Philosophy for Children (P4C)

What is P4C?

P4C is an approach to teaching and learning based on philosophical inquiry.  The teacher chooses the initial stimulus; the students decide on the direction of the inquiry.

  • P4C shows teachers how to teach through dialogue, facilitate student-led inquiries and get to know the students better;
  • P4C shows students how to think independently,  reason effectively, communicate persuasively and explore their values;
  • P4C is fun:  students and teachers love it.

P4C lets the students have a strong say in the content of a lesson.  It takes place in a group setting known as a Community of Inquiry which provides a safe space in which young people can exchange and discuss views on a wide range of topics.  P4C develops skills in thinking, reasoning, communication and collaboration.  P4C develops curiosity, clarity of expression, and emotional intelligence.  It helps both students and teachers explore their values and the type of person they want to be.

P4C draws on Socratic questioning, Vygotsky’s constructivism and Dewey’s ideas of democracy in education, Mathew Lipman developed P4C 40 years ago in New York.  He wanted children to become “more thoughtful, more reflective, more considerate and more reasonable individuals”.  Since then  P4C has been taken up in over 60 countries around the world.

P4C is built on four foundations:

  • The Community of Inquiry
  • 4Cs thinking
  • Philosophical questioning
  • The 4 phase inquiry method

What is a Community of Inquiry?

A community of inquiry is the group in which a P4C session takes place.  It is a group in which the individuals feel valued by each other and where they feel safe to express their views and share their experiences.  In most schools the whole class will form the community of inquiry, but it can also work with smaller groups.

It takes time and skill for the facilitator to build an effective community of inquiry.   Some students will take longer than others to start participating actively.  Many teachers find that students who take longer to join in often come up with deep insights when they do start talking.   As long as students are listening well, they will be thinking and benefiting from hearing what others have to say

What is 4Cs Thinking?

Four types of thinking are central to P4C’s values and practice:

  • Caring thinking: this is about respect for others in the community of inquiry and respect for the subject of the inquiry.  Students can display caring thinking by showing that they are listening well to others and that they value their contributions;
  • Collaborative thinking:  this is about helping the community as a whole to progress.  Students show that they are thinking collaboratively when they communicate well with each other and build on each other’s ideas;
  • Critical thinking: this is about questioning and reasoning well.  Good critical thinking involves giving good reasons, looking for evidence, testing out ideas, seeking understanding and making valid judgements;
  • Creative thinking: this involves making connections and suggesting ideas. A good creative thinker makes comparisons, provides examples and suggests alternative lines of thought.

A well-facilitated P4C session will draw out all four types of thinking, although the facilitator may choose to focus on one in particular to develop the skills within the community of inquiry.

The 4Cs also provide a useful framework for evaluating an inquiry.  The facilitator and the students can review how effective they were across all four types of thinking.  If they feel that they need to develop in any of the four areas, they can plan to make that the focus of the next inquiry.

What is Philosophical Questioning?

Philosophy is often defined as the love of wisdom.  It seeks to explore questions and find meaning about issues which our central to our lives:  issues such as truth, identity, virtue, knowledge, beauty and existence.   P4C encourages students to create their own questions on topics such as these.

In the hands of a skillful facilitator, a meaningful P4C inquiry can be conducted on almost any question.  But an insightful and rewarding inquiry is more likely if the group comes up with a good philosophical question.  A promising philosophical question has the following characteristics:

  • There will be more than one valid answer to the question:   this means that the students can explore different perspectives, and can agree and disagree with each other.  Importantly, it also means the facilitator does not have a single correct answer either;
  • The question is profound and will often deal with abstract concepts:  this means that it will require the students to think deeply and to work their way towards building understanding though their discussion.  Even very young children also find discussions about abstract ideas highly absorbing, so they engage better with the inquiry process;
  • The question is relevant to everyone in the community of inquiry:  this means that they can draw on their own experience in discussing it.  In this way everyone can make a valid contribution – and everyone will have interesting content to contribute to the inquiry.

Examples of philosophical questions in P4C inquiries might be:

  • Does everyone have a right to a good education?
  • Can animals create art?
  • Would it ever be right to tell a friend a lie?
  • Does it matter what I look like?
  • Is there truth in dreams?
  • Do things have to be equal to be fair?

Sometimes people suggest that “anything goes” in P4C, implying that any answer to a question is valid.  This is a misconception.  It is fine for members of the community to hold different views, but answers that are not supported by good reasoning or solid evidence are not likely to be valid.  So while there can be more than one good answer, there can also be unsatisfactory answers.  It is up to the facilitator to expose the difference between such answers.

What is the 4 Phase Inquiry Method?

The standard P4C inquiry model consists of 10 steps in four phases.  We recommend that teachers and pupils familiarise themselves with the method, as each step contributes importantly to the value of the inquiry.  Once the community is fully conversant with the standard model, teachers can choose to vary the model to suit particular learning goals.

These are the four phases:

4 phase detail

Through our training programmes, DialogueWorks will give you all the practical advice you need to start facilitating P4C inquiries with your students.  Over time, we will help you build your P4C facilitation skills so that your students, and you, can get the most out of your inquiries.   We will show you how you can use P4C as the basis for incorporating Philosophical Teaching and Learning in all your lessons.

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