Extending Boundaries

Being half way through my journey seemed like a natural time to take stock and reflect on my research aims and objectives. During one of my many endless discussions with Ben, he asked me ‘How has the experience been for you so far? Have you started to cover most of the things you set out to?’ In short, I couldn’t answer this question as easily as I thought I would have been able to. The experience has far surpassed my initial expectations and the best I can do to describe it, is give you the analogy of setting out to find a lake and coming across a vast ocean! I took this opportunity to really think about getting the most out of my research project and utilising the unique P4T sessions to their full potential. Ben gave me free reign to lead a session and generate a supporting enquiry that will help me develop the project further. So it comes as no surprise that I wanted to share my vision of pushing the boundaries of P4C as a subject in isolation and embracing it as an approach to teaching. What I wanted to know from the teachers was, whether they were witnessing a natural crossover approach stemming from their P4C sessions and branching out into other areas of teaching and learning. The response revealed a strong sense of liberation felt by the teachers, propelled by the empowerment students had initially found in P4C sessions “Since doing P4C, I feel the pupils are different. They tell me that it affects their whole life: home, school and social contexts. It is validating for them to be able to talk about what they are interested in. They don’t have to be an A* student or expert to be heard”.  We spent a large proportion of time discussing the learning environment P4C creates and how this promotes and sustains a climate which is conducive to learning. The group inadvertently raised a completely valid point about the possibility of the approach only being appealing to certain types of teachers. This is something I have often wondered about myself. Do I enjoy this style of teaching because I am naturally inclined to philosophical thinking? Or is it something that can be ‘taught’ to others through the use of training days and seminars? We came to the conclusion that in actuality it was probably a combination of both, teachers find tools they are more and less confident with. Both Ben and I shared our experience of working with ‘good’ teachers whose practice was further enhanced by adopting the P4C approach to validate this assumption. As the enquiry progressed what became very apparent was that there was a perceived tension between the use of P4C and teaching syllabus content from the teachers perspective. I have to say, for me as an individual this has always been a ‘false’ tension because P4C sessions are often layered with factual and contextual information. If all we ever did was conduct philosophical enquiries in a P4C circle all day every day the students would become bored and the approach would lose some of its charm. As a teacher, I use my professional judgment to guide my decision to use this approach in a variety of different subjects: Science, Art, Design and Technology and the list goes on. I have personally never dissuaded my students from contributing ‘factual’ information to the discussion because this is often the component that helps the whole community gain a more informed comprehension to push deeper with the enquiry. Sharing this experience with other members of the community seemed to be very beneficial and a number of individuals mentioned how helpful it had been in making them realise that there isn’t a ‘one shoe fits all approach’ to P4C facilitation. Following my earlier blog post on assessment and P4C (A Personal Journey…) it was interesting to note that the group also bought up the issue that exists between P4C and assessment. This was certainly a shared tension amongst the group. There was a lot of talk about the lack of ‘hard’ data evident for P4C as opposed to other subject areas. However, having said this they were full of lots of different ways this could be measured in a more meaningful manner:P4C creates a better classroom atmosphere therefore you could refer to classroom behaviour and associated referral data to measure if the pupils are more engaged, correlation between P4C and other data and for this particular school, the attendance data. The general consensus amongst the group was that there had undoubtedly been an increased level of attendance particularly amid the most vulnerable pupils. They felt this could largely be attributed to the sense of school connectedness which has been born out of a whole school approach to P4C. As a P4C advocate, I was particularly pleased to hear this and it has given me further hope to have courage in my convictions. I left feeling even more determined that P4C as an approach to teaching should extend the role of a subject in isolation and extend the boundaries as a philosophy of education.

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