Response to Dennis Hayes in Spiked Online

Dennis Hayes wrote in Spiked Online, ‘Philosophy for children’ isn’t real philosophy.

(So that I don’t simply repeat myself, go here for my response to the issue of philosophy’s own value: Aeon, should children do philosophy? Also read my response to Tom Bennett’s, Philosophy. For Children?)

My Response to Dennis Hayes

‘Surely the worst, most instrumental reason for doing philosophy is that it might improve your skills in other areas, like maths and reading, while also boosting ‘cognitive abilities’ and pupils’ self-esteem.’ [Dennis Hayes.]

Why?

‘P4C is a popular method of exploring concepts such as fairness or bullying in small group discussions. By claiming that P4C might help all primary-school pupils — especially those on free school meals — to do better in other disciplines, the EEF report does a serious disservice to philosophy.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

Why?

‘The problem today is that children are being taught bits of philosophy, in their circle-time activities. They should be taught more. Why not start with the classical Greek philosophers? Teach your charges about Socrates and Plato and Aristotle! Let them rehearse the arguments of all the great philosophers.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

Why?

‘Childish whining is not philosophy; reading books, even difficult ones, and then having proper classroom chats about them is.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

I agree, childish whining is not philosophy. I don’t see much childish whining in my philosophy classes, because I always ask them to say ‘why?’ When someone complains about something without providing good reasons, that’s what I call ‘childish whining’.

‘The EEF report also said teachers don’t know enough about philosophy and aren’t confident enough to teach it. Yet as we wait for a drive to recruit more actual philosophers into primary schools, which we should do, teachers can easily teach some of the history of philosophy in history, and some of the works of philosophy in literature. Even in nursery rhymes there are challenging topics. Why was Humpy Dumpty on that wall? And a burning question for all young girls: Does kissing frogs work? These are potential philosophical sticklers, and can be addressed without the dumbed-down approach of P4C.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

I agree that many teachers don’t know enough about philosophy. Whether a discussion of bullying and fairness are philosophical is all in how it’s approached. A discussion around whether it’s right to bully people (where the teacher holds the view that it is wrong) probably won’t be, but a genuinely open discussion around what bullying is, that leads to conceptual progress in the children’s views as a result of this analysis (see the response to Tom Bennett ‘progess in philosophy’) is much more likely to be philosophical. I have recommended that teachers be trained in what it is they need to be able to run good dialogues with their classes. And what they need – as a minimum, in my view – is an understanding of what a conceptual discussion is and how to facilitate it. For more on this see my response to Tom Bennett ‘It’s (not?) what you know’.

‘The EEF report has been widely welcomed, but largely as a convenient shortcut away from serious teaching in favour of therapeutic talking shops. If we really want the best education for children, then we should ditch classes on jargon and go back to teaching real subject matter — including sometimes difficult, philosophical subject matter.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

Again: Why?

I agree, there is a danger that philosophy is used as a ‘therapeutic talking shop’, but this is purely down to proper education and training about what philosophy is and how it works. Philosophy is not therapy. When working with teachers I sometimes have to explain that ‘feel’ is not a synonym for ‘think’, as it is sometimes used in the classroom. This may have something to do with the fact that teacher training is saturated in psychology and its accompanying jargon. This can be addressed with proper training. For a glimpse (not exhaustive by any stretch) into the kind of facilitation techniques I’m talking about, then go here:

The Philosophers’ Magazine: how to philosophise with children

In conclusion, Dennis Hayes, has an incomplete view of what philosophy is. He clearly thinks that philosophy is ONLY a subject; one that engages students with the classic debates. Let us take, probably the most famous example of a philosopher from the great canon, Plato. He demonstrated, through his dialogues, that philosophy is more than thinking about the canon. Yes, during his dialogues, the characters sometimes engage with the philosophers of the past, but most of the time, they are engaging with each other, with no reference to the canon. But in almost all cases, Plato is showing us how to philosophise, and also providing models for doing so (for example – and it is just one example – the much discussed Socratic method). My approach to philosophy (with adults, children or whatever) is to facilitate a discussion so that it resembles the kind of discussion we might see in a Platonic dialogue. (I do NOT mean: so that it is identical! – Before you write to say ‘do you entrap people like Socrates did?’) I simply mean: so that it contains a similar dialectical structure with similar dialectical aims. This is philosophy as ‘methodology’ that sits next to philosophy as ‘history of ideas’. (There’s also Hegel, Descartes, Spinoza, Aristotle and so on, who also provides methods for conducting philosophical enquiry, all of which are dialectical.) There are even those that say, along Socratic lines, that studying the history of ideas can be done while doing no real philosophy, where philosophy is understood to be an attempt to show whether real-life example X is a genuine example of category Y. Philosophy was practised long before it became a subject at school.

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Response to Tom Bennett on TES blog ‘Philosophy. For children?’

Philosophy has been in the news a good deal this week due to some very positive research by EEF into SAPERE’s model that notes improvements to reading and maths. Tom Bennett wrote a piece responding to the P4C buzz yesterday: Philosophy. For children? When thinking requires thinking about something. This is my response to that piece, piece by piece.

Philosophy’s value?

