…are the principles put into practice

Community of Enquiry

In order to explore Philosophical ideas in a reasoned way we establish a Community of Enquiry.  Here the participants work to explore Philosophy through Socratic Dialogue.  Our aim is to facilitate reasoned argument drawing on the experiences and thinking of all members of the community in order to deepen our understanding of Philosophical themes.

We work in a circle so that all members of the community have the oppportunity to contribute and to listen to the contributions of others.  The presentation of a stimulus invites questions and these questions are explained, challenged and reasoned through during the dialogue.  Participants are encouraged to challenge their assumptions and become aware of their thinking and the thinking of others.

Codes of Conduct

We think it is important that all members of a Community of Enquiry know the codes of behaviour expected and that these are discussed and adapted to the needs of the group.  The Code of conduct is drawn up before anything else happens.  In order for everyone to think deeply, it is important for everyone to feel safe, respected and trust the community of Enquiry.

A typical code may include:

  • Sit in a circle so that no-one is excluded
  • Listen to others and think about they are saying
  • Allow everyone have a fair chance to speak
  • Use respectful language and gesture
  • Be brave and try out ideas
  • Look at the person speaking

We try to include things that may be relevant to a particular setting and as particular group.  It is important that the code of conduct is referred to, reflected upon and used to assess sessions.  Certain aspects can be used as the focus of the session.

Childrenthinking’s Skills-Based Approach

Over the years we have  become convinced that teachers and children must be clear about the skills necessary to develop the quality of Philosophical Dialogue.  After all, we would not expect a child to write a successful story without first understanding the components of good writing.  There is always room for serendipity but an understanding of the skills children need can make for more productive and meaningful enquiries.

We felt this concrete understanding of the skills needed in Enquiry was lacking in a lot of training and have been pleased with the positive response of teachers and other P4C practitioners and trainers to the work we have done.  We have developed a series of progressive ”Building Blocks” that act as planning and assessment tools for P4C.

These include:

  • Taking responsibility for the Enquiry
  • Respecting each other’s views
  • Following the listening rules
  • Finding a space to talk in to
  • Thinking for ourselves
  • Drawing our thoughts
  • Giving reasons for our thinking
  • Using the language of discussion
  • Asking good quality questions
  • Looking for connections between questions
  • Identifying Philosophical themes
  • Asking for clarification of meaning
  • Inviting others into the dialogue
  • Making connections with previous ideas
  • Recognising changes in thinking

We are constantly devising and refining activities (that are a little more teacher-led in the first instance) to teach these skills.  We then give frequent opportunities for children to apply these skills in child-led enquiries.

A Standard P4C session

The structure of a standard enquiry is outlined below.  When we are working over a period of time with children we learn and practice  the skills necessary using a wide variety of activities( as mentioned above) and then ask children to apply these in open Enquiries.  The model we have presented below can be broken up into a number of sessions as required.  The role of the facilitator is to follow the line of the Enquiry and to help the participants unpack their thinking as they go along, highlighting and exploring the Philosophical content and developing the reasoning skills.

Structure of the Session

Stimulus

A picture book, artefact, picture, newspaper article etc.  Use anything that gets you and the children wondering – there are no hard and fast rules but there needs to be some ambiguity in stories to give a range and depth of questions.

Thinking time

The children have some time to think, draw, write and finally produce questions.  There are periods of quiet and time to talk to peers and facilitator.

Questions

As they become more experienced the facilitator is encouraging them to ask more open-ended and later, philosophical questions.  The questions are analysed using a range of strategies.

Dialogue/Enquiry

The children build their argument through reasoning, explaining, agreeing, and disagreeing.  The facilitator will use questioning to bring out the philosophical dimension but tries not to steer the discussion.

Closure

The facilitator uses a range of strategies to close a session e.g. summing up, finding the next question, asking for comments etc.

The main thing to remember is as long as you keep to the principle that children lead the discussion and try to uncover the philosophical, it is important to experiment, and vary the sessions so that the children’s interest is maintained and you find what works for you.

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