Three years after they first started practising Philosophy for Children, Year 6 children, one parent and two of their teachers recorded what the experience had meant for them. We publish below an edited excerpt from the resulting DVD
Gallions opened in 1999 in a newly developed area of the London Borough of Newham, with high levels of social deprivation and special educational need.
From the start, the school worked hard to create an environment where every child felt encouraged to learn and to achieve. The vision for the school was that it would be a place where people would get on well and want to cooperate with each other.
Creativity and self-expression are at the heart of learning at Gallions. Every child from Year 2 up learns a string instrument, and much of the curriculum is taught through art, drama, music and dance.
Philosophy for Children (P4C) was introduced as part of the school’s work with Antidote on emotional literacy. The aim was to offer children time to think and talk about things that really matter to them.
Philosophy for Children is a particular kind of thinking skills programme. It makes the most of children’s inborn curiosity, encouraging them to raise their own questions and develop their reasoning as they think them through together.
David: I think philosophy has changed me a lot. In Year 3, I was always angry, I used to cry really a lot, I’m not saying I don’t do it now in Year 6, but not as much as I used to. In Year 3, I always wanted to get my own way. Now I’ve learned how to listen to different people’s opinions and it’s changed me, I’m not so angry no more.
Nawal: I really like philosophy because it’s a time for you to say what you believe and you get to listen to other people’s opinions. Philosophy is different to other subjects because the key is listening to everybody’s opinions.
Mohammed: Our understanding has grown a lot more, because we’ve had a chance to really think about it. Now we’re in Year 6 we’re really like squeezing the juice out of philosophy.
Jeba: The majority of us are mature, and I think it’s because we do philosophy. We understand how people feel and their opinions about things.
Alimot: With philosophy, there’s no wrong or right answers and there’s no arguing. It’s just opinions being shared between people, and people taking account of what other people think, and building on other people’s ideas.
Mohammed: It’s actually the children’s lesson, because we think of the ideas for the lesson. I wouldn’t really call it a lesson: it’s a time of thinking and discussing with your peers.
Jasmine: When I first started philosophy, if the stimulus was a story, I would talk about the story itself. Now, I talk about life, death and stuff like that.
Jeba: I used to struggle with hard questions, and I wasn’t confident to speak my opinion. If any of my other friends used to say something, I would just agree. But it wasn’t my opinion I was saying. I wasn’t really confident about what was going on around me. Now, whatever my opinion is, I don’t get upset even if they disagree.
Alimot: Philosophy’s helped me in maths. When we’re doing problem-solving, the problems sometimes have three, four or even five stages to them. In philosophy we have to break it down to our understanding bit by bit, and that’s what we have to do with our maths word problems.
David: I used to like being by myself all the time. When I got picked, to work with a partner, I would feel ashamed of myself that I’m not smart enough. But now I don’t mind because I always have to work with different people when we do philosophy, making questions, agreeing with people. You don’t have to like the person to agree with them. It’s what they’re saying that matters.
Nawal: When I started Year 6, I hardly knew people in this class. Philosophy’s changed that. I know more people, I know more things about them. I’ve made more friends in philosophy and I get to discuss it with them. I’m really happy in philosophy.
It it is quite risky when you first start, because the children lead the learning from the word go. If you’re used to doing lesson plans where you expect an end result matched against a learning objective, it can be quite personally challenging to give the learning over to them. But I think after a first term of hourly lessons, we could see it working already. The buzz was there.
Quite early in the process, I saw that for the children, this became an exciting, open-ended lesson. There were no right or wrong answers, so everybody felt quite confident going into it. And I felt the more confident I became in my approach to managing their contributions and deepening the enquiries, the more articulate they became, the more creative, and the more interesting our enquiries became.
What we do in philosophy has completely transcended the rest of the curriculum. The most exciting thing for me with the rest of the curriculum is where you take something, the stimulus that you’ve used in philosophy, and then you take it into their English work. Following the enquiry, the work is deeper, the ideas are stronger and it’s more thought through. I often do enquiries like that on a Monday and then use the same stimulus later on in my English work, and that’s where it’s really exciting.
A key moment for me was when I had one child, a boy, who said that philosophy helped him join up all his thinking, it was a missing jigsaw. When I look back on that moment it was a turning point for that child, but also for the whole class. The jigsaw metaphor I think was just perfect... particularly for this child who had... difficulties in other areas of the curriculum. I think it was just a very powerful message of what it was doing, it was joining us all up really. It was joining his thinking up, but it was joining up all of our thinking.
Philosophy has played a massive part in who I am as a teacher. I would say it’s completely changed the way I teach. It’s shown me how incredibly important it is to talk to children.
They really do have so much to say about the way that they know and the way that they want to learn. I feel that I’ve adapted the way I teach to the way the children feel they need to be taught. So much now comes from them. I think philosophy has empowered them to be able to come to me and tell me what they need.
I think we’re giving these children the tools to talk about things that are really important to them.
As a class, they bond well because they have this time together each week. In philosophy, they really help each other solve problems. I watch somebody struggling with an idea and somebody else say, ‘Do you mean this?’, helping them out.
Children that maybe don’t shine in other areas of the curriculum, who maybe aren’t fantastic you know at maths or literacy, they are often the children who really find a voice in philosophy, and make me kind of reconsider how I see that child. Possibly a child who’s in a lower-ability group in maths or English, for example, and then suddenly will be amazing in philosophy and ask a really, really interesting question and have lots of incredibly philosophical things to say, you know, it makes me think, ‘Oh my goodness, as a school or whatever we’ve kind of labelled this child as lower ability, but actually they’ve got so much to give...’
I think the relationship that I have with the children is totally different because I know what all of them think about the big philosophical questions in life now. It has deepened and strengthened the relationship, not only that they have with each other, but that I have with them and that they have with me.
The fact that we have a whole-school policy on Philosophy for Children plays a much bigger impact than if it was just individual teachers running enquiries every week. The fact that all the teachers are trained, every teacher does philosophy every week and children come up into the next class, already having done philosophy and knowing the routines.
Everybody who comes to this school comments on how calm it is, on how the children are able to talk to each other, how they can talk to adults and the way that they talk to each other as well. I think that you really feel that.
Surya: My son often asks questions... wanting to understand about different aspects of life, death, birth, why does this happen, why does that happen, and you know I felt that I was having to do a lot of the discussions with him, which was fine, as a parent, but I wanted the school that he was in to also support that. So when I heard that they did philosophy I thought, great, because he’s going to love that. What I find happens is that a child starts asking these questions, and if they’re not met, the child stops asking questions.
It’s helping him to work with conflict, because he knows that there’s different ways of seeing something. So rather than thinking, ‘Oh, they don’t agree with me, I’m going to keep quiet,’ he’s now putting his viewpoint across and then listening.
Find out more about P4C from SAPERE