‘The value of Philosophy doesn’t lie in its contribution to literacy, or indeed indirectly to any other perceived good.’ (Tom Bennett)

Should ‘philosophy with children’ be measured according to its instrumental benefits? Does philosophy have its own value? If something is good for its own sake, there’s not a great deal more to say about it than that: music’s good, because it’s good. About philosophy, I might say that it’s good because it comes from what it is to be human: to respond, to reflect, to reason, to re-evaluate, and – arguably – these are among the best things about what it is to be human. But all I can hope for here is that you agree with me; that you share my values.

Or, I might show you research that demonstrates how doing philosophy is good for other things (see link above for an example of this kind of research).

It’s a good thing, as Tom says, that ‘philosophy for children’ (or P4C) can be shown to improve literacy and numeracy, but I’m interested in what it is philosophy offers in and of itself. I am also interested in whether children can get better at it. ‘But why’, objectors may say, ‘should we be interested in what philosophy offers unless it’s the instrumental stuff – that which improves reading, writing and arithmetic, SATs results etc.?’ Because, if there is a correlation between doing philosophy and improved literacy and maths results then surely we want to know why – we want to know the cause.

What I’d like to suggest is that philosophy offers ‘intellectual virtues’ and that these are good in and of themselves, as well as being transferable. They may well be the qualities that confer the improvements identified in research. For instance, if philosophy engenders structured, sequential thinking then this may well be what improves performance in maths. So, what do I mean by ‘intellectual virtues’? Let me make some suggestions (though, in no way final or exhaustive). Those doing regular philosophy may learn and practise…

  • How to respond to others in an intellectually appropriate way (whether to be critical, logical, sequential, structural, semantic and so on).
  • How to respond to others in a socially appropriate way (with sensitivity, with respect, with confidence, tentatively and so on) that is also intellectually sensitive.
  • How to discern and select what is the appropriate response, either to a question, problem, or peer.
  • They will gain some insight about how their peers think and learn to approach problems from thinking with their peers.
  • They will practise how to appropriately oppose each other while working collaboratively to address controversies and problems.
  • …How to structure their thinking well.
  • …How to give expression to their thinking so that others may understand them and therefore respond appropriately.
  • …How to make appropriate use of empirical knowledge in their argumentation.
  • …How to abstract when necessary.
  • …How to engage critically with their own ideas as well as those of others.
  • …How to judge when to re-evaluate (revise or reject) and when to defend their own ideas. (A good philosopher only defends the defensible.)
  • …How to offer reasoned support to a peer when the peer is unable to see good reasons that they may be able to see.
  • …How to recognise controversies and problems for themselves.
  • …How to judge for themselves when to be open-minded and when to make a judgement on an issue or question.
  • …How to evaluate, discern – and in some cases eliminate – ideas and opinions shared in a discussion.
  • …They will practise resilience in the face of other’s opposition to their own ideas and resilience to demonstrations made by others of shortcomings within their positions and arguments.
  • …They will practise a willingness to re-evaluate.
  • …They will practise reflecting on the quality of their own reasoning and how to improve it.

It is because of these (and other) virtues, as practised by the Ancient Greeks (notably Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) that ‘the scientific method’ came about (also logical, structured and sequential), to take just one important example. This is exactly the sort of stuff that can be bottled and integrated into the curriculum as a whole.

The Philosophy Foundation is about to begin a project with King’s College London into this aspect of philosophy. The aim will be to establish what kinds of virtues might be described as ‘philosophical virtues’ and to establish whether philosophical progress can be made, and in what ways we might begin to try to measure such progress. No doubt, this will include the drawing up of some criteria of what philosophy is. If nothing else, it should be interesting.

It’s (not?) what you know

‘This is why philosophy is a particularly hard thing to do with a group of very young children, or those with little knowledge about philosophy. Can you imagine a discussion about Shakespeare if nobody had ever heard of the man? Or a debate about Danish modal verbs populated only by Yoruba speakers?’ (Tom Bennett)

The examples of Shakespeare and ‘Danish modal verbs’ are disanalogous. If we think of philosophy as ‘the history of ideas’ then the analogy might work (though, presumably, one could have a discussion about one of Shakespeare’s plays without knowing who he is or even that he wrote it), but the focus of philosophy in schools is on the process of philosophising, not the history of ideas. Consider the following questions:

‘If something is moving then is it doing something?’

‘If fair is ‘getting the same amount’ then is it fair for Ted to get more cake than the others on his birthday?’

‘Can you make a deliberate mistake?’

‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’

‘If something changes can it be the same thing?’

‘If you take something that you don’t know belongs to someone else then is it stealing?’

To engage in discussions around questions of this sort the children do not really need to know much at all; all they need is some notion of the concepts involved and a notion of the relationship between them. Very often the discussion will be fuelled by the fact that the children have different notions. For instance, some children will think that fair simply means ‘getting the same amount’ and others will think that it has ‘something to do with desert’ while others, that ‘it depends on the situation’. In other words, philosophy discussions in the classroom will – or should – be conceptual, or at least include it. And in many cases, it won’t be a discussion about ‘what something means’ but rather ‘what something is thought to mean’ and the conflicts that arise from the different notions present within the discussion. (We recommend our facilitators ask ‘What do you mean by X?’ rather than ‘What does X mean?’)

