Speaking and listening alone with others.
The aim of this first of a series of short pedagogical papers is to explain and briefly explore some aspects of the relation between philosophy for children and educational development. The observations are based on classroom experience with the Blooming Minds project.
The Blooming Minds approach to learning privileges social and embodied cognition, as well as standard intellectual academic dimensions of development; believing that the best pedagogical methods are holistic ones that engage with the whole child.
A basic requirement for academic and social learning, and a prerequisite for developing critical thinking skills is developing the ability to engage in effective speaking and listening. Philosophy classes are an excellent training ground for developing these skills, which they do within the context of quiet solitary thinking, collective inquiry, and group discussion and debate.
There are a number of specific ways in which speaking and listening are integrated into philosophical practice in the classroom:
• Discursive learning and metacognition. Increasing children’s awareness and understanding of how language is used by engaging in discursive inquiry and debate, and becoming aware of the mechanisms that make these effective and enjoyable practices.
• Argumentation and open-mindedness. Helping children to recognise and value the opinions of others by engaging them in exercises to support and challenge different positions held within the peer group, and to accept disagreement and non-consensus as part of the process of intellectual discovery.
• Reflexivity, evaluation and flexibility. Encouraging children to both justify and question opinions and beliefs, but also to evaluate their own position and have the confidence to be able to change their minds when presented with evidence or reasoning that outweighs their original position.
These practices, which take time to mature, are dependent for their growth on the creation within the classroom of a suitable environment.
• Individual and group learning. Individual development and progression takes place within the context of a growing community of inquiry in the classroom. An environment that is at the same time both rigorous in its critical requirements and supportive of individual points of view, enables children to develop their ability to think for themselves by way of thinking and talking with others. Each child works on their own with others, gaining the benefits of both autonomous reasoning and participatory democracy.
The skill of the teacher is in founding and nurturing this environment. A community of inquiry will only flourish where children are interested in and enthusiastic about participating in open-ended inquiry. Whilst children have naturally inquiring minds, they require some basic structure and guidance to become strong independent and collaborative thinkers and speakers.
Practices of forcing intellectual growth on the model of the greenhouse (or hothouse) is at least as damaging to the growing mind as the mollycoddling approach that fails to nourish growth by providing it with difficulties and challenges to be overcome.
The demands of thinking and speaking together within a peer group, guided by a facilitator, provides an ideal medium for growth. Working within a community of inquiry enables children to critically and constructively explore their own ideas and those of their peer group without fear of external judgement or rebuke. By electing to participate collectively in a joint venture, with no prescribed goal (other than inquiry itself) and no measures of competence, success or failure, children are able to find their own voice within a diverse group. Motivated by nothing other than the sheer joy of difficult thinking, inquiry and collaborative debate, and benefitting from the intellectual journey of the group, individual children are able to develop at the speed that is best suited to their stage of intellectual, discursive, psychological and emotional development.
Kath Jones for Blooming Minds