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  • Writer's pictureSarah Alix

Introducing Thinking Skills into Your Classroom

The Impact of Introducing Thinking Skills through ‘Philosophy 4 Children’ (P4C) into a Year 2 class.


Philosophy involves engaging in rational and reasonable dialogue about fundamental issues relating to ourselves, our beliefs and our society. In the 1970s, Professor Matthew Lipman advocated for philosophy to be introduced into schools as a way to convert the classroom into a ‘community of enquiry’ (2003, p15) and develop children’s ability to reason. Philosophy for Children (P4C) has developed from this point as a way to develop skills in critical thinking, discussion and problem-solving. My research examined the implementation of P4C in a Year Two class, which I assessed using observations and interviews with the children, as well as questionnaires sent out to parents. This paper discusses the impact of this intervention on enquiry and discussion both in the classroom and at home.


The literature


Improving children’s thinking skills involves developing their metacognitive awareness. Stoll, Fink and Earl (2005) describe metacognition as an internal conversation where the individual reflects on their own thinking process, supporting the individual to improve their understanding. Fisher (2003) argues that metacognition should not be seen as age dependent and the development of metacognition at an early age can impact on learners becoming more successful. A study by Topping and Tricky (2007), in which eight schools introduced P4C into upper Key Stage 2 (KS2) classes for 16 months, found significant gains in verbal cognitive ability and reasoning. A more recent large-scale study by Gorard, Siddiqui and Huat (2015) involving KS2 pupils across 48 schools concluded that through the implementation of P4C, pupils made further progress in KS2 attainment and cognitive ability tests. I wanted to examine this in practice in the classroom with Key Stage One (KS1) pupils, which has been less extensively researched.



Methods used


I carried out an ethnographic case study with my Year Two class, introducing P4C through the implementation of a weekly session. I chose a format advised by Stanley (2004), which was designed specifically to engage early years and primary-aged children. I introduced a stimulus for discussion, such as a story, painting or piece of music. The pupils then generated questions relating to the stimulus before one was selected for discussion.


I collected a range of data. Tracking pupils’ grades over the two terms of the implementation of P4C provided quantitative data. Group interviews were carried out with all pupils , these were conducted in their normal table groups of 5 pupils as they were comfortable working in these groups. The aim of the interviews were to discuss how they thought their skills had developed. I asked questions such as whether they were enjoying the sessions first, and then moved to specific skills based questions including whether listening to the ideas of others this helped them to think of their own ideas? Whether they could link their ideas with ideas from other children? I gave examples from a recent P4C session so that pupils had a concrete discussion to consider. I focused the questions around a skills building structure outlined by Stanley (2004) in which pupils develop their skills through a series of building blocks in each of the sessions. In addition, I recorded the P4C sessions in order to conduct observations over time. Qualitative data was also obtained through questionnaires sent out to parents of the pupils to elicit their views of the impact of P4C outside the school setting. I received 26 responses, and carried out individual interviews with 5 parents.


Analysis of the data was through a thematic method. The qualitative data from the pupil group interviews and the parent questionnaires and individual interviews were coded according to key themes. The observations were coded using a grid which listed the skills and then marked off as pupils improved in the key areas, with notes attached to give specific examples. All necessary ethical approval was sought prior to the research being conducted through permission letters were sent to all parents of the children in the class.


Findings


Collecting the quantitative data was not particularly helpful for this piece of research. Over the course of two terms, the pupils made progress at the rate I would have expected them to. There were too many variables to try and unpick or pinpoint what would have contributed to the pupils’ grades.


However, the qualitative data produced some interesting findings. Through recording the sessions, I was able to observe them without juggling facilitating and observing. This also meant that I could compare the observations over the time of the implementation of P4C. Within the first session, children appeared to find it difficult to generate questions about the stimulus. Most of the questions were factually based and were directly linked to the stimulus. For example, in response to the book If I were a spider (Bowkett, 2004), the children asked questions such as;

‘Where does the spider live?’

‘Does he have any friends?’

‘What can the spider eat?’

‘How do spiders make their webs?’

All of which are very relevant questions to a seven-year-old interested in the world of a spider!


We progressed to looking at different question types, such as open and philosophical questions. Stanley (2004) notes that differentiating between question types and asking a wider range of questions is the first step in developing metacognitive skills.


As the sessions progressed, a deeper level of questioning began to emerge. For example, in session seven when I introduced the painting ‘The Goldfish Bowl’ by Henry Matisse the children began asking ‘bigger’ questions.

These included descriptive questions such as;

‘what kind of fish are they?’

‘Why don’t fish blink?’

But among them were a range of a newer, deeper questions:

‘Are fish afraid of sharks?’

‘Are fish happy in the sea?’

