During a P4C enquiry, the class sit in a circle. After a short warm-up to get children thinking and working together, the teacher shares a stimulus, such as an image, video, or picture book. The teacher encourages the children to reflect upon the stimulus, think about the related concepts, and share any questions they have. The children then work in small groups to develop questions to put forward for consideration by the wider group, and one question is then selected democratically through some form of vote. Once the class has chosen a question, the children engage in a dialogue about it.
Dialogue is more than a conversation. Dialogue builds ideas and moves thinking forward, and everyone is engaged and thinking throughout. During this dialogue, children share ideas with a partner before bringing them back to the whole group. The teacher encourages children to give reasons, share real-life examples, question assumptions, and spot connections. They build upon the ideas of others in the group, suggesting alternatives and different interpretations. Respectful disagreement is encouraged, prioritising rational thinking and the expectation that the children should change their opinions when presented with more justifiable views. As the time draws to a close, the children can share their last thoughts before reflecting on and evaluating the enquiry. Through these reflections, the community can identify what they did well, how their thinking progressed, and what they might need to consider the next time they enquire together.
Digital literacy applications
This approach is a powerful way of developing children’s understanding of the big ideas in a subject such as digital literacy. Within the study of e-safety, for example, we explore a wide range of philosophical concepts such as privacy, security, safety, censorship, ownership, belonging, kindness, bullying, friendship, truth, honesty, trust, freedom, protection, consent, deception, and control.
After introducing an appropriate stimulus, the teacher can facilitate as learners develop philosophical questions about these concepts. Questions are philosophical when they make us wonder, when there are different viewpoints, and when they cannot be answered by asking an expert. For example, should you always tell the truth? How do we know who we can trust? Which is more important, freedom or safety? Should you be free to say anything you want? What is the difference between secrecy and privacy? By engaging in dialogue with peers, children can expand their understanding of these concepts. They can look at them in real depth, from different perspectives, and start to understand other people’s views.
Digital literacy stimuli
There is an ever-increasing number of picture books related to e-safety, and these are a great place to start. For example, Chicken Clicking tells an engaging story about a chick that makes some questionable decisions when entering a farmer’s house, using his computer to make online purchases and agreeing to meet up with a new online friend in the real world. This cautionary tale draws clear links to the concepts of risk, trust, and honesty.
Videos can also be a great stimulus. The video at helloworld.cc/safetyvid from the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is a great way to get older children thinking about concepts such as security and online identities. You can also use images and artefacts. The Banksy image Modern Prison could encourage questions around freedom, healthy limits, and control. With a group of children used to thinking and questioning together in this way, something as simple as a key could be enough to stimulate a question about privacy.
In summary, you can use this pedagogical approach in computing lessons, particularly in sessions linked to e-safety and digital literacy, to help to develop children’s understanding of key concepts. This approach will encourage them to think critically and explore issues from multiple perspectives.
Find out more
The Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) is the UK’s national charity for Philosophy for Children. You can find resources and information at sapere.org.uk.
SAPERE runs a range of courses for teachers. If you are interested in implementing P4C in your own classroom, you should consider taking SAPERE’s Level 1 course, which will give you everything you need to get started (helloworld.cc/p4clevel1).