Just before half term we had an outstanding INSET day with ex-head of Philosophy for Children, Will Ord. I have watched some very good speakers in my time but none have held my attention quite like this guy- the atmosphere was electric. Philosophy for Children is an enquiry based approach to learning which opens up children’s minds. It gives children the possibility of seeing that their ideas have value; that others have different ideas that have value too. It helps them realise they don’t always have to be right and gives them the confidence to ask questions and learn through discussion. It sits alongside and supports growth mindsets- it assumes intelligence is a flexible, growable thing and susceptible to change; that it can flourish in some circumstances and wither in others. P4C pushes us towards valuing the non-academic as well as the academic in a school environment and towards giving all children a sense of value.
P4C can be taught as a structured session that starts with a stimulus, encourages children to collectively decide on a question to explore and is followed by a discussion that is not contained but follows its own path, guided by the children’s thoughts and ideas, agreeing and disagreeing but always giving a reason for their point of view. However what we found even more exciting is its potential for informing practice across the curriculum and in all areas of learning. To this end we have instigated an approach to our professional development which hinges on joint lesson study between teachers. Teachers and TA’s are using this to explore teaching methods (which are akin to P4C) which set out to let go of the reins on learning, to encourage deeper reflection by the children and to ensure all pupil responses are valued. Of course the lesson study method itself aims to do the same for teachers- to take away the fear involved in lesson observations and to give them the license to experiment, take risks and grow.
Closely allied to the concept of a growth mindset is the concept of challenge. Challenge by its very nature encourages effort, personal investment and intellectual engagement. This in turn involves a desire to engage with and understand the world, have an interest in a wide variety of things and not be put off by complex and challenging problems. In school we have introduced children to the idea of a learning pit. When they are faced with a real challenge and are unsure which way to turn, they are in the pit. Our job is firstly to teach them a state of mind- that jumping into the pit is something worthwhile and secondly we need to help them develop the tools to help them survive in the pit and work their way up and out the other side. Don’t worry- we won’t be digging pits, any time soon, to throw your children into but we will be looking to give them the courage and resilience to get out of their mental pits.