The development of questions encouraged the children to explore through their discussion whether fish have the ability to have feelings, to feel afraid or happy, and the implications of having feelings or not. Another layer of questioning developed from this:

‘Is it right to have a fish in a bowl?’

‘Is it right to keep animals in a zoo?’


As the discussions progressed, less confident children were more willing and engaged, wanting to participate and have their ideas heard.


Through observing the children I found that:

• Children were more consistent in following on from each other’s ideas.

• Children made connections through agreeing and disagreeing with their peers.

• The children became more confident and accurate at identifying the skills that they were using during the session and were improving.

• Some children were able to evaluate their own thinking processes by summarising what they had thought at the beginning of the session, then identifying when and why there had been a shift in their own thoughts.

• Through the reflective process, some pupils were able to evaluate their stance on the issues discussed.


Questions generated by the children during class discussions were set as homework for discussion with an adult. These were taken home in their P4C journals and parents used these to record their discussions in. On completion of the sessions after two terms, questionnaires were sent out to all parents of the pupils in the class. This was followed by a series of more in-depth interviews with 5 parents. The questionnaire responses and interviews demonstrated that children enjoyed taking part in discussions at home with parents and siblings, with one parent stating; ‘it usually ends up as a big family discussion with us all saying what we think and why’. Pupils were all discussing issues beyond the homework given, including in-depth debates on religion, relationships and the environment. Parents believed that family conversations had become more challenging and interesting as a result. One parent stated during an interview that it had been of immense value to them as a family, as it had opened up opportunities to talk. From the questionnaires and interviews it was apparent that one of the main gains from the sessions was that the children had become much more critically aware of the wider natural environment, which Fisher (2003) and Lipman (2003) believe is an important aspect of developing reasoning, critical thinking and metacognitive skills. In discussing the type of parental engagement that is needed by schools, Harris and Goodall (2008) highlight the difference between attending events and engaging in learning. Their study concludes that attendance at events does not have the same impact on learning as engaging in learning in the home such as that seen with this piece of research through parents’ enthusiasm to enter complex discussions with their children also see Pemberton and Miller (2015).


Impact on the wider curriculum


When considering the impact of the P4C sessions on the wider curriculum, rather than in isolation, I found two main points of interest. The first was during a piece of writing in literacy. What had particularly improved was the pupils’ ability to develop their characters and story through considering the thoughts and feelings of the character. The characters were pondering larger issues, and their feelings were described in greater detail than in previous writing.


The second was during a Religious Education lesson, in which the co-ordinator was observing all three of the year two classes. She observed a lesson in which pupils had debated their views and noted the class who had been introduced to P4C were able to clearly discuss their thoughts and feelings on meditation. She could see that they were discussing larger and more philosophical issues than the other classes, and was impressed by their mature attitude to questioning, use of vocabulary, discussion and reasoning. Similar observations were also made of lessons such as History and Science.


Conclusions


Although it is difficult to assess whether there is quantitative evidence to demonstrate the impact of P4C over the course of this short study, there is enough qualitative data to suggest that pupils’ skills in questioning and reasoning developed and that this had an impact on other areas of the curriculum.


The class had begun to demonstrate many of the characteristics of critical thinking described by Lipman (2003), even at this early age:

• Organising thoughts and articulating them concisely and coherently.

• Listen’s carefully to others people’s ideas.

• Recognises that real world problems have more than one solution.

• Question their own views and attempts to understand the assumptions, critical views, and the implications of these views.

• Can represent differing viewpoints.


Finally, the level and impact of parental engagement with their children’s learning was an important and interesting aspect of this work which I had not predicted at the outset.



References


Bowkett S (2004) If I were a Spider. Stafford: Network Educational Press.


Fisher R (2003) Teaching Thinking. London: Continuum.


Gorard S, Siddiqui N and Huat B (2015) Philosophy for Children: Evaluation Report and Executive Summary. Education Endowment Fund.


Harris A and Goodall J (2008) Do Parents Know They Matter? Engaging All Parents in Learning. Educational Research, Vol 50 (3) pp 277-289.


Lipman M (2003) Thinking in Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Pemberton K and Miller S (2015) Building Home-School relationships to Enhance Reading Achievement for Students from Families with Limited Financial resources. Education and Urban Society, Vol 47 (7) pp 743-765.


Stanley S (2004) But Why? Developing Philosophical Thinking in the Classroom. London: Network Continuum Education.


Stoll L, Fink D and Earl L (2005) It’s About Learning (and It’s About Time) What’s in it for Schools? London: RoutledgeFalmer.


Topping K and Tricky, S (2007) Collaborative Philosophical Enquiry for School Children: Cognitive Effects at 10-12 Years. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 77 pp. 271-288.


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