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Think Club #P4C

One of my true passions in terms of pedagogical techniques is Philosophy for Children (P4C).  It’s an excellent structure to explore complex ideas and manage classroom debate effectively.  I enjoy it so much we even have a Think Club at school where our students meet to debate the matters of the day during their lunch.  It is because of this I’d like to share a very basic overview of the method and some suggestions on how to deal with a few of the issues you may come across when first attempting P4C.

How to:

Setting up: It’s easiest to do this if the learners are organised in a circle.  This way everyone can see each other; meaning that they can always see the person talking and they are arranged in a way which suggests equality.

Stimulus: The learners should then be shown something to get them thinking.  Traditionally there was a series of stories written by Lipman, the designer of the technique.  Realistically you can use anything you like, whether it be a story, news article, poem, chunk of a core text, picture, media clips or songs.  The key is to ask yourself the magic question… “Will it get them thinking?”

First Thoughts: After they’ve been stimulated ask for their first thoughts.  You can give them some time to reflect in silence, think-pair-share or whatever you deem necessary to get them ready to share with the whole class, but this should be a relatively quick gut instinct reflection on the stimulus to start the process off.

Generate Questions: Either as a class or in small groups give the learners time to come up with philosophical questions to discuss.  Make sure you explain that you don’t want anything that has a simple answer, you’re looking for something difficult to debate as a class; something to challenge everyone involved, including you, to think hard.

Vote: The class chooses which question to discuss.  I like to use the Omni-Vote method where you can vote for as many questions as you like. If they pick a relatively dull looking question try and push them into a complex related theme to discuss. “How much should that cost?” for example could become “How do we give things value? Why are some things more valuable than others? Can money be a bad thing?”

Discussion: They…talk about the question.  How they do it matters.

1)      Clarify the importance of turn taking.  I like to use an object to pass around the room like the Conch from Lord of the Flies.  My current ones are two hand puppets, Francis the Friar and Shaka the Shark.

2)      Learners should build on each other’s ideas.  Sentence starters such as “I agree/disagree with…because…” or “I can support/develop that point…” This stops it just being a room full of people taking their turn to give an unrelated opinion.

3)      Don’t make it personal; argue with the points not the people.  The purpose is for learners to build and develop on each other’s ideas, not to be in conflict.  That also makes it acceptable to change your viewpoint, that’s part of learning and reflecting.

Final Thoughts: Each learner should have a chance to share their thoughts following the discussion.  This could be as simple as circle time or it could be as a class blog, or an essay.  That depends on you and the group you’re working with.

Trouble Shooting: 

I’m not talking about the Star Trek come in peace shoot to kill tactic, but ways to resolve some common issues.

I don’t have a lot of time OR I want to try it in small chunks:

Try using Thunks by @ThatIanGilbert.  He’s often putting quick thunks on Twitter and has two books of thunks worth picking up.  Definitely worth a follow if you’re on.

It’s all gone quiet, too quiet:

Look really pleased, it hopefully means they’re having to think hard.  You’ve a couple of options at this point.

1)  Give them time to think about the issue in silence before restarting.

2)  Think-Pair-Share then get each pair to contribute to restart debate.

3)  Breakaway groups; collapse the circle and get them to explore the issue in groups before reporting back.

4)  Ask someone to summarise the ideas so far.

5)  Ask a related relevant question to get them going.

6)   Devils advocate; put forward a opposing viewpoint if consensus is spoiling the fun.

7)   Move onto another question; you’ll know if the debate has really reached a conclusion.

Where is the evidence?:

I know it’s depressing but sometimes it’s important. I’ve mentioned a possible solution here… http://www.pedagoo.org/evidence-made-easyish/

I really want to use technology:

You can stick the stimulus on Twitter in advance to whet appetites.  You can also use a # to link the discussion on a feed.  If you’re really keen you can use visibletweets.com to display the discussion on a projector or IWB.

 What if they go off track:

Give them a little time to see if they pull it back themselves.  If not, you can nudge them gently back with subtle questions and directions.  Alternatively tell them they’ve meandered into the realm of nonsense and re-iterate the question.  Your level of subtlety is a personal choice.

It takes ages to get to the discussion:

Yeah, it does.  With practice the process will go more smoothly and efficiently, be patient, it takes time.

Next Steps:

This is an excessively simplistic version of the approach so if you give it a try and enjoy it I really recommend visiting the www.sapere.org.uk website for more detailed information and course dates.  You could also ask someone you know who uses the technique if you can visit their classroom and watch a P4C debate; observing each other is a great form of CPD.

  1. This is just what I needed, thank you!

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