Philosophical Teaching and Learning

The six strands of PTLInquiry, Concept-Construction, Dialogue, Reasoning, Reflection and Virtues-Valuing – are justly described as ‘philosophical’ because of the place that all of them have in the rich tradition of philosophy. Perhaps the most famous quote of Socrates himself –  ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ – points to the importance of the first 5 strands, and his less famous quote – ‘Not life, but good life, is chiefly to be valued’ – points to the importance of the sixth one. 

The strands are arguably as important today as they always have been, not least in modern formal education and the more general process of teaching-and-learning. They can even be linked to recent significant educational innovations: (respectively and respectfully) Inquiry-based Learning, Concept-Centred Curricula, Dialogic Teaching, Critical Thinking Pedagogy, Reflective Education, and Values-Based Education

The way we at DialogueWorks think about and model each of them, however, reflects our unique experience and expertise. 

Here is a flavour of how we present them:

  • Inquiry. We talk about and promote Inquiry-‘inspired’ Learning, rather than Inquiry-based Learning, because lessons can be based on questions for inquiry, but lack inspiration. They may particularly fail to inspire students’ own questions and inquiry, which enable and enrich lifelong learning.

  • Concepts. We talk about and promote Concept-‘construction’ rather than Concept-‘Centred’ Curricula, partly to signal that we take a ‘constructivist’ approach to the process of teaching-and-learning, but partly because we think this very process relates to the (co-)construction (via dialogue) of all concepts, not just those deemed ‘central’ to a curriculum.

  • Dialogue. We talk about and promote dialogic education, not just dialogic teaching. (It takes at least two to dialogue – a skilled learner as well as a skilled teacher!) Our take on dialogue, moreover, draws on the long and deep philosophical tradition, whereby dialogue is seen as an encounter of persons and world views, not just an exchange of information. But we also think of dialogue as a dynamic process that drives learning.

  • Reasoning. Whilst respecting the value of formal and informal reasoning as promoted by the Critical Thinking Movement, our focus is on encouraging students to become more reasonable, i.e. open to reason as well as able to reason. Our more general goal is for students to articulate their thinking more clearly and evaluate it more carefully. The key skills, pointed in the Thinking Moves A – Z, are: DIVIDE (Distinguish), EXPLAIN, INFER, JUSTIFY, NEGATE, TEST (Check), WEIGH UP and YIELD (Accept).

  • Reflection. We aim for the learner, as well as the teacher, to be a ‘reflective practitioner’, and we provide a range of devices to help not only with retrieval of information but also with reflection towards deeper understanding and appreciation. These, again, are based on key Moves: BACK, CONNECT, DIVIDE, EXPLAIN, GROUP, HEADLINE (Summarise), KEYWORD, ORDER (Organise), PICTURE (Imagine) and WEIGH UP. But a vital subset of reflection is metacognition, which is the door to self-regulation, and the A – Z as a whole is designed to help students advance in both regards.

  • Virtues-Valuing. This strand recognises the value of all values (including, e.g. achievement / excellence, peace / harmony, teamwork, productivity, etc.) but draws special attention to the vital subset of values, namely personal (e.g. courage), social (e.g. collaboration) and intellectual (e.g. curiosity) virtues, without which none of the other values can be realised. Of course, such virtues take time to develop, so there are no quick fixes. But we argue that the instilling of virtues is even more important than the instruction of knowledge and we help schools and teachers to give special thought to which virtues they will focus on, and by which means. 


One extra, and special, aspect of the PTL framework is that the six strands are conceived (and practised) as interweaving – that is, mutually reinforcing. (In straight terms, good inquiry is based on sound concepts, whose construction relies on good reasoning, which itself benefits from dialogue and reflection). 

This makes PTL more holistic and therefore more powerful than any of the single innovations mentioned above, whilst still challenging teachers – and learners – to focus on each strand in turn and in balance, continually developing the associated virtues of curiosity, constructiveness, communicativeness, reasonableness, and reflectiveness