I have had the great pleasure of supporting a number of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) schools in their Philosophy for Children (P4C) journey. This has included working with SEND schools in Cumbria linking P4C to both the indoor and outdoor classroom (please take a peek at a linked resource), practical sessions with pupils and training for teachers. It was through P4C training that I made contact with Barbara Priestman Academy and the linked Ascent Trust, a secondary special needs academy in Sunderland for students with Autism/ complex needs and an Advanced Thinking School . I am so pleased therefore that Judith Stephenson, Lead Practitioner for Teaching and Learning at Barbara Priestman Academy, agreed to write this guest blog. Over to Judith...
Although I had been introduced to p4c earlier in my career, it was when I moved to my current school and we began looking at developing student metacognition and self-regulated learning that I began my p4c training. P4c has been a key approach in developing our students’ independent thinking skills.
As we are a school for students with Autism/complex needs mainly associated with language difficulties, I was really interested to see whether p4c could support students with their communication skills.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. Students with ASD are often not natural enquirers; they also have issues around rigidity of thought. Another challenge they often face is that they take things very literally and struggle to understand abstract concepts; they can also have difficulties seeing things from other people’s perspectives and can often appear to lack empathy.
Through p4c we have explored together the criteria of what makes a good thinker and a good enquirer and we are collectively responsible for ensuring that the guidelines we generated together are adhered to. This ownership has been key to students creating the ethos they have during enquiry sessions. It enables them to have frank, honest discussions where they have built trust between their peers and have created a space where they feel safe to share some often very personal experiences and this is what sets it apart from other general classroom discourse.
Presentational oracy skills are often taught in school but to us, it has been the more complex dialogic oracy skills; those skills we use when creating joint ideas, negotiating in groups, eliciting and attending to others’ points of view etc. which have had the most impact on our students. These are the skills which become unconscious, tacit and make us able to express the ideas we have, rather than focussing on how we express them; the skills which help us develop in confidence and become engaged with topics and issues in the world around us.
Language works to position people in relation to one another. The more we encourage children to talk and to see things from multiple perspectives, the more they begin to see and understand others’ viewpoints.
Now more than ever, children receive a bewildering range of conflicting messages about the choices they face and we need to help them meet these challenges by helping them develop moral and social values; enquiries around these issues helps build their capacity to become active and effective citizens and helps them to develop awareness of others and their sense of self.
One of the challenges that children face today, especially with the increase of technology, is how to make sense of the many messages they receive via home, school, peers, the media and what they themselves think of the many issues that concern them in their immediate community and the wider world.
Watching our students grow into articulate, resilient young men and women who are able to reflect on their learning and the impact being a member of our school community has had on them, never fails to make me proud. Seeing how they are able to recognise the journey they have been on and sharing their accomplishments with governors, parents and visitors, reinforces our belief that the use of p4c has been invaluable for our students and will enable them to use the transferrable skills they have developed in the next stage of their lives.
You can find out more about Barbara Priestman Academy and their work here
Follow them on twitter @ThinkingBPA
You can also join for a special twitter #ChatP4C focused on P4C and SEND Please scroll to the bottom of the web page