(from the ideas of Robert Fisher)
A community of enquiry can be described as a thinking circle. The seating of participants in a circle, or its near equivalent such as a horse-shoe, allows for equality of position with maximum vision within the group.
The ideal arrangement is to sit in a circle, either on chairs or on the floor. Many teachers find that creating a physical setting that approximates to a ‘thinking circle’ helps to model and create a sense of com¬munity that encourages participation. It is most important that every member of the class has the opportunity to enter into the discussion.
Teachers use a variety of strategies to help create a special setting and ambience for discussion time. Some put a sign outside the door, such as: “Do not disturb - Philosophy in progress”, or find a special place in the school for uninterrupted discussion.
A stimulus is the starting point for enquiry. It is something to stimulate the creative, critical or imaginative response in the pupils. It will engage attention and stimulate enquiry.
There are many different kinds of stimulus. It could be a story or episode from a philosophical novel. The community might be asked to share the reading. Other forms of stimulus could include the presentation of one key question, a poem, observation of an artefact, a picture, listening to music, viewing a video or a shared experience (visit).
The stimulus could relate to any area of the curriculum, but should be interesting enough to arouse curiosity and invite reflection and discussion.
After the initial stimulus, thinking time should be allowed so that sufficient time is given for sustained attention and reflection. At this point pupils should be encouraged to ask themselves questions and to think about what was interesting, strange or puzzling.
Distinctive to the thinking circle is the experience of having time to think, reflect and question. Thinking time should follow the experience of the stimulus to allow children to reflect on what is interesting, puzzling or problematic about what was presented.
During this time, the children think of a comment or question to share with the group. They do this in pairs. The children are setting the agenda for discussion. It is they who are interrogating the stimulus and their own thinking. Give the children some paper if necessary to write down the questions. Younger children may have difficulty