Tag Archives: philosophy for children

World Poetry Day 2016

UNESCO marks World Poetry Day every year on the 21st March.

In celebrating World Poetry Day UNESCO recognises the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

The Philosophy Foundation use poetry to explore philosophy, and philosophy to explore poetry.

Thoughtings“As the weeks have progressed I have noticed real improvements in regards to how the children respond to one another when they disagree and the quieter children are really beginning to ‘find their voices’. One particular child who finds writing a real struggle due to language barriers was so inspired following a poetry session that he sat and wrote a mainly phonetically correct poem of his own!”

Louise Toner, Year 2 Class Teacher, Crawford Primary School

 

The Philosophy ShopFor this World Poetry Day, download and use this free resource taken from one of our multi-award winning books The Philosophy Shop, to get your children writing some philosophical poetry of their own.

Philosophical Poetry

(This extract is taken from The Philosophy Shop © 2012 Peter Worley and Crown House Publishing)

And, from March 14th until April 30th take advantage of a special offer from Crown House Publishing to purchase any of our titles!

The Philosophy Foundation Series:

The Philosophy Shop: ideas, activities and questions to get people, young and old, thinking philosophically £25.00

Thoughtings: puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with £14.99

The Numberverse: how numbers are bursting out of everything and just want to have fun £14.99

Provocations: philosophy for secondary schools £14.99

Buy any two titles from the Series at a 25% discount

Buy the complete series at a 50% discount.

Start Date: 14th March 2016

Expiry date 30th April 2016.

To take advantage of this offer contact Crown House Publishing at learn@crownhouse.co.uk or telephone 01267 211 345

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy in Schools, Poetry

Write a #Shorting for National Poetry Day and Win Books

Win a copy of ’40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking’ or the award-winning ‘Thoughtings’.

‘This collection of poems is very, very irritating. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your bed. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your brain… getting toast crumbs out of your bed is fun. They jump up and down. Some of them refuse to be swept out. Some of them find new places to hide. Some invite you to nibble them. Getting toast crumbs out of your mind is just like that too.’

Michael Rosen, from his foreword to Thoughtings by Andrew Day and Peter Worley

For National Poetry Day 2015 Andrew and Peter would like to invite you, and your classes, to write a Shorting (a short Thoughting). Tweet your short ‘poem for thinking’ with the hashtag #Shorting and we’ll gather them together and post them all here after National Poetry Day.

This competition is open to adults and young people (under 18) . The teacher (or parent, or interested adult) prize will be a copy of Peter’s new book 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking and the under 18 prize, a copy of Thoughtings.

Need inspiration on poetry in the classroom? Download Thought Adventure Number 8, Is This a Poem? from 40 Lessons, on The Philosophy Foundation’s website.

What’s a Thoughting?

Thoughtings

Thoughtings: poems for thinking

In 2012 Andrew Day and Peter Worley wrote a book called Thoughtings: Puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with (Awarded Teach Primary Magazine’s ‘Best Teaching Book’ 2014) to use in classrooms to stimulate philosophy sessions. Michael Rosen, who wrote the foreword (or forward!) for Thoughtings recommends it in his book for parents Good Ideas (2014). The title for Thoughtings was coined by a 6-year-old who was asked to say what thinking is without saying the word ‘think’ or ‘thinking’ in his answer; he said, ‘It’s when you’re thoughting’. There are free downloadable Thoughtings for you to use National Poetry Day on our website.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking, Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum

What’s a Shorting?

In Peter Worley’s new book 40 lesson to get children thinking (out in October 2015) he has a chapter called ‘Is This A Poem?’ to help classes think through what poems are (and what they’re not). In the chapter he introduces the idea of a ‘Shorting’, a Thoughting for the Twitter generation: a ‘poem for thinking’ in 130 characters or less (to make space for the hashtag)! Here are some Shortings by Andrew and Peter:

Nospacetothinkmakesnosense. Space to think makes sense. B ut notw hen thes p ace s a r ei nthew ron gp lac e s.

I’ve got 140 characters I can play. Which one shall I be today? Let’s see what other people do and what they make me say.

