by Amanda Hubball, Alfreton Nursery School
Prior to introducing P4C into our school curriculum, our approach to learning had always been based around the belief that children should not have external limitations imposed on their experiences and that every individual should be immersed in high aspirations and an intrinsic belief in the value of their own interests and passions. It was my hope, therefore, that P4C practice could be an extension to our current practice.
I realised quickly that many of the ‘choosing’ activities that I had been doing for years, e.g., ‘what would you rather be, an octopus or a spider?’ and dilemmas such as ‘how easy would it be to be friends with a toothbrush?’ were linked very much to the P4C practice. However, the structure and tools that P4C use to allow enquiries to develop were new to me.
My first exploration of the application of these approaches proved to have a hugely positive impact on the children’s thinking questioning and understanding. Rather than the ten stage enquiry model, I decided that for my EYFS children a slightly different process would be more beneficial and the duration of the session needed amending. For my group of children I decided to run a daily twenty minute session.
Day one involved telling the children a little about the aims of the week and introducing them to some of the P4C language. After this brief introduction the children were shown a 3 minute film stimulus – linked to the solar system. Once this was finished they were asked to stay quiet and think about something they would like to know, in relation to what they had just seen. I left them for about 30 seconds – an eternity for a 3 year old! I then put the question quadrant on the floor along with slips of question paper. I introduced the children to the concept of different types of questions.
If children could ‘think a question’ to share they blew their question into their hand, and were asked to ‘throw the question’ to me. If I caught this invisible question they could tell me what it said as I scribed it onto the question paper. We collected all of the questions and I read each of them to the group. There was a tendency at times for the children to state a fact or an opinion rather than to ask a question. When this occurred we talked about how we could turn that statement into a question that could help others to think for themselves. With a brief recap this saw the first part of our enquiry come to a close.
The following day, children returned to the same space and were met by Queenie Question – a puppet that helps children to ask questions. The stimulus was played again to the group. The question quadrant was already on the floor and the questions were scattered around it. Queenie passed her bag of question crystals around the group as they were going to need extra magical help today to think carefully about their questions! We reread the questions to remind ourselves of our thoughts from the previous day and then the questions were turned face down. Queenie Question chose two children to randomly select one question each from the many papers and the other questions were discarded. I carefully read out each of the two questions to the group. The children then physically voted for the question of their choice by moving to one of two corners in the room. Once the question had been selected the children returned to the quadrant. Whilst holding tightly to their question crystals, the children talked as a group about whether the question could be answered by watching the stimulus again. On this occasion the answer was no. We looked at the other options and decided that maybe an expert could help us. Queenie stuck our question onto the quadrant in the right space and that concluded the session.
The third session had the stimulus as the introduction, the quadrant and question in the middle of the floor and Queenie with her question crystals. Additionally there was a fancy dress headband present for me to wear. The headband helped me to take on the role of a ‘lazy leopard’. I explained that during the session I would wear the leopard ears to visually alert the children to the fact that my role was to listen and not to offer answers to their questions. They were in control of the session, not me and now they needed to ‘grow the question’ as everyone collaborated to help each other think. After a tentative few minutes, the children settled into this idea and I offered minimal input, occasionally asking a ‘why’ question to stimulate further discussion. At the end of this session the children had explored the question in many different ways and offered many different opinions. As it was an ‘ask an expert’ question, I provided the children with the answer to the question before they left the group.
On session four, the children physically explored the question/concept through movement, music, drama and ICT. They made shapes with their bodies, sang related songs and role played. They also explored the solar system using augmented reality.
On the fifth and final session, the children reviewed the week, recalling the enquiry process and using the language of P4C to evaluate what they had learned. I felt personally that the week had been a huge success. The children had proved that they were extremely capable of ‘thinking big’ and asking many different types of questions. They had enjoyed sorting the questions and learning about how different types of questions provide different opportunities for learning. The question quadrant will be used incidentally throughout all sessions (not just P4C) as the children are already beginning to ask ‘what sort of question is it?’
The impact of this level of understanding is going to spread across the curriculum as children are now beginning to analyse their own thinking processes. The visual support that the quadrant offers, helps children to isolate, compare and select the best way to explore their experiences – placing them in the lead role of their own learning production.