This also means that progress can be made (an oft-overlooked aspect of doing philosophy with children) because, for example, a class may begin a discussion thinking that fair is ‘getting what I want’ and later on understand, through arguments put forward by members of the class, that this leads to problems, such as that there are many situations where it is impossible for everyone to get what they want if, for instance, what they want is not available to all. This is conceptual progress; the class (or some within it) now has a more sophisticated, nuanced conceptual understanding of fairness.

You would only need to know something about philosophy (as ‘history of ideas’) if the questions were:

‘What is Thomas Hobbes’s response to the problem of The Ship of Theseus?’

‘Does Descartes’s think that the mind is the same as the brain?’ etc.

But these are not the kinds of philosophy questions that are asked of primary-aged children doing philosophy.

When we run our Stage 1 training course – where we train graduates to facilitate philosophy in the classroom – the first thing we do is run an enquiry for the trainees. We usually run an enquiry around the perennial philosophical favourite, ‘The Ship of Theseus’ thought-experiment (the idea is: if something’s parts are replaced gradually over time then can it be considered the same thing?). What is interesting about this is that when we take them through a discussion around the same stimulus had by able 10-year-olds, the graduates are often astonished at how similar the conceptual moves are, differing only in sophistication. The reason this happens is because the facilitation is such that, in both cases, it focuses on the conceptual dimensions of the issue.

Conceptual treatment of non-philosophical topics

You may think that a question such as ‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’ must be an empirical discussion – it must be a science question. But even empirical discussions have conceptual dimensions. For example,

FAC: ‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’

Child A: ‘Yes.’

FAC: ‘Can you say why?’

Child A: ‘Because the mind is inside the brain?’

FAC: Is there anybody who has anything to say about the last speaker’s idea?

Child B: ‘But if a coin is inside a piggybank that doesn’t mean that the coin is the same as the piggy bank.’

FAC: [Turning to child A] Would you like to reply to that?

Child A: ‘Yes. But it’s more like plasticine.’

FAC: Can you say a bit more about that?

Child A: If one bit of plasticine is in the middle of a bigger bit of plasticine then it’s the same. The mind is like that: the mind is in the middle of the brain.

The issue here is conceptual: it is to do with whether if something X is inside something else Y, then can X and Y have a relationship of identity? You don’t need to have any neuroscience to engage in this conceptual aspect of the discussion. To facilitate this successfully, however, one needs to understand what a conceptual discussion is and how it differs from an empirical discussion, or how an empirical discussion can be treated in a conceptual way (for example, with a hypothesis such as ‘Is there an object in the box’ a conceptual discussion might be: ‘What do we mean by object?’ or ‘What do we mean by in?’). This is where, I would argue, expertise is needed. Either someone with this understanding is necessary for a genuine philosophical enquiry, or teachers need to be formally trained so that they are equipped with this understanding and the tools to facilitate it.

‘What [philosophy] might be doing with children might be good practise for debating, or general discussion, and I certainly wouldn’t strike it off the curriculum.’ (Tom Bennett) 

Where does philosophy go in the curriculum?

I’ve never really liked the expression ‘P4C’. When I do philosophy with children, teenagers, adults or dogs, I facilitate philosophy. Just philosophy. And they respond as children, teenagers, adults or dogs respond. The dialogical method I use with each of them is basically the same. However, when I train teachers I don’t teach them to do philosophy because I believe – as did the originator or the P4C movement, Matthew Lipman – that it requires specialist knowledge and training in philosophy. I train teachers in something more like what Darren Chetty has coined ‘D4C’. Or, what I might call just dialogue. This does not exclude discussions of a philosophical nature, but neither does it demand them. So, at TPF, we train philosophy graduates to do philosophy in schools; we train teachers to do dialogue with their classes. The difference between philosophy and dialogue is the content. Sometimes discussions using dialogue is philosophical, but it doesn’t have to be; it could be a discussion about how many decimals there are between 1 and 2, what symmetry is, or what growth is or friction. These discussions may become philosophical. For instance, while discussing what goes between 1 and 2, a discussion about the nature of numbers may occur. But it may not. As a ‘visiting philosophy specialist’, when I do philosophy with a class, my job is to make sure that the discussions are genuinely philosophical; that, as far as the class is able, they pursue philosophical lines of enquiry further than they would have if I was not there, and that they continue to pursue intellectual lines of enquiry when I’m no longer there, yet deeper than they would have had they never met me.

There is a place for philosophy, then, as a stand-alone subject, somewhere classes can practice conceptual thinking outside of specialized subjects and therefore free of the need for subject knowledge, but where the same structures of thinking are practised for application in the curriculum subjects. There is also a place for a dialogical treatment (both philosophical and non-philosophical) within curriculum subjects. So, the debate about whether philosophy should be ‘integrated’ or ‘added on’ is a debate premised on a false dichotomy. It’s both.