Deciding is taking a scalpel and making a clean incision, cutting away the alternatives every time you make a decision.

Over to you! 

Write your shorting, post on twitter with the #shorting, or if you’re not on twitter send it to us via email info@philosophy-foundation.org

Thoughtings (plus more free poetry resources) on our site.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking will be available in October, available for pre-order now.

For more on our work on philosophy in schools and with children visit our website www.philosophy-foundation.org

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Philosophy in Schools, Poetry

Tales from the Nursery

By Steve Hoggins

steve listeningI have been doing philosophy with nursery children for the last couple of years (having previously worked as a nursery teacher) and I have noticed some differences between doing philosophy with them and doing philosophy with older children, which I’d like to share.

Get their attention

The first significant difference is that nursery children aren’t regimented into a formal lesson structure. Their activities are child-centred and free flow. As an approach to education there is much to admire here but for our slot of 15 minutes we don’t have the luxury of waiting for opportunities to do philosophy. However, nursery children rarely sit down with the express purpose of following your lesson plan. To overcome this problem I have had to try and make ‘following my plan’ the most interesting thing for them to do. Partly this is achieved through your selection of resources, choice of games etc. but I think one key element is having an infectious enthusiasm yourself. Try stepping into nursery with a pillowcase thrown over your shoulder, a cardboard crown on your head and proclaim “Quick! The story of the Unhappy prince is about to begin!”.

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. During the beginning, middle and end of the lesson and in the most immediate way, that is to say make them interact with you, their story-teller, narrator, problem-setter or puppeteer. Then you have them and the ground is fertile for you to plant the philosophical problem. However, engagement doesn’t always come easy.

I was being observed when, mid-way through telling a story, one child suddenly pipes up with,

“I want to go upstairs”

“Sure you can go, upstairs”, I reply.

“I want to go upstairs as well” chimes in another.

“Ok”

“Me too!” I let this child leave too.

“Can I go?” Says another as she is halfway out the door.

“Upstairs!” Choruses the rest of the group, rising. Cue a mass exodus. I lose the entire group to the mysterious delights of ‘upstairs’; I look across the empty room to the person observing me.

“This doesn’t always happen…”

Set out the basics

The engagement needed was there, but it wasn’t enough. I also needed to set out some routines and start developing some habits. These are things that our older students are already aware of, we just have to asked them to do it in the right way. Nursery needs to be introduced to these ways of working as a group. First was the concept of ‘sitting down’. As adults we view sitting down as a position that one adopts, usually for some length of time, when one is at rest. Children seem to view sitting down as a split-second transition between standing up and rolling all around the floor, limbs flailing towards the ribs of nearby teachers. Success in this area is never really complete until children are about 23 years old, I feel, but you can make progress. To get them sat in the right place I have tried a three stage strategy:

Games1. A catching game in which the prize for catching the ball is to sit in the special circle! (that I have taped out on the floor prior to the session).

2. Many children will know the ‘Make a Circle’ song, which is set to the tune of Frere Jacques; also a good way of getting them in place.

3. Then, I play the passing game in which they have to call the name of another child and roll the ball to them. The idea behind this is that they develop the habit of talking to each other (not just me), taking turns and joining in. Try this out and if it doesn’t work try it again.

Running games with young children can take a lot of problem solving to get just right.

I’m running the pass-the-ball game with some success. Most of the children have had a turn, many of them said someone else’s name and passed that person the ball. At least two of them have said someone’s name but then threw the ball directly up, dislodging several ceiling tiles in the process. Currently one child is gripping the Elmer ball and incoherently mumbling their own monologue with occasional audible exclamations of ‘elephant!’. I gently lean forward with the glittery butterfly puppet, and as she reaches for it, I whip the ball away with my spare hand so the rest of us can continue the game.

Get to the philosophy

Once I have their attention and covered the basics I have between 1 and 13 precious minutes of philosophy potential. Most weeks I hit around the 7 mark. My success indicators for philosophy are different for younger children and by themselves may not, rightly be called philosophy. However, I consider them to be part of doing philosophy, a significant part too. More so than ‘being awake’ is part of doing philosophy but obviously less than ‘expressing valid arguments in syllogistic form’ is.

