportunities for philosophical inquiry but so might a newspaper article found in tomorrow's Press, a controversial new television commercial or some other unexpected moment.

3. Time for Reflection- This year, all classes at Selwyn House are introducing Philosophy Journals. This will be a place to reflect through writing, drawing, doodling...whatever it is that enables us to document our thinking and reflect on how it has changed. As an International Baccalaureate school, reflection is in embedded into all that we do but these journals will be a welcome reflection tool.

4. Opportunities for Innovation- P4C most definitely nurtures the mindset needed to be innovative. It develops independent thinking and higher order thinking skills. I've read studies that have found that with consistent sessions, P4C can provide a significant increase in self-esteem and ability to concentrate. I'm really hoping that these skills will carry over into other curriculum areas and empower our learners to feel confident to innovate in their Passion Projects or our Makerspace programme.

5. Critical Thinkers- P4C gives children the skills to evaluate and think critically about really challenging ideas. Learners as young as five philosophise about whether money can buy happiness or animals have feelings. The programme gives them tools and vocabulary which they can use to present arguments; such as making distinctions, highlighting assumptions and challenging and supporting ideas. I am hoping that this ability to think critically during philosophical inquiries will spill over into other parts of the school day.

6. Problem Solvers/ Finders- P4C nurtures our abilities to problem solve through the use of logic and reasoning. It helps us to evaluate solutions and it also helps children to find and define problems and explore solutions in a safe community. I am curious about whether the regular use of philosophical inquiries will have an impact on learning in maths. I wonder how I could measure that. Hmmmmm....

7. Self-Assessment- There are numerous tools which Vanya and Krystyn shared with us to use with learners for self-assessing. Most focus on the skills of participating in the inquiry rather than the quality of the content of your contributions. The biggest challenge for me will be that the role of the facilitator of an inquiry is largely to document the conversation and possibly clarify or refocus but there is no imposing views or validating suggestions. That means I can't say, "Great idea! I like that." This is a real challenge for me but is great for the learners as it encourages self-regulation as well as encouraging them to assess themselves rather than looking to me for feedback.

8. Connected Learning- I hope to find a way to share our philosophical inquiries with classes we connect with around the world, perhaps through our class twitter account or padlets on our blog or even a tool like Flipgrid. This way we can gain a much broader range of perspectives on the issues we discuss. I can't wait to find out what our buddies in Canada or Cambridge think about issues like; "Is it ever right to tell lies?" or "What is free?"

Do you use P4C at your school? What benefits do you see? Do you use other thinking tools? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Postscript- This is my first post for Tom Barrett's 28 Days of Writing Challenge. I'm cheating a little as I actually started this post yesterday. I assure you, not all 28 minute writing sessions will result in a post this loooooooong! This exercise in being succinct is going to be good for me!


  1. Hi Bridget,
    love the graphic and have referred to it myself after someone tweeted it out. Philosophy 4 Children sounds brilliant...I know I am aiming to continue fostering a 'thinking curriculum' and this sounds along those lines. Is there a website? I also use 'reflection / learning journals'... embedded now. But I love how you are going to name yours 'Philosophy Journals'...
    Thanks for sharing! Maybe we can connect again too... somehow... sometime!

    1. Thanks, Kerri. We've got some great P4C prompts this week during Leadership week. I'll let you know how we get on.