Peter Worley is the CEO of The Philosophy Foundation charity, president of SOPHIA and a Visiting Research Associate at King’s College London. He is the author of numerous books on philosophy with children including The If Machine, and his latest book is 40 lessons to get children thinking: philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum (published by Bloomsbury and available from September 2015)

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Philosophy GCSE

Over the last year The Philosophy Foundation has been supporting the Philosophy in Education Project (PEP), run by Dr John Taylor and A. C. Grayling, along with SAPERE, A Level Philosophy and a host of well-known philosophers including Angie Hobbs, Simon Blackburn, Nigel Warburton and Tim Williamson.

This is a response by Peter Worley to ‘why there shouldn’t be a philosophy GCSE‘ by Miss AVE Carter, who has started an important open debate about the newly proposed philosophy GCSE by PEP.

Carter’s argument is premised on an incomplete understanding of philosophy. She says,

‘One thing which makes philosophy sessions so wonderful is that they go some way to breaking the mould of educating children on factory lines. They are set apart from any lesson anywhere in the school. Children get a chance to just wonder, to think, to discuss to learn, without writing anything down at all. They are engaged with the biggest questions ever dreamt up, questions which they may have never considered. I judge my lessons to have been successful if, and only if, pupils continue to talk about the material when our 40 minutes are up.’

I agree that doing philosophy with children (especially very young children) is often more successful when they do not write things down, but it would be wrong to conceive of philosophy as something that is – or must be – done without writing things down; or, for that matter, without reading texts, or without learning about philosophers and philosophers’ ideas. The way many practitioners do philosophy with primary-aged children in particular (myself included) is just the beginning of how philosophy is done. Miss Carter seems to think that it is the beginning and the end. The evidence for this claim is in this line:

‘I judge my lessons to have been successful if, and only if, pupils continue to talk about the material when our 40 minutes are up.’ [My italics]

Remember: ‘if, and only if’ means ‘under no other circumstances’ (I would ask Miss Carter: does she really think there are no other circumstances under which she would consider a lesson to be successful?); it is a very strong claim. Even when working with younger children, I think this is an incomplete conception of philosophy. This view of philosophy confirms my more general worry that philosophy is seen to be nothing more than a sharing of opinions, an involved chat. But, as I have argued elsewhere [TEDx ‘Plato not Playdoh’] philosophy is evaluative and re-evaluative; and this means – and many will not like this – that it is judgmental. By this, I mean that philosophy includes evaluative judgments (albeit provisional) about the arguments that have been made, based on the quality of reasons given. I will fall short of saying ‘if, and only if’! This conception of philosophy invites criteria: criteria for what makes good reasons. And these criteria would be good candidates for a marking criteria for a GCSE, and I see no reason why we should have a problem with this per se.

This argument about why there should not be a GCSE is also premised on a false dichotomy: that either education initiatives are:

a) box-ticking, knowledge-heavy, test-driven ‘factory’ models, or they are

b) exploratory, dialogical, engaging ‘discovery’ models.

Surely, the preferred place is in between? And a well-put together GCSE would, ideally, inhabit this space. At this point we reach the question of whether a GCSE would be well-put together and whether it really would inhabit this space and how we might ensure that it does. In this respect I am sympathetic to many of Miss Carter’s worries, and that is why PEP have gathered together academics as well as philosophy in school practitioners and teachers, but that discussion is for another day.

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How To See Into Their Heads

How To See Into Their Heads: Picturing a child’s own number line.

‘Miss, why we doing this?’ is something you hear from time to time. And however irritating it might be in tone, it’s a question that deserves an answer. After all, if we are going to take anyone’s time up teaching them anything, we should be able to say why that particular thing is worth the bother. Our reason doesn’t have to be of a narrow ‘you’ll need this to get a job’ type. It could be: ‘Understanding this will make you a better human being in countless ways’, but there must be a sense of purpose in education.  Familiarity with our curriculum can allow us to disregard fundamental questions that affect someone coming to the topic for the first time.

Let’s take an example: percentages. Why do children study them? Come to that, why do adults use them? What are they for?

This is a key question because we say nothing with percentages that can’t be said another way. So if 4% of people in my constituency voted UKIP, I could just as easily say that 0.04 of us voted UKIP. Or 4/100. Or I could (sticking with the raw data) say that it was 1971 out of 49 449.

Percentages are actually of course just fractions: they are hundredths. And at some point in the past, someone decided it would be useful to talk about parts of a whole in hundredths. Why? Why not just stick with ordinary fractions?

Well, percentages have one main advantage, which is that they are good for visualising and comparing. So let’s say I want to compare how UKIP did in my neighbouring consitituency – did they do better or worse than in mine? If I am told they got 6%, it is easy for me to compare. I can see immediately that they got more votes there than here, and a moment’s thought tells me that they got half as much again compared to here (4 + 2 = 6). But it is still less than 10%, so not a direct threat to the winner. And I can quickly conclude that even the winner of this seat would consider UKIP’s 4 % worth trying to win over to his own side, unlike the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s share, less than 1%.

All of that strikes me straight away, without me having to puzzle or calculate. Go back to the raw data of 1971 votes out of a 49 449 turnout, however. Is that better or worse than, say, 3707 from 73 788?! I can work it out, but it’s not immediately obvious in the same way.