One of the greatest struggles is finding the point at which the children find a concept controversial. Friendship, for example is normally a term we reserve for describing human relationships, perhaps stretching to pets before it gets debatable whether Fido can be a friend. Children, I discovered, had few difficulties with considering animals as friends.

Fido & RobotCan Jack and Fido be friends?

“Yes!” several children shout, some hands go up.

“Why?” I ask one child.

“Cause Fido is happy to see Jack”

I ask others in the group. There are no contrary views but I had anticipated this.

“OK, can jack be a friend with a robot?” I whip out a robot picture and pass it to Lyra.

She puts it next to the picture of Jack and proclaims them friends.

We still haven’t got an opposing viewpoint.

“Who thinks Jack and the robot are NOT friends?”

Silence. I begin to improvise.

“Can Jack and this pen be friends?”

“Yes!”

I really didn’t think they would say that,

“Can you show me?”

Mason picks up the pen and the picture of Jack. He then puts on a crude puppet show in which Jack and pen meet, say hello and are best friends thereafter.

“Can Jack and this piece of paper be friends?”

“No!”

“So why can’t they be friends, Casey?”

“Because paper can’t talk”

Finally…

Finally I was getting to the bite point, the point at which children think of it as a friend and not a friend, the point at which it is controversial. They may not go further to give conditions of friendship (like ‘talking’) as Casey did in my cherry-picked example, but doing philosophy is substantially helped when the children see that there is a problem.

Once a problem has been spotted children tend towards the dramatic response rather than the reasoned response. Unless the dialogue is managed the to and fro of child pantomime will quickly ensue:

FAC: Mason says that they are friends

CASEY: Not they isn’t!

MASON: Yes they is!”

CASEY: No!”

MASON: Yess!

CASEY: Nooooo…No!”

To begin the reasoning I look to put the grammar and language in. This is done elegantly and simply through the use of ‘why?’ as a follow-up question and ‘because…” as a prompt. Admittedly you don’t always get supporting reasons from 4-year-olds, but you will get the language and grammar of reason-giving embedded as a habit. Sometimes I’m tempted to rename my nursery sessions Becausing classes for this reason.

It’s not your session

Honestly, even when you think they have followed your plan perfectly, it is only because your plan happens to be what they want to talk about. There will be more days where they go off at a tangent you couldn’t prepare for.

Saddest KingToday’s story is about this land where the king has made it law that everyone must be happy. The key characters are the king who thinks it’s better to be happy and this boy who wants to be sad. And a dog. These opposing characters will help set up opposing views, enabling the children to see the controversy (adapted from The Saddest King by Christoper Wormell).

“So, the King told the boy that it was better to be happy all the time. Is it better to be happy all the time?”

“Look, the dog is funny!”

“Thank you, Sara. Is it better to be happy?”

“Look! It’s smiling…”

“Happy, sad or something else, Sara, what’s better?”

“…And its tail is wagging” I sigh heavily “So is the dog happy?”

If your question isn’t the one the children are interested in there is little point in pushing it. Sometimes they’ll answer your question if you repeat it but at other times you have to improvise a new question using the content they are interested in. On this occasion my session deviated from the ethics of when one should be happy and moved toward the metaphysical concerns of what happiness is. So I guess the session is still yours in that you are going to still aim for controversy, differing viewpoints and some level of reasoning. However, you can only suggest content to your class to see if they want to run with it and if they don’t you have to see if you can run with theirs.

Recap

Four things to try in your next nursery class are:

Bin it

Be ready to bin it!

1. Engage them, make learning interactive at every possible moment.

2. Create the conditions for philosophy to take place; this takes longer to do with younger children.

3. Get to the philosophy, if you hear the word ‘because’ then that’s a start.

4. Keep your lesson plan near the bin at all times. Follow them.

7 Comments

Filed under Education, Philosophy in Schools

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Education, Peter Worley, Philosophy in Schools

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Maths, Philosophy in Schools

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Blogger

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Philosophy in Schools