Sharon Phillips, Year 3 teacher at Deri View Primary shares her action research findings on the impact of P4C on oracy skills and learners confidence.
‘Talk has always been one of the essential tools of teaching, and the best teachers use it with precision and flair. But talk is much more than an aid to effective teaching. Children, we now know, need to talk, and to experience a rich diet of spoken language, in order to think and to learn. Reading, writing and number may be the acknowledged curriculum ‘basics’, but talk is arguably the true foundation of learning.’ Alexander,R. (2017) – ‘Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk’.
In our school we found a need to improve the oracy skills of our children and wanted to develop a range of strategies to enable us to allow the learners to achieve this. We worked with a local adviser who introduced us to the concept of Philosophy for Children (P4C) as a way forward. Little did we know the massive impact that this would have in our classrooms. Alongside this we wanted to develop independent learning skills and since having training with Thinking Maps we could see how the use of these allow children to organise and develop their ideas.
As a starting point, our staff at the time were trained up to Sapere’s Level 1, which enabled them to be able to facilitate an enquiry with their own classes. Due to changes in staffing, the ideal of having all staff trained needs constant updating and can be a challenge for schools. In our school, two members of staff have been trained to Level 2b, so can coach within our own setting.
I was fortunate to have been selected for a Wales Education Workforce Council research bursary which is allowing me to undertake action research. Investigation into the benefits P4C has on learners’ confidence, oracy skills and what is its place in the proposed new curriculum in Wales forms the basis of the action research. It is also to improve the range of teacher questioning and facilitation.
P4C is built into our Literacy planning and is usually delivered fortnightly as an enquiry following the 1-step process of enquiry. However, P4C is also kept on the boil through shorter games and activities.
We have used Thinking Maps in all areas of the curriculum. We use circle maps at the start of each new topic we introduce to facilitate child led learning. Bubble maps for describing has had a real impact on their written work and the descriptive language they are using. We are finding that these maps have become an essential tool in children’s work and they are now associating the language of the maps e.g. compare and contrast and independently choosing and using these maps to complete their work. We also use thinking maps as part of our P4C lessons.
Sometimes the questions children generate are not always philosophical but it’s amazing how they develop their thoughts. For example, one question ‘Would we still have wars if there was no religion?’ came from a story based on different coloured cats. The question began as ‘Why do we have different coloured cats?’ which isn’t philosophical but it quickly turned due to discussions to ‘Is colour important?’ This led to that final question. You find yourself discussing concepts that are quite complex and some of the children’s ideas and thoughts are outstanding!
Other questions children have discussed are:
• Should only men be in charge? • Do we need a Royal Family? • Is homework important? • What is ‘bravery’? • What is ‘bullying’? • Is it still important to study handwriting in school? • What makes a good friend? • What would you change in the world?
My research has focused specifically on two year groups, namely Year 6 and Year 3 and began with an initial analysis of data – Free School Meals, More Able and Talented learners, SEND and oracy levels. Pupils then completed ‘How I see myself’ questionnaires, which were then analysed and scored. Weekly P4C lessons were delivered so that evidence could be collected in the form of writing, photographs, observations and questionnaires. All work was carried out within Ethical Guidance for Educational Research outlined by BERA (2011).
Findings so far:
To the question ‘Do you like P4C and why?’ From the total sample size of 52:
49 said ‘Yes’; 2 said ‘no’ and 1 didn’t answer.
The reasons the children gave for liking P4C are:
• It’s calming, relaxing and fun • You are able to give your own opinions, share ideas and be yourself • You get to play games • It makes you think • It brings everyone together and you get to learn something new
The Year 6 learners listed their thoughts about what difference being a good thinker makes to their confidence and learning.
• You can answer any question sensibly • People listen to and respect your ideas (not laughing at others) • It doesn’t involve talking • It gives you good imagination • Improves your communication • You can work as a team • Gives you a good brain • Makes you a good person • Improves your concentration
All the research so far indicates that ‘Philosophy for Children’ is certainly having positive effects on the learners in my school and anecdotal evidence from other settings suggests the same. Children are more confident in speaking in front of their peers, are more respectful towards each other and periods of conflict are much easier to diffuse and reconcile. Experiencing a rich diet of spoken language is indeed allowing them to think and learn in a much deeper way.