Embedding philosophy in our community

Case Study
  • Authored by: Lucy Sayce
  • Co-authored by: Lyn Bull
  • Status: Approved

Introduction

What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

Pupils are not always challenged to think as deeply in the classroom as they are able. This development work sought to investigate the worth of Philosophy for Children as a strategy for challenging able, gifted and talented pupils within a mainstream classroom environment.

The aims of the project were:

  • to develop the teaching skills of the project group
  • to develop expertise in using a community of enquiry so that P4C strategies are developed across the curriculum
  • to develop oracy in the classroom

Who might find this case study useful?

  • Assistant headteacher
  • Deputy headteacher
  • Headteacher
  • LA adviser
  • Leading teacher
  • National Strategies consultant
  • Senior leader
  • Senior leadership team (SLT)
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

Philosophy presents an effective way to integrate challenge into lessons, particularly for more able pupils

Point 2

Peer coaching groups provide a successful model to embed CPD and sustainable changes in practice

What

What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • Art
  • English - reading
  • English - speaking and listening
  • English - writing
  • History
  • Science

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

By encouraging learners to explore ideas and beliefs they are challenged to engage in higher order thinking . A small group of interested teachers formed the EPIC project (Establishing Philosophy In our Classrooms) to investigate the worth of Philosophy for Children (P4C) as a strategy for challenging able, gifted and talented pupils within a mainstream classroom environment.

What were your success criteria?

  1. Pupils use inference indicators in their speech
  2. Pupils accept and value differing opinions
  3. Pupils feel confident to contribute to a discussion
  4. Pupils can formulate enquiry questions
  5. Pupils have the opportunity to direct their own learning
  6. Other teachers in schools have experienced Embedding Philosophy in our Community (EPIC) techniques
  7. An enquiry based approach is evident in the school

PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches

What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Logs or interviews
  • Observation outcomes
  • Pupil consultation data

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Collaborative group work
  • Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching
  • Use of thinking skills

Describe the teaching approaches you used

The EPIC (Establishing Philosophy In our Classrooms) project group of teachers developed their own specific approaches as follows:

School 1 - Y5 mixed ability: Literacy

  • Children introduced to the rules of P4C and carried out a class discussion based on a story prompt linked to Literacy (Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters)
  • Created an ‘I Think...’ board in the classroom with a key question that children could respond to using sticky notes 
  • For those less confident learners, a thought box enabled them to contribute without others necessarily seeing their opinions 
  • Linked with visiting Yr 12 Philosophy students to further support P4C discussions
  • Held discussions in different places e.g. classroom, hall, field, playground to see how different children reacted 
  • Linked P4C discussions to other areas of the curriculum e.g. slavery in History 
  • Began to work on formulating enquiry questions but this remained an area for further development. 
  • Split into smaller groups for mini P4C discussions before coming back together and holding whole class discussions

School 2: Y6 mixed ability - Art (but not always subject based)

  • Created a discussion board in the classroom consisting of key questions, a stimulus and cards for the children to write their questions or ideas.
  • Introduced the children to the rules of P4C and carried out a class discussion based on a photograph. 
  • Put four labels in the corners of the Hall – strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. The children were given a statement and they had to move to the section of the hall that most closely matched their opinion of that statement. They could then justify their position, and based on their response, children could decide whether or not to move. 
  • Filmed the next session to use later as evidence for progression. 
  • Worked on how to formulate an enquiry question with the class. 
  • Split the class into smaller groups to sort pictures into ‘Art’ and ‘Not Art’. They then started the discussion in small groups before moving to a class discussion. This was to encourage more reticent pupils to contribute. 
  • Having become confident in carrying out a P4C discussion, in groups the children created their own training sessions to deliver to the Year 5 pupils.

School 3: Year 5/6 - General (used in Art week)

  • The group met for six one hour sessions where they were offered the opportunity to explore and generate their own questions from a selection of topical stimuli according to the Community of Enquiry method.
  • At first these were carefully chosen by the teacher, but after an initial introduction children were invited to find and bring their own choices for discussion. 
  • During the final session the group were videoed as part of an initial evaluation which fed into an overall summary of the curriculum initiative.
  • Following this successful initial trial, the teacher used the techniques learned with whole class discussions before modelling the basics with the whole staff as part of a cross curricular inset around the theme of art week.

