Research shows how teaching critical thinking improves reasoning skills and performance in one Singapore primary school.
The Philosophy for Children (P4C) Programme was developed in the late-1960s by Matthew Lipman, a philosophy professor from Montclair State College in New Jersey. Suitable for students from kindergarten to secondary school, it aims to build on the students’ own wonder and curiosity and provide logical training through skilful questioning.
According to Philip Cam (2006), P4C aims to develop philosophical understanding and social and intellectual dispositions that will aid students to become active participants in society.
The guiding tool of P4C is the Community of Inquiry. Participating in a Community of Inquiry engages children in developing important cognitive abilities such as creating hypotheses, clarifying their terms, asking for and giving good reasons, offering examples and counter examples, questioning each others’ assumptions, drawing inferences, and following where the inquiry leads to (Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children [IAPC], 2003).
Community of Inquiry is also a social enterprise which requires the children to share their own views and opinions, listen to others, challenge and build on others’ ideas, look for fallacious reasoning and reconstruct their own ideas (IAPC, 2003).
P4C in Singapore
In 2005, researchers from the Centre for Research on Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP) carried out a P4C research study in an East Zone primary school. The objectives of the study were:
- to equip the project teachers with thinking, reasoning and questioning skills;
- to train the project pupils in reasoning and analytical skills; and
- to ascertain the transfer of thinking skills to English, Mathematics and Science.
The study was carried out in two Primary 3 classes, with the intervention spanning over 2 years. Pupils participated in the study from Primary 3 through Primary 4. The school was asked to arrange for the same teachers to take the classes through the two years. These teachers also took lessons on thinking skills through workshops conducted by the research team and a 14-week online course on P4C organised by the Ministry of Education in Queensland, Australia. Two other classes were selected as control classes.
Throughout this training period, the research team had regular meetings and discussions with the two project teachers.
P4C lessons were carried out once a week over a double period. Since the class size was quite large, pupils were grouped into groups of four. Convenient grouping was necessary as P4C lessons often took place in the classroom.
Before each lesson, pupils were reminded of the ground rules of participation:
- One voice
- No right or wrong answer
- Each answer must be justified with a good reason
- Share ideas
- Build on others’ ideas
The P4C lessons usually began with the teacher reading a story followed by the pupils raising questions. Beside books, discussions also revolved around pictures or objects. Researchers used Cam’s Thinking Books because it had shorter stories and drew from different cultures. In Primary 4, Asian stories published by AsiaPac were also included in the P4C lessons to provide a stronger Asian flavour.
The research team used video tapes and classroom observations to monitor the qualitative changes in pupils’ and teachers’ behaviours. Cognitive coaching was carried out with the teachers after each classroom observation to reinforce good practices and correct inappropriate handling of questions from the pupils.
Two questionnaires on the pupils’ perceptions of P4C were administered at the end of the school year. This was to monitor the impact and transfer effects of P4C lessons on their thinking skills and their achievement in English, Mathematics and Science.
Researchers also collected and analysed the pupils’ mid-year and final year examination scores in English, Mathematics and Science. Examination questionnaires were requested from the schools.
The pupils’ parents were then surveyed regarding the frequency and nature of their interaction their children.
To assess the pupils’ reasoning skills, researchers used the New Jersey Test of Reasoning Skills (NJTR) developed by Shipman in 1985. The test is made up of 50 multiple choice items assessing transitivity, deductive inferences and contradictions. It was administered before the project began in Primary 3 and when it ended in Primary 4.
Researchers also used a second standardised test called the Group Test of General Reasoning Skills AH2/AH3 (2nd Edition) by Heim, Watts and Simmons (1978). This test included 2 parallel tests (AH2 and AH3) with 3 components: verbal, numeral and perceptual. Each component has 40 multiple choice items. AH2 was used for the pre-test and AH3 for the post-test.
A set of 12 metacognitive tasks in Mathematics, Science and Social Studies developed by Chang et al. were also used to assess metacognitive skills in the pre- and post-test in order to assess the transfer effects on pupils’ achievement in the curricular subjects.
Project pupils were also asked to solve four dilemma cases over the duration of the project to assess the quality of their reasoning skills.
Results of the NJTR Skills test and the General Group Test of Reasoning were encouraging as the gains in reasoning skills by the project classes were statistically significant. Results from the control classes showed that improvements in reasoning skills were non-significant.
Pupils reported that the P4C lessons had helped them in their Mathematics, English and Science lessons. Although there were improvements in examination scores, these were not statistically significant
When it came to answering the dilemma cases, the pupils responded in a way which was more detailed and mature compared to the response of pupils from the control classes.
For the first time, five Primary 3 pupils (all from the project classes) were selected for the gifted programme.
A project teacher observed that his pupils were more mature in their choice of play and use of time.
Other teachers who taught the project pupils “complained” that the class asked too many questions.
In an interview for MOE’s Contact magazine, one pupil’s parent stated that his child has learned to think more deeply when dealing with his daily problems and has become more mature in his behaviour.
Parents of pupils involved in the project have requested that P4C be extended to include Primary 5 and 6, while parents of pupils who were not involved in the P4C project have requested that their children have P4C lessons as well.
School-based Learning Circle
This project has been extended for another 6 months in order to assist the school in establishing a P4C Learning Circle. Here, teachers interested in P4C are given seminars by the research team and the project teacher. P4C lessons will be introduced to all Primary 3 classes in the school in 2007.
> Click here to learn more about this project.
About the authors
The authors are staff at the National Institute of Education, Singapore. Agnes Chang Shook Cheong is from the Psychological Studies Academic Group. Lee Ngan Hoe and Jo Ann Shekare from the Mathematics and Mathematics Education and English Language and Literature Academic Groups respectively. Seet Jun Feng was a Research Assistant with the Centre for Research on Pedagogy and Practice.
Cam, P. (2006). Philosophy and the school curriculum. In Philosophy in schools: Developing a community of inquiry. Singapore: Singapore Teachers’ Union.
Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children. (2003). What is Philosophy for Children? Retrieved July 1, 2007, from http://cehs.montclair.edu/academic/iapc/whatis.shtml