Exploring digital literacy concepts through Philosophy for Children

Helen Caldwell

Helen Caldwell

Emma Goto explores how the Philosophy for Children (P4C) pedagogical approach could be used in digital literacy and e-safety lessons.

Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a thinking skills programme that was originally developed by Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp in the USA in the 1970s. It is now practised in countries all around the world. It was established in the United Kingdom in the 1990s, by a group of educators that set up SAPERE, the charity for P4C in the United Kingdom. Originally, P4C sessions were based around texts that Lipman had written. However, Gareth Matthews explored the development of philosophical dialogue through children’s picture books. The use of picture books and other media as a stimulus for philosophical dialogue, is commonplace in the practice of P4C in the United Kingdom. This approach has been widely researched by academics and practitioners such as Joanna Haynes and Karen Murris. Philosophy for Children aims to develop caring, collaborative, creative and critical thinking. During P4C enquiries children are encouraged to engage with the big ideas of life. This is a democratic pedagogical approach that involves children engaging in dialogue together within a community of enquiry. The approach is democratic because the questions are developed and chosen by the children from a stimulus provided by the teacher. The teacher selects the stimulus carefully to ensure it links closely to the concepts that they want children to consider. During P4C enquiries, the teacher works as a facilitator to help guide the children to question, reason, consider and discuss concepts. This is not academic philosophy. The children are not learning about great philosophers of the past. Instead, they are engaged in philosophical dialogue. This is about children doing philosophy. Philosophy for Children can be practised with children from as young as three or four years old and can be used right into adulthood.

How is a P4C enquiry structured?
During a P4C enquiry, the class sit in a circle. The session will start with a warm up. This can be an activity to get children thinking and working together. This could involve a game to mix the children up, to get them listening or to encourage them to make choices and give reasons. The teacher then shares a stimulus. The purpose of this stimulus is to get children thinking and wondering about the related concepts. Children are encouraged to reflect upon the stimulus and share any questions arising for them. The children then work in small groups to develop questions to put forward for consideration by the wider group. These questions are aired with the whole classroom community, and one is selected democratically through some form of vote. Once a question has been selected, the children will engage in dialogue. This is more than a conversation. Dialogue builds, it develops and moves thinking forward. Children will be given opportunities to share ideas with a partner before bringing back ideas to the whole group. Everyone is engaged and thinking throughout. Children are encouraged 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 to be encouraged, prioritising reasonable thinking and the expectation that they should change their opinions when presented with more justifiable views. As time draws to a close, children are given a chance to 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 next time they enquire together.

How could we use this in digital literacy?
This approach is a great way to deepen and strengthen children’s understanding related to key concepts within the curriculum. Curriculum in most subjects is based around big ideas or concepts. Digital literacy is no different in this regard. Within the study of e-safety, we will 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. Philosophical questions are developed about these concepts by the children. Questions are philosophical when they make us wonder, when there are different viewpoints, when they cannot simply be answered by asking an expert. 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 that you want? What is the difference between secrecy and privacy? The philosophical questions related to this subject are endless. 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 different people’s views.

What kinds of stimulus might we use?
There is an ever-increasing number of picture books related to e-safety and these are a great place to start. For example, the text Chicken Clicking, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, tells an engaging story about a chick that makes some questionable decisions when entering the 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 also can be a great stimulus. The Jigsaw Video from the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) is a great way to get older children thinking about concepts such as security and online identities – (https://www.teachertube.com/videos/jigsaw-8-10s-147297). Images and artefacts can also be used. 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.

Where to find out more
The Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) is the United Kingdom’s charity for philosophy for children. You can find resources and information on their website – www.sapere.org.uk.
SAPERE run 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 that will give you everything you need to get started.

To find out more about e-safety concepts and progression, you could explore resources from Project Evolve – https://projectevolve.co.uk/ or Education for a Connected World – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-for-a-connected-world

This article is adapted from an original article written by Emma Goto for Hello World Magazine. The details of the original article are below.
Goto, E. (2022) Digital Literacy and Philosophy for Children. Hello World, 19, 64-65. Available at: http://helloworld.raspberrypi.org/issues/19/pdf [Accessed 27 June 2022].

Emma Goto is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Winchester. Her current research interest is in the area of computational thinking.