School 4: Y6 mixed ability -  General

  • P4C discussions did not take place during one specific slot on the timetable.
  • Many classroom discussions took the form of the “community of enquiry” format and learners were provided with sentence starter prompt cards to help develop the discussion. 
  • After consultation with other staff involved in the project a more flexible learning environment and more reflection time was introduced within the P4C session. This allowed time for talk partner discussions, personal thinking time and smaller discussions before contributing to the whole class debate.

School 5: Y7 boys, selective school - Classics, Chemistry and History

  • Three sessions in Classics lessons, a special Chemistry and History P4C session.
  • In the first Classics lesson, all that was employed were the discussion techniques without introduction of the philosophy element. In the second, the enquiry question was set for the students, but the discussion was framed from a philosophical stand-point.
  • In the third Classics lesson students were able to pick their own philosophical question based on the idea of education. 
  • In the Chemistry session the students were able to produce and select their own enquiry questions, based around the relationship of science and religion.
  • Their final P4C lesson was a history related one in which the enquiry question was chosen for them as a restricted, subject specific one.

School 7: Y7 higher ability - English: creative writing

  • In assessments, students had not always engaged with complex issues; it was hoped that this would help develop their writing and result in higher grades.
  • The students were working on improving their creative writing, so the session was used to get them to think about more ‘serious’ issues in more depth. 
  • Questions pre-prepared that started off with simple knowledge-based questions and worked up to enquiry style ones.
  • Students sat in a circle away from the desks. 
  • The purpose of this different style of lesson was explained to the class before the discussion began. 
  • After the lesson students were interviewed about their experience.

Teaching Resources
For further information about teaching approaches, see the Philosophy for Children booklet (on the Summary page):

P4C in Schools: A cross phase planning toolkit for teachers, Lucy Sayce and Margaret McDonald, Reading Borough Council.  The toolkit contains

  • useful information, links and materials for P4C
  • brief case studies from the 6 project schools
  • a focus on action research
  • evaluations and impact
  • a focus on using an e-forum

The EPIC
(Establishing Philosophy In our Classrooms) project group of teachers developed
their own specific approaches as follows:

Upload

What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Collaborative enquiry

Describe the CPD approaches you used

As part of an ongoing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme for Leading Teachers in Able, Gifted & Talented an introductory session on Philosophy for Children (P4C) looked at how this might be used as a strategy to increase challenge for Able, Gifted & Talented learners. Many of the teachers who attended this session expressed a desire to study the approach in more detail and as a result a small scale action research project was set up.

Funding was allocated to the project to allow time-out for teachers to reflect and think deeply about their practice and the place of P4C within their classrooms. Individuals decided on their own specific focus under the umbrella of P4C and set their own hypotheses to investigate.

The formation of small peer coaching groups, as a method for embedding CPD and bringing about sustainable changes in practice, has been advocated by Joyce and Showers (1996) and this structure was therefore chosen for managing the project. The project group consisted of teachers from both primary and secondary phases and two LA consultants. Those involved had already expressed an interest in learning more about P4C and had therefore identified a personal need. They were, therefore, self-motivated to learn. Additional personnel were invited to provide P4C expertise as necessary.

The group met for two full days with an experimental period of 3 months in between. A short twilight meeting within the experimental period served to maintain the momentum (as this period had included the summer holiday) and refocus the group on the expected outcomes. Setting up a closed e-forum on the National Strategies site http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/ provided an additional vehicle for sharing ideas and sign-posting useful documentation. Although the first study day included time to learn P4C strategies in more detail, the agendas for both days and the interim meeting were kept deliberately open to allow plenty of time for reflective thought. On the second day, during which the group fed back on their classroom experiments, the discussion was
structured around the Reflective Teams model (Jackson & McKergow, 2007) as follows:

  • One team member (the speaker) presents their problem/experience to the group
  • Team members take turns to ask one question for clarification and the speaker responds 
  • Team members take turns to state one thing that has impressed them about what they have heard 
  • The speaker responds to the group reflecting on what has been said.

 A “Transition Conference” was held to disseminate the project findings to a wider audience. EPIC project members acted as ambassadors to interested schools and Y12 students were trained up to help deliver sessions.

