Philosophy with Children on the Philosophy Now Radio Show

Pencil Person

Primary school philosophy live on the Philosophy Now radio show, with children from All Saints School, Blackheath, Years 4-6 (ages 8-10). Run by Peter Worley, interviewed by Grant Bartley from Philosophy Now.

Available to listen to here: Philosophy with Children

This paper was written to aid our trainees. This is a document of techniques, hints and tips and good practice by The Philosophy Foundation, written whilst listening to this podcast. Particularly interesting contrast between Peter, using the PhiE method, and Grant who hasn’t had any experience or training in doing philosophy with children.

For more on the PhiE method and techniques for doing philosophy with children and developing higher-order thinking buy our books.

NB: some of the techniques mentioned here (‘If-ing, anchoring and opening up’), all fully explained in The If Machine, or for an overview you can download Peter’s paper ‘If it, anchor it, open it up: a closed guided questioning strategy’ from academia.

First discussion

  • Notice the clarity of the opening question to the children.
  • Repetition of stimulus and Task Question (TQ): TQ – Talk Time – TQ repeated.
  • Encouraging divergent answers (‘Lets see how many different answers we can find.’)
  • Because of nerves Peter’s responses are slower at beginning because he is taking the time to make sure he is actively listening (‘playing back’ in his head) – this is important to remember in the classroom, particularly when you are first starting out, nerves can be a problem – focus on listening very carefully to the children.
  • Peter reminds them of the hand/finger rule.
  • Trying to develop dialectic / controversy as soon as possible through the use of ‘fingers’ (responses) and Right-to-Reply (SeeThe If Machine).
  • A few ‘echoes’ (repeating exactly back what the children have said) and paraphrases (ask questions – ‘is that right Charlotte?’ – to make sure the paraphrases are exactly what the children mean). Echoing gives everyone time to think about the last comment, and to make sure everyone has heard it.
  • Peter aids Carter and Luke in linking their ideas.
  • If-ing (a technique to encourage hypothetical thinking) with Carter (difference between the pencils) – ‘either-or-the-if’ and then ‘anchoring’ back to the TQ (See The If Machine for more on ‘If-ing, anchoring and opening up’).
  • Gave Carter ‘time to think it through’ (Peter could see that he was nervous).
  • Clarification question (‘could you explain what you mean?’ with George).
  • Linking, with the use of ‘Tension Play’ (playing off ideas that disagree with each other to develop thinking, see The If Machine) George and Luke (pencils count as one thing).
  • George’s ‘Norway example’ providing a counter-example to Luke & Ellie’s idea that there was just one thing there.
  • Ellie (things / objects) – Peter could have if-ed ‘objects’ rather than correcting her about the question.
  • Jack and Ellie – (she asked him a really good question).
  • Clarification question used for Charlotte to understand atoms.
  • Peter makes sure they have a concept of ‘atom’ that they could work with. He avoided telling facts about atoms and molecules – more interested in a ‘working concept’.
  • If-ed to test and clarify Ellie’s idea of the number of atoms (‘if we had one atom… if we had two atoms…?’).
  • Heather –  Peter’s question: ‘Why are they different?’ (Justificatory questioning.)
  • Charlotte – ‘1006 things’ Aristotle, “the whole is different from the sum of its parts.” – Charlotte seems to be moving towards this idea. If appropriate Peter will bring in relevant philosophers and their ideas later on in a session, see the Sibelius Model in his paper ‘What can university philosophy learn from primary philosophy?’ 

Second discussion

  • Charlotte takes Jacks ‘1000 atoms’ and ‘ifs’ with the idea perfectly well, as do the others. (Advanced hypothetical thinking.)
  • Peter refocuses the question by quoting Charlotte more accurately than she did herself.
  • Looking for agreement with Charlotte (‘Who agrees with Charlotte?’ – Response Detector, see The If Machine).
  • Peter allows Charlotte to respond generally.
  • George ‘But…’ (dialectic is developing nicely here, and naturally) this is because Peter is staying out of the discussion.
  • Peter seeks the less frequent contributors (this gets Luke to put up his hand).
  • New TQ (‘Emergent Question’, i.e. a question that has emerged from the discussion and therefore from the children) is introduced: ‘if we took the thousand atoms away, what would we be left with?’