Although percentages make comparison easier, there is one main disadvantage to them: they are not 100% (enjoy the pun) accurate. So usually when I use a percentage I will be rounding to make the figure into hundredths: 67%, 33%, 8% etc. Except… it’s not actually a disadvantage, it seems. In almost every ordinary life situation, (so, not including specialist financial data) a percentage is accurate enough for our purposes and makes the point we want to make. We simply don’t need the exact data.

How many children are taught that point when they are taught percentages?

It might not seem to matter. It might seem to be the pursuit of curiosity and trivia when there is real work to be done. But the whole procedure of converting data into percentages is meaningless without a reason for doing it.  They need to see that they are adding to their skills, understanding or wisdom.

So how do we go about proving to students that percentages make decisions and comparisons easier? The quickest way is to get them to put a set of unwieldy fractions in order of size:

4/7           5/12         16/22      4/9

They can put these in size order if they give every fraction the same denominator. But that’s a big ‘if’, and a big faff. Quicker and easier to divide the top by the bottom on a calculator and note the first two digits after the decimal point (ignore any digits after that). Like this:

0.57         0.42         0.73         0.44

It’s pretty easy to put them order of size now. Percentages, of course, are just these numbers written differently (57 % etc.)

OK, but that’s not the thing. Because I have still made a big assumption. I have assumed that kids can do what we do.  Assumed that when fractions are converted to numbers between 0 and 100, kids can now compare them easily, and immediately spot the proportions and relations between them. But can they?

One way to find out is to stretch a line of some kind along the classroom floor. You could make it one metre – there are some advantages to this – but it could be longer, which makes it easier for more people to see and participate. Mark one end 0 and the other 100. You then cut out some triangular pieces of paper with various numbers between and 1 and 99 on them. Do one each, and choose strategic numbers and a few random ones (so 25, 50, 75, 33, 66 and then random ones like 9, 42 etc).  Ask the child with the 50 triangle to place it along the line where it should go (if you’ve used triangles then you can use the point of the triangle to mark an exact point on the line). Hopefully, he’ll aim it smack in the middle. If he doesn’t you really have work to do, but the others in the class should be able to help get it to the right place. Then ask children who are confident they know where theirs goes to step forward and put their triangle point on the line.  Others can comment and suggest adjustments.

What you will see is the children’s own number lines – how it looks in their heads. These emerge as they make their attempts to divide the line visually and make an estimate of distance and proportion.

Now I guarantee that most basically educated adults, whatever their perceived ability at maths, would be able to divide the line into halves, quarters or thirds in their minds – perhaps tenths too. They would then place their triangle on the correct side of these points. For example, if you had the 40 triangle, you would know it goes on the left of the halfway point 50, because it’s lower. You might then imagine the line divided into tenths and judge one tenth left of 50. Or you imagine it divided into thirds and place your 40 slightly closer to the third point (because it’s 7 away from 33, which is a third) than the half (which is 10 away from 50).

People who have to do this for practical purposes, like builders, may well have better judgment. Perhaps artists would too.

Some children can do this kind of a thing a bit. Others barely at all. They will see this for themselves when you measure out the line.   By the way, this is where it is good to have a metre-long line after all because you don’t have to convert the distances into hundredths, it’s already there in the cm markings.  Alternatively, you could make a long line that has the correct markings on the underside that can be revealed when you flip the line over at the end.

There is certainly a big difference between what children of average ability manage and what adults of any ability at all can do. But if most of the students can’t do it well, then a lot of the purpose of percentages is lost on them. Knowing, for example, that a rise of 18 to 26% takes you past the 25% mark is the whole point. Without a grasp of these milestones, percentages don’t help nearly as much in appreciating the significance of data.

What should we do? Try to help them develop their mental number line, perhaps.  Her are some some suggestions…

  1. Get children estimating all kinds of distances under 1m and checking their accuracy until they develop a feel for where numbers between 1-100 are on the scale.  Some children will do this competitively in their breaks.
  2. Get children practising questions like ‘Is 67 closer to 55 or 75?’. See how they visualise it in their own drawings and help them to settle on strategies that help.
  3. Get children to choose which way to represent parts of a whole (common fractions, decimal fractions or percentages) when doing a task – make sure it’s not always decided in advance by the rubric of the question.
  4. So that they can succeed at point 3, make sure children experience the practical value of the three different ways of talking about amounts between 0 and 1. When I say ‘practical’ I include practical for completing calculations as well as problems in everyday life.
  5. Always let children show you how they see numbers fitting together. Don’t be in a rush to straighten out the wonky bits. Instead, help the child build a better map of the ‘numberverse’ in a way that they understand.

The first part of this blog is an abridged version of Go Compare, my chapter on percentages in The Numberverse.  http://www.philosophy-foundation.org/resources/philosophy-foundation-publications/the-numberverse  The second part is something I did in a classroom once with results that surprised me.

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CPD: How Not To Do It

I’d like to start with a question:

How can we become better teachers?

Some of the answers that have been suggested (not always by teachers) are: performance targets and rewards; teaching from a centrally-designed curriculum; higher qualifications and study; INSET sessions; plain old experience. While all of these have their place, I am interested is something else, and I would like you now to answer a second question – as a way of getting an answer to the first:

How have I become a better teacher up until now?