What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

Philosophy
for Children

  • SAPERE run the official P4C
    training which is highly recommended. Their website, www.sapere.org.uk
    gives information on dates of training at levels 1, 2 and 3.
  • www.p4c.com contains a wealth of information
    about p4c at all levels although subscription is necessary to access some
    of the materials.
  • Matthew Lipman was the
    founder of P4C and has published widely. He was always particularly
    concerned that students learn to reason; sharing ideas and beliefs and
    articulating reasons for those ideas and beliefs continue to lie at the
    heart of P4C. The official P4C trainers still work with the team at
    Montclair University (http://cehs.montclair.edu/academic/iapc/ )
    who continue Matthew Lipman's work.
  • Robert Fisher's books are
    excellent -Stories for Thinking (1996, Nash Pollock) etc.
  • 'But Why? Developing
    philosophical thinking in the classroom,’ Sara Stanley with Steve Bowkett.
    Network Educational Press, 2004. ISBN 1-85539-172-4. A resource aimed at
    teachers doing P4C with infants. Includes Phil, the philosophy bear and
    three story books.
  • The Philosophy Club by Roger
    Sutcliffe and Steve Williams, ISBN 1-903804-03-5, is a detailed manual for
    setting up and running a P4C club in a school.
  • Ian Gilbert's books are also
    really good, e.g. The Little Book of Thunks, and Little Owl's Book of
    Thinking. Brilliant in the primary or secondary classroom.

Coaching

  • Johns, C. (2004). Becoming a
    Reflective Practitioner, 2nd edn., Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Relevant
National Strategies resources:

The NS Gifted & Talented Programme, in particular

  1. Gifted and talented education: the challenge of improvement explores the key challenges of gifted and talented education faced by schools. It takes account of the new Ofsted Framework for the inspection of maintained schools (link opens in new window) and the specific challenge to demonstrate that gifted and talented pupils are identified and make good progress. The wider challenges include
    - ensuring effective challenge and support for all pupils, including the more and most able, in the everyday context of the classroom
    - identifying gifted and talented pupils, including the 'hidden gifted' and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
    Within this area are these resources:
  2. Improving gifted and talented education:  workshops for school senior leaders. These five CPD workshops help leaders in primary and secondary schools to get to grips with the challenge of ensuring effective gifted and talented education.
  3. Improving Gifted and Talented education: workshops for leading teachers. These four workshops build on the existing training materials for leading teachers for Gifted and Talented (G&T) education by providing opportunities to engage with senior leaders and other teachers in taking forward improvements in G&T education through Excellence for All.  Handbook
  4. Using the Institutional Quality Standards to improve Gifted and Talented education in schools. The IQS help to identify the key challenges of gifted and talented education faced by schools. These web pages provide a revised and updated web-based User Guide for the IQS.
  5. Institutional Quality Standards – revised 2010. Download

Who provided you with support?

  • Local authority staff

How were you supported?

The two LA consultants organised

  • the initial CPD on P4C
  • the project development and evaluation days
  • communication channels

The local G&T lead school provided accommodation for CPD sessions

Impact

What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

The evaluation shows the positive impact of the project work on all measures. The bold words below indicate the evaluation at the end of the project and the benchmark measure at the start of the project is in brackets:

  1. Pupils use of inference indicators in their speech - sometimes (sometimes/rarely)
  2. Pupils accept and value differing opinions - often (sometimes/rarely)
  3. Pupils feel confident to contribute to a discussion - often (sometimes/rarely)
  4. Pupils can formulate enquiry questions - sometimes (rarely/never)

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

'Sometimes what others say changes your ideas and that's good.' (Y6 learner)

'I like sharing with everyone and being part of the discussion. I liked that everyone got to say their ideas and can change their minds without anyone forcing them to change their ideas.' (Y6 learner)

'As there are lots of different opinions you learn to change your mind more easily.' (Y4 learner)

'Teachers were often surprised by the quality of some of their responses.' (G&T leading teacher)

'Children communicated more effectively with each other and it was noticed that children listened more carefully to each other, accepting and processing someone else's idea or thoughts without prejudice.' (Y6 teacher)

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Periodic teacher assessment

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Observation outcomes

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

Impact statements were drawn up at the beginning of the project based on desirable outcomes if change is effected. These were graded (e.g. always, sometimes, rarely, never) and the answers converted to a numerical total, Benchmarking the statements and then revisiting at the end of the project allowed for any change to be measured:

Benchmark: Scoring 0 for "never" and 3 for "often" gives a total score = 7/21
Possible improvement = 14/21
Final score = 14/21
Improvement = 7 which is 50% of the total possible (14)
(See P4C for Schools on What - Teachng approaches page for full details)

What has been the impact on teaching?

