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Home > News and views > Thinking Allowed through P4C

Thinking Allowed through P4C

Following her presentation at the ESU’s Oracy Symposium in June, Harriet Goodman discusses her work

In June this year, the ESU held its inaugural International Oracy Symposium, with the aim of showcasing best practice in getting oracy into classrooms around the world and across curriculums. Harriet Goodman, a registered trainer in Philosophy for Children (P4C), from the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE), took the opportunity to introduce attendees to the benefits of P4C.

P4C is an educational approach which, like debating and public speaking, studies suggest has cognitive and social benefits for children and schools. Harriet tells us a little more about it in our guest blog.

If I say ‘philosopher’…

…what image pops up in your head? If you have paper and pencil at hand, draw it. Describe it out loud. If you’re with someone, share your images.

Whatever you’ve pictured – older man? beard? maybe a toga? – I’m willing to bet that it is not a circle of children, probing and developing each other’s ideas.

Professor Matthew Lipman

Philosophy for Children, or P4C

Professor Matthew Lipman was an older man, a university philosopher who took his practice into the classroom, intrigued and inspired by children’s natural curiosity.  The P4C approach he founded aims “not to turn children into philosophers but to help them become more thoughtful, more reflective, more considerate and more ‘reason-able’ individuals.”

What does this have to do with oracy?

Oracy is not just about oration: one speaker presenting to a group. Oracy is also vital to conversation, when speakers take turns to speak and listen. P4C explicitly adds thinking to the equation, offering a safe space for participants to exchange and explore ideas: we call it the community of enquiry. As learners gain experience in P4C, they gain confidence and fluency in expressing, exploring and critically examining their thoughts.

But can children really ‘do philosophy’?

Let me show you.

Have a look at this puzzle piece.Puzzle piece

What questions does it raise for you?

(If you still have that paper handy, scribble down a few.)

Now look through your questions: is there something that feels interesting enough to stimulate a rich conversation?

Here’s a question raised by a class of 10 and 11 year olds at Gallions Primary in Newham, east London:

If life is a puzzle, does it need to be completed?

Go to this link to see what they made of it:

How did they learn to speak like that?

The class is fairly typical for London: 27 children of diverse backgrounds and mixed ability, over a third of them speaking a language other than English at home. By the time we captured them on film they had over three years’ experience of weekly P4C lessons, raising questions, sharing thoughts and ‘pushing for depth’.  “I wouldn’t even call it a lesson,” Mohammed told us. “It’s a time of thinking and talking with your peers.”

The impact of P4C

Research has shown significant impact of regular engagement in P4C on many areas of learning.  In July 2015 the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published the results of a randomised controlled trial in 48 primary schools across England. The more disadvantaged pupils showed the most significant improvement: their reading skills improved by four months, their maths results by three months and their writing ability by two months. A follow-up study is now underway to investigate the frequently reported impact on pupils’ confidence, patience and self-esteem.

P4C training and support

SAPERE is the UK organisation providing training and support for anyone interested in facilitating philosophical dialogue with groups of any age. It takes time and practice, but the rewards are great.

If you’d like to know more about SAPERE or P4C, let’s talk.


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