Philosophy in the classroom
To find yourself, think for yourself was one of the simple but profound beliefs which guided Socrates. In his view, the discussion of ideas rather than events or the mundane experiences of everyday life enabled man to reach the pinnacle of wisdom. The old boy would be pleased reading about the journey enjoyed by children at Tanglin Trust School and their teacher, Jen Cottam.
“What is happiness?” “Can we make anywhere our home?” “Do adults use gender stereotypes more than children?” “What is the point of life?” “Is it better to be born knowing everything or go through the process of learning by mistakes?” When posed with these questions you may picture an ancient learned philosopher such as Socrates or Plato. Interestingly, these ‘chewy’ questions have been asked by natural philosophers – children.
Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to learning which focuses on the teacher facilitating a child led enquiry, empowering children with the language to agree and disagree and developing more caring, critical, creative and collaborative learners. P4C was developed by Matthew Lipman in the 1970s and is practised in schools all around the world, especially the UK.
My first encounter of P4C was as a student at Sheffield Hallam University where I was intrigued by the concept of the children as philosophers, sharing their opinions, learning the language of discussion and debate without the fear of being wrong. P4C sessions are based on a stimulus, such as a video, pictures or a story, used to generate open questions about big concepts important to children and their world. The children come up with their own questions and decide democratically which one they are most interested in discussing. This question then leads the ‘enquiry’ which takes place in a circle or horseshoe where the children hold out their palms if they wish to contribute.
When I moved to Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, I was amazed at the confidence of the children as communicators and was incredibly excited when David Ingram (Head of Junior School) embraced the opportunity for me to introduce P4C into the curriculum. I travelled to Jerudong International School, Brunei, to gain a SAPERE Level 1 certificate in P4C and our journey began.
A Success Story
P4C has been incredibly well received at Tanglin Trust School by staff, parents and most importantly the children. One child said he “enjoyed asking big questions about the world” and enjoyed P4C, “……. because I now ask big questions at home which sometimes knock my mum off the track!” A Year 4 child’s enjoyment of P4C reflects the enthusiasm of most children: “l like listening to everyone else’s ideas and questions about big topics and sometimes my opinion changes at the end.” P4C has proved to be a very effective vehicle for deepening thinking across the curriculum as well as for enhancing speaking and listening skills.