One thing that I predict features highly on most people’s list is: help from colleagues. So often a chance comment or lament in the staffroom is picked up on by someone else and sparks a helpful conversation, some tips, and some guidance. We then put our friend’s ideas into practice and the next time she sees us, she says ‘How did it go?’. We tell her what went well or badly and she responds again, suggesting further material or an alternative. And what’s more, a year later we in turn will be helping another colleague, passing on that same advice, perhaps with a twist of our own, and perhaps not even remembering where we got the idea in the first place – so much is it embedded in our daily practice.

This informal process goes on in all workplaces, and most of us have gained a lot this way. A culture and network forms around us through which we exchange our ideas. True, there will be some people around you that are bosom buddies while others you learn from simply by determining never to be like them. But the network is vital, and if people are cut off from it – because they have become isolated in their location or alienated from the group, for example – they feel the lack.

When I first got very interested in the idea of professional development, and started to investigate some of the research, I found that the experience I described above is more or less a template for excellence in the transfer of skills.

One piece of research I found, Lieberman and Wood (2002) – link below, explored the connection between teachers’participation in networks and the transfer of practice between the teachers’ learning environment (eg a course they went on) and their classrooms. One of the students in the study gave this description of why they had managed to implement what they had been taught:

“I found that the experience and support passed on by other teachers was much more valuable to me than any workbook [or] step-by-step method that had promised to be the quick fix.”

A problem then arises for someone like me, who is regularly asked to contribute to the CPD of teachers in the form of INSET. Don’t get me wrong: I love doing them, because I like meeting teachers, sharing what I do, planting intellectual seeds, and… well, yes… because I do rather like the sound of my own voice. No, the problem is that I am not sure what good they do for the participants.

I really try to make it relevant, to mix some theory with some anecdotes, to have discussion as well as instruction and I always include a few practical tips that teachers can take into the classroom the next day. I hope this makes me one of the good guys. But where the system falls down is that, however informed or inspired teachers might be when they walk out of the training room, there is no mechanism to continue these ideas into their daily professional lives.

Where INSET does work is to make people familiar with new ideas or get them up to date with statutory rules/best practice. It doesn’t change what you do in the classroom. Or to be fair: it doesn’t change it very much very often.

So does that mean we can all go home – or get back to our lesson prep – 90 minutes earlier on a Tuesday evening and forget about INSET – just leave it all to our wonderful internal network? Unfortunately, one problem with the network is that the ideas that you are exposed to depend on the ones that exist in your own narrow circle of teaching colleagues. And that would leave the direction of your development down to luck.

For this reason, we do need a CPD programme that makes use of external providers and ideas from other schools, industries and traditions. But it needs to mimic our informal network as closely as possible. Here are some of the features that make the informal network effective:

  •  Access – we can find our colleagues quite easily, and find a moment to chat
  • Two-way communication – we are listened to just as much as we listen
  • Time lapse – there are gaps between the stages of our learning, allowing us to process ideas
  • Flexible – your colleague/mentor will respond to your ongoing feedback, constantly altering their advice
  • Open – the goalposts can move as we realise where they should be; let’s see what works!
  • Familiarity – your colleague knows you, your working environment – and often your class!

Here are two ways that we can incorporate these features into a CPD plan:

  1. Send one teacher out for full training in a new approach and then get that person to disseminate the ideas across the school. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you get them to do one INSET for the others and it’s job done. What it means is that after an INSET to introduce the main ideas, the teacher in the know needs to have a series of meetings with interested colleagues. The meetings can be short – 20 mins of PPA time – and irregular but they need to happen. Inevitably a lot of the progress will be made outside of this framework, as the people involved exchange thoughts over coffee and in the corridor, but – and this bit is important – the informal stuff will happen a lot more if there is an official process going on.
  1. Demand that CPD providers abandon the fire-and-forget model of descending on the school for a few hours and then disappearing in a cloud of exhaust; get them to put some thought into continuity. No teacher or training professional worth their salt will claim that parking a group of people in front of a power point and ending with a few questions is a proven way of getting people to learn. We wouldn’t teach our children that way. With online communication so simple now, the least they can offer is a blog or forum for teachers to ask questions once they’ve tried to implement the new ideas. What other lead-in and follow-up can they provide? Can they visit the school again a few weeks later?
  1. Don’t insist that all teachers do all the new stuff. The ‘development’ part of CPD refers to the organic growth process and so we should be considering what is right for each teacher to do next. One teacher might be inspired and invigorated by story-telling or blended learning but those same techniques could end up being the bane of another teacher’s life. That doesn’t mean that those other teachers get left behind; they can’t keep on opting out. They need to find things that they want to explore – and hopefully share.

If you are the sort of person who makes these decisions for the school, you may be getting a nasty feeling that some of these projects might cost more. They will. But you may be comparing them to the cost of things that don’t work. Perhaps consider having fewer initiatives and CPD objectives than you have now but for the same budget that you have now.