Schools and teachers involved in the project

  • indicate that their range of skills in questioning and philosophical discussion has increased
  • transferred the use of their new skills to other subjects and teaching contexts
  • are more likely to relinquish control of discussion and offer more opportunities to children to take responsibility for their learning

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

Time for reflective thought is a luxury that classroom teachers are rarely afforded but the value of uncluttered contemplation is well documented (Johns, 2004, for details see summary section). Funding was allocated to the project to allow time-out for teachers to reflect and think deeply about their practice and the place of P4C within their classrooms.

Individuals decided on their own specific focus under the umbrella of P4C and set their own hypotheses to investigate.

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching

'(I have) seen some students in a new light because of their contributions to the discussions'

'My practice has developed, as it has challenged me to offer more opportunities for children to take responsibility and engage in their learning which can be difficult to manage'

'(I have gained)  a deeper understanding of how to trust in the question and allow pupils to steer the discussion rather than stepping in'

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

 Individual teachers were asked to respond to a free-response questionnaire on the following questions:

What was most enjoyable about being involved in the project?

What have you learnt from the project?

Have you changed your practice in any way since taking part in the project?

How have you communicated the project work to your colleagues? If not, how do you plan to?

What are your thoughts on using an e-forum to complement the project?

If a follow-up project were to run next year would you be interested in taking part and why?

What changes could be made to a follow-up project to make it more successful?

Teachers were also asked to respond to the evaluation of the project using the impact statements drawn up at the beginning of the project. These were based on desirable outcomes if change is effected. These were graded (e.g. always, sometimes, rarely, never) and the answers converted to a numerical total. Benchmarking the statements and then revisiting at the end of the project allowed for any change to be measured.

The outcomes of these evaluations are described in the P4C document (see What or Summary page).

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

All schools involved have started to disseminate the P4C approach beyond the initial teacher involved through

  • staff meetings
  • discussions with class teachers
  • materials sharing
  • planned training for interested teachers/subject G&T representatives

However, evaluations indicate that this is at an early stage:

Other teachers in school have experienced EPIC techniques - rarely (rarely/never*)

An enquiry based approach is evident in the school - rarely (rarely*)

* benchmarked measure from the start of the project in brackets

At least one secondary school is currently providing sessions for all feeder primary schools as part of their G&T transition programme.

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

Schools report -

  1. Delivery of a staff meeting about P4C 
  2. General discussions with teachers of the classes covered. Examples, sentence starts and notes from lessons given to staff for their perusal and use
  3. Staff meeting time as part of cross-curricular inset
  4. Each G and T subject representative will be trained and or/observed in the process
  5. Planned T+L session for interested teachers and modelling of P4C with a class for teachers who wish to observe

Summary

What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

  • Time for teacher reflection
  • Teacher learning community, peer coaching and support
  • Teacher commitment

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

P4C in Schools: A cross phase planning toolkit for teachers, Lucy Sayce and Margaret McDonald, Reading Borough Council  (See below)

What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

  • Initial expert external input on P4C
  •  SAPERE run the official P4C training which is highly recommended. Their website, www.sapere.org.uk gives information on dates of training at levels 1, 2 and 3. 
  • P4C.com www.p4c.com contains a wealth of information about p4c at all levels although subscription is necessary to access some of the materials.

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

  • Establish a group of committed teachers with an interest in developing challenge in the classroom
  • Gain an understanding of P4C and how it can be successfully delivered in the classroom. Consider inviting a local expert to deliver a CPD session, e.g. LA consultant
  • Individual teachers/schools decide their specific approach
  • Establish an online forum to enable ongoing peer support, exchange of ideas and materials, discussion of issues etc
  • Provide an interim face to face session to maintain the momentum
  • Organise a final day's CPD to share experiences, outcomes, learning  and impact, as well as to finalise the project evaluation.

What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

  • Project schools are continuing to develop their unique approaches to P4C, and to expand to a wider group of teachers and classes
  • Project teachers have expressed their appreciation of having time to reflect within a collaborative context - 'working with other schools has been really fulfilling'. Another project is consequently being planned to build on P4C and the supportive learning community which has been a feature of this project.

Related information

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