Grant takes over (NB: Grant has not done philosophy with children before, so this is a brave move on live radio! Many of the problems Grant experiences are something that philosophers new to doing philosophy with children experience.

  • His objective is definitional.
  • He challenges the children personally and thus risks ‘blocking’ them.
  • This is essentially an eristic dynamic (eristic = ‘combative’ in contrast to dialectic = ‘collaborative’).
  • Adult / child disjunction (two conversations happening: Grant’s agenda / children’s limited understanding of that).
  • Discussion dries up in places due to the eristic dynamic.
  • Honeycomb dynamic – each child responding directly to the adult, rather than each other (no dialectic).
  • Grant shows some exasperation because he has an agenda and the children are perhaps not fulfilling his aim.
  • Putting words in their mouths: (the ‘so you’re saying…’ principle)
  • He’s doing all the talking (fear of silence – even worse on radio).
  • He has to keep rephrasing his questions until a child responds.
  • Children are no longer talking to each other but each one to him.
  • These kids are particularly good at dealing with his questions but many other children would simply dry up under this pressure.
  • Grant flicks from one idea to the next where the children are not sure of the rhetorical value of having done so (e.g. body / ghost questions) – because they don’t ‘own’ the conversation it is not clear that they understand it synoptically (the conversation as a whole) even though they understand each isolated exchange with Grant.

Third discussion

  • ‘Can you say a bit more about that?’ – Peter tries to get Carter to say more about his idea. Remember in a philosophy session to always go deeper: ‘why?’, ‘can you say more?’, ‘what do you mean by…?’
  • Corrected Eli’s ‘minicules’ without correcting her directly, merely by using the right word (although ‘minicules’ is lovely!)
  • Anchoring them to Charlotte’s challenge – more advanced level of focus here than at the beginning. ‘If you counted all the atoms you would still have the arms, legs, head and body to count wouldn’t you?’
  • ‘Can anyone answer Charlotte’s question?’ – ‘Anchoring’
  • George and Charlotte have started to take the discussion to another level
  • The discussion is touching on identity (‘is water identical with H2O?’) – this is one possibility of where to go next with the next session. An emergent discussion – the children are deciding on the direction rather than the facilitator, the facilitator keeps the discussion within the realms of philosophy, and uses techniques to deepen thinking and reasoning.
  • Anchored them again and again to Charlottes’ question ‘If you counted all the atoms you would still have the arms, legs, head and body to count wouldn’t you?’

Final question to the children: ‘Why do you like philosophy?’

Heather: I like speaking about what I think is right, but I also like finding out what other people think about it.
Luke: Philosophy is mainly all about thinking and I really like thinking because I think all the time.
George: We do questions which are hard. It helps you understand the question and be more open-minded. If you think about something quickly you’ll get the answer but it helps you to think: ‘is that exactly the correct answer or are there more?’
Ellie: There’s never just one answer – and there’s never a wrong answer. So, let’s say if I said something and Heather said something different, we’re both right in our own opinions.
Max: I just like solving the questions. I just like trying to ‘work’ it. Trying to get the answer.
Carter: I like when we finish the discussion and solve it and we have loads of different answers. I like it because it’s really a fun way of thinking about things.
Charlotte: It makes you think really deeply. And once you get really deep into the question there’s even more answers.

With thanks to all the children who took part in the programme, from All Saints School, Blackheath: Heather, George, Ellie, Max, Carter, George, Luke, Jack & Charlotte.

Posted by Philosophy Foundation Admin on 12th February 2012 at 12:00am