The P4C pilot began with four weeks working with 6th class students at Scoil Iognaid, Galway City in May-June 2017, and will continue with more schools across the city in the coming academic year.
Facilitators Lucy Elvis and Annie McKeown O’Donovan said ‘Philosophy is too often seen as the isolated activity of a small few rather than the collective concern of everyone … It was energising to see the group realise that they engage with philosophy on a daily basis and their excitement was infectious!’
P4C is an internationally practised pedagogy that helps pupil groups become a ‘community of enquiry’ engaging in philosophical enquiry into the big questions that interest them. Because the process is led by group themselves, pupils identify and select the question for each enquiry as a democratic group. Recent research in the UK has shown that pupils engaged in P4C saw an improvement in both literacy and numeracy, and various social skills following its implementation in the classroom. P4C helps to foster critical, creative, collaborative and caring thinking amongst all types of learners.
The children have seen their classes transformed into ‘communities of enquiry’. This process places emphasis on respect, open-mindedness, reasoning and reasonableness – in and out of the classroom – through the ‘4 C’s’ of P4C thinking: Critically, Creatively, Collaboratively and in a Caring way. Since the group selects the ‘philosophical questions’ that they enquire about, P4C allows children to investigate critically the big issues that interest them. For example, the stimulus ‘The Birds’, a Pixar short film, lead to the question ‘Is karma real?’; ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein inspired the questions ‘What is love?’ and ‘What does it mean to be happy?’; and ‘The Island’ by Armin Gerder brought us to enquire about ‘What is belonging?’, ‘Is anyone truly different?’ and ‘Do people become more open minded as time goes on?’.
P4C facilitators act as ‘a guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage.’ This means facilitators intervene in the process of an enquiry much less than you might expect in a conventional lesson. The facilitator helps the group identify ‘juicy questions’ for their enquiry and helps foster critical, caring, collaborative and creative thinking through well-planned sessions.
Laoise Breathnach, Principal Scoil Iognaid said about the pilot sessions, that;
‘Philosophy with children acknowledges them as capable thinkers and accords them an active role in the construction of knowledge. This NUIG philosophy initiative has, in line with Scoil Iognáid ethos created a learning space for enquiry and dialogue where talking and thinking about thinking are highly valued. The philosophy sessions have actively fostered the skills of questioning, predicting, contradicting and doubting and have enriched the quality of the children’s discussion and argumentative abilities… so much so that the main question in Scoil Iognáid at the moment is ‘when are the philosophers coming back?!’
Eimear Ní Riada, Múinteoir Rang a 6, said;
‘The children thoroughly enjoyed the sessions right from the start, admitting that they were somewhat apprehensive before P4C began, as they were unsure as to what exactly philosophy was.
After completing P4C, the children have a better understanding of the different types of questions that exist and how we pose a philosophical question. The children enjoyed discussing many philosophical questions including, ‘What is happiness?’ ‘Is karma real?’ ‘Why do we take and not give?’ and ‘Do we become more open minded as time goes on?’ There was a very respectful environment created in our class community during P4C, where children listened to what their peers had to say.
Having completed the four sessions of P4C, the children made comments such as, “Can you come back every week?” and “Can we do philosophy classes at secondary school?” Some children even said they are thinking about studying philosophy in university. There will be a P4C camp on during the summer at NUIG which I know some of the children are keen to attend.’
Feedback from students on P4C in 6th class in Scoil Iognaid:
‘I thought this was a good enquiry and it made me see things differently’
‘I thought the questions really made me think ad I really enjoyed todays session’
‘I circled the flying figure as I had so so much fun today and I couldn’t have gone better. I circled the climbing one as I feel like I still have more to learn’
‘I thought it was very interesting and I really enjoyed listening to everyone’s opinions … I think my classmates and I worked together’
‘I am getting better at philosophy’
‘We worked as a team today’
‘This discussion made me think that I want to be a better person and if somebody needs help and I can do something about it I want to help’
‘I am not a hiker anymore. Last time I listened more than talked but now I feel I did my fair share of both. I’m getting better at sharing my views’
‘I thought we had a great conversation … I was just stretching my mind’
‘Very interesting! I learned a lot! Thanks!’
‘We stretched our minds and became more open minded … We worked together’
‘I circled the figure at the top because I felt so happy it was so fun and the helping figure as I think some people have not yet shown their full potential’
‘I have had such fun. This experience has been amazing’
‘I thought today was the best and deepest one yet … I just felt really good about it’
‘Very interesting, loved the stimulus … We’ve had fun … T’was amazing!’
‘Thank you so much for coming to our class! I really enjoyed P4C and it made me think about a lot more things’
‘It stretched my mind’
‘We were very good today. Yay! I finally reached the top of the mountain (and above!) I feel sad it’s the last day but very happy with myself’