If you are reading this as a teacher, you may not be the main decision-maker on some of these issues, but remember that headteachers need people like you, reading articles like this, and telling them which CPD providers you want next term. After all, they have to get their ideas from someone too.

Originally published by The Teacher Development Trust. Thanks to Alistair Jeffrey for this:

For further research on what makes effective CPD for teachers, see the paper from the AQA Centre for Education Research and Policy here https://cerp.aqa.org.uk/research-library/effective-continuing-professional-development-teachers

 

Lieberman & Wood 2002 – http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Feducationalleader.com%2Fsubtopicintro%2Fread%2FASCD%2FASCD_413_2.pdf&ei=VZoSVe3tMob3UsmSg8AC&usg=AFQjCNFiml2ZJ8apf2F7PElDo0i2RT6FEA&sig2=srLXP3dUedDn6R415hT6uw&bvm=bv.89184060,d.d24

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The Talking Skull – thinking about making claims

From Peter Worley’s new book due out in September 2015, given here as part of Keystone Workshop held on March 25th in St Albans.

Equipment needed and preparation:

  • (Optional) something to stand in for the skull and Enitan’s head, such as two balls (in addition to the talk-ball).
  • (Optional) have the Thoughting ‘Talking is like…’ ready to project or handout.

Starting age: 9 years

Key concepts / vocabulary: knowledge, belief, reasons, miracles, magic, talk, communication, communicate

Subject links: RE, Science, Literacy, PSHE

Key controversies: Should we believe people’s accounts of miraculous events? Is talking a good thing?

Quote: ‘There are only three possibilities. Either your sister [Lucy] is telling lies, or she is mad, or she telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad… we must assume that she is telling the truth.’ – The Professor in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.’ – David Hume ‘Of Miracles’

Key facilitation tool: Quotes. Discuss. – In the extension activities section, this session suggests the use of a quote (from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) as a stimulus. Statements can be very effective catalysts to thought, sometimes more effective than a question, as they can provoke a visceral response. Compare these two ways of putting an issue to someone: a) ‘Are girls or boys better at writing?’ b) ‘Girls are better than boys at writing.’

Session Plan:

Do: read or tell the following story. It is only a little more than a synopsis, so feel free to embellish the story in your retelling, if you choose to tell it. (See Once Upon an If: ‘Sheherazad’s Handbook’ pp. 20-55.)

Say: A long time ago, somewhere in Africa, there was once an honest, sensible man, called Enitan. One day, while walking through the jungle by himself, he found a human skull lying on the ground. He wondered how the skull had come to be there so he said, out loud to the skull, ‘How did you get here?’ not expecting an answer.

         ‘Talking brought me here,’ said the skull. Amazed and terrified at what he had just witnessed, Enitan ran all the rest of the way home.

He went to see the village chief and told him about the talking skull he’d found in the jungle, thinking that this would make him famous in the village.

Start Question: Should the village chief believe Enitan?

Possible Further Questions (you do not need to go through all of these):

  • The man’s story is extraordinary, so should the chief believe him?
  • If the story is true, then should the chief believe him?
  • Should Enitan believe himself?
  • Is it a miracle?
  • What is a miracle?
  • Could there be any other explanations for the skull talking?
  • If someone tells you something unbelievable should you believe him or her?
  • If so, under what circumstances should you believe an unbelievable account?
  • Try using the Professor’s test from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with Enitan’s claim (see quote above). Is the Professor’s test a good way of testing people’s claims?

         The chief did not believe him. ‘But I DID see a talking skull! I did! I DID!’ Enitan protested.

         ‘Okay,’ said the chief, ‘I, and two of my guards, will go with you; if the skull speaks I will reward you with treasures and fame, but if it does not… then I shall reward you with death.’

The chief, his guards and Enitan returned to the place where he had found the skull. Enitan bent down and said to the skull, ‘How did you get here?’ The skull said… nothing.

         ‘HOW DID YOU GET HERE?’ said Enitan again, louder this time. Still the skull remained silent. The king turned to his guards and said, ‘This man has also wasted my time! Kill him!’ So they chopped off his head which fell to the ground next to the skull with a thud. The king and his guards returned to their village. Once they had departed, the skull opened it’s grinning mouth and said to Enitan’s head, ‘How did you get here?’ and Enitan’s head replied, ‘Talking brought me here.’

Comprehension Question: Why did Enitan’s head reply, ‘Talking brought me here,’?

Start Question: Is talking a good thing?

Possible Further Questions:

  • What is talking?
  • What does talking help us achieve?
  • What would we loose if we lost the ability to talk?
  • What would the world be like without talking?
  • When and how might talking be bad?

Say: No one noticed: not Enitan, the chief or his guards, but lying in or on the ground, littered all over the place, were many more human skulls!

Comprehension Question: Why are there lots of skulls?

Extension activities:

Task: Communicate something without talking

  • Have someone leave the room.
  • Identify an item in the room to another child.
  • Set the second child the task of communicating something – anything – about the item but without talking or using words in any way.

Questions:

  • Can they do it?
  • How easy is it?
  • What methods did they use?

‘Talking is like…’: a simile exercise

Do:

  • Go round the circle and say ‘Talking is like…’ to each child.
  • Give them 3 seconds to say a word without repeating another child’s suggestion (employing ‘the different answer rule’).
  • Gather the words on the board as you go around.
  • Once everyone has had a go, ask all the children to challenge the words: for example, ‘I don’t understand how talking can be like X…’
  • Ask the class, as a whole, to respond and attempt to explain why talking is like X.
  • Here is a Thoughting based on the exercise that could be used in a similar way: ask the children to challenge the words in the Thoughting and have the class respond in its defence. If the children struggle to grasp the simile/metaphor essence of the task you could read the Thoughting first, in order to give them a flavour of the task, and then run the activity, stipulating that they should not repeat anything from the poem.

Talking is like…

A tool,

An instrument,

A cloak,

A weapon,

A map,

A metal detector,

Medicine,

Poison.

A virus,

A wireless

Kind of

Connection.

A finger

That Points

To the farthest

Location.

With talk

I walk

But do not

Move.

With talk

My thought-

Hawk flies

To you.

Thoth and Thamus: for-and-against

In The Philosophy Shop (page 256) Claire Field retold an Egyptian myth told by Plato called ‘Thoth and Thamus’. In it, Thoth (the ancient Egyptian god of intelligence) is a god who invents new things and Thamus is a king who has to agree to Thoth’s new inventions before they will be given to the people. Thoth invents writing and the two argue about the merits and demerits of giving writing to the people. Claire has the class argue, with each other and on behalf of Thoth and Thamus, the ‘pros and cons’ of writing. When the myth is used in this way, its general application can easily be seen. A part from the ‘for-and-against’ dialogue opportunities Thoth and Thamus affords, it also has potential for the children’s written work. Have the children write their own dialogue with the two characters Thoth and Thamus arguing over the merits (Thoth) and demerits (Thamus) of X. ‘X’ could be ‘writing’ or ‘talking’, but it could also be ‘cars’, ‘plastic’, ‘green energy’, ‘democracy’ and so on. (See ‘The Cat That Barked’ in Once Upon an If, page 112, for more on dialogues and dialogue writing.)

Talk Ball

Play the BBC Radio 4 game Just a Minute! (Here called ‘Talk Ball’ because a minute is too long). This is when a player has to speak on a subject, while holding the talk-ball, for a set time period without hesitation, repetition or deviation. I begin with a 10 second time period, then, when someone succeeds, extend the time to 15 seconds, then 20 seconds etc. (See also Robert Fisher’s Games For Thinking.) The class choose up to eight topics, but which of the topics each speaker has to speak about, is chosen randomly.

Related Resources:

Ted Hughes’s poem The Thought Fox

The Philosophy Shop: The Txt Book, Thoth and Thamus in The Philosophy Shop and conduct the same discussion around talking instead of writing. Task Question: If you were Thamus would you allow Thoth to introduce talking to the people?

The If Odyssey: ‘Nobody’s Home (The Cyclops)’ especially the online supplement on the companion website ‘Through a Philosopher’s eye: Cyclops’. In some versions of the Greek myth of the Trojan war, the character of Palamedes meets an ironic, tragic end when, he – the so called inventor or writing – is undone by a written letter. In revenge for Palamedes’s uncovering of Odysseus’s attempt to escape being sent to Troy, Odysseus fakes a letter from Palamedes to Priam. Palamedes is stoned to death by Odysseus.

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From the Chalkface

by Steve Hoggins

I had a breakthrough with one of my pupils this week, all initiated by a great learning support mentor who has also helped with our Young Philosophers group (a termly meet up of children from across Lewisham who are good at philosophy, and who don’t normally get these opportunities. The aim of the group is to inspire children, raise attainment, and also for us to keep in contact with children who would benefit from extra support).

Our class had a new arrival last term, an extremely quiet pupil who wasn’t making friends and refused to speak in philosophy. The quiet pupil was assigned a learning mentor after the first few weeks and a couple of weeks after the learning mentor approached me to say that this pupil had been talking about philosophy in their one-to-one lessons.

At the learning mentor’s suggestion the pupil would come to the class a little earlier and we’d have a chat. It transpired that she had ideas but couldn’t get them out straight and was a little intimidated by the rest of the class. We made a deal that every Talk Time (moments in the session when the children talk with each other about the question under consideration) I would listen to her idea one-to-one, and then share it with the class. At first I would share it anonymously and later we agreed that I could say it was her idea.

This week the class were discussing friendship and some argued that, ‘you can be friends with something as long as you like it; you can be friends with a teddy bear’. My shy pupil told me in Talk Time, “That’s not right, I like food but I eat food and you don’t eat your friends”. So, per our agreement, I shared this with the class. There was some healthy disagreement but some had clearly just missed the point. All of a sudden, after one particular misapprehension of the shy pupil’s idea, that same shy pupil raised a hand and with a bit of a stumble clearly re-stated her argument, speaking in front of the class for the first time since joining – whoop!

I think there are 4 things of note here:

  • This quiet pupil was actually engaging in philosophy, despite not speaking.
  • The other people around the pupil can bring valuable insight.
  • The child was drawn out from a desire clarify her idea rather than being asked/persuaded (intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic)
  • Some days are just brilliant.

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