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Have we missed a step?

I remember when I first started my teacher-training, my Head Teacher was a huge fan of Robert Fisher and his ‘Teaching Children to Think’ books. I enjoyed reading his books and had the pleasure of attending an INSET training session led by the man himself (even if he did reprimand me for talking – I was just being overly enthusiastic!). It all made sense of course: before a child can learn effectively, they must be taught about how they learn…

Fast forward seven years and lots has changed for me. New school, new Head Teacher, new curriculum, new (higher) expectations. The challenges of teaching and the need for innovative ways to aid learning are as present as ever.

Time-consuming marking has historically been a huge obstacle for teachers and thankfully self-evaluation and verbal feedback are the current trends that we are pushing and trialling. Most teachers and leaders see the great benefits of this self-evaluation and, importantly, how it creates reflective learners. However, how many times have I heard mutterings in the staff room about certain children and their reflective learning: “He said he found the lesson easy, but got all the questions wrong!”, “Whenever I try to engage her with verbal feedback she just nods and says yes, but the next lesson nothing has changed!”. The answer is always “You have to train the children to be reflective, give them sentence spines to support them”. But is this enough? Do we need to take a step back? In my experience, many children have the auto-pilot answer of a shrug and “Dunno”. Has the age of tablets, phones and online gaming turned the children into mumbling zombies? Is the whole idea of reflective learning hopeless?! At this point I should stop the hyperbole and get to the point. Children need to be taught to be articulate, not just about their learning, but about everything! Step forward Philosophy for Children (to rapturous applause).

Philosophy was again something I was introduced to in my salad days of teaching. I have always been a massive fan and seen it as a great way to build children’s confidence and help build a strong bond between teacher and pupils (you don’t know your class until you have fiercely debated whether a zebra is black with white stripes, or white with black stripes). Could this be the answer to our problems? Is engaging children in philosophical thinking and enquiry a way to open up their inner articulacy? Could it be the key to unlocking their ability to reason and problem solve in Maths, empathise in English, hypothesise in Science and debug in Computing? Currently, I don’t have the definitive answer but I’m working on it!

So far, I have been searching for the right tools to support me; searching for specific cross curricular inquiries, trialling critical thinking skills and attempting activities which deepen thinking. But philosophy has been a constant in my classroom, I have used it with every class I have ever taught and I have seen its benefits first-hand. Therefore, philosophy shall be the basis of my research inquiry: How Can Philosophy for Children Improve Children’s Articulacy? P4C: Spot and Stripe: Exploring

I have taken six focus children, I plan to give them access to regular P4C sessions, both stand alone and as part of cross curricular lessons. I shall be closely monitoring them, watching their ability to self-reflect, respond to feedback (written and verbal) and most of all I am going to be seeing how it changes them in class. Articulacy is a tricky thing to monitor, but with the success of reflective learning at stake, I’m making it my mission to do so.

Dean Boddington

RA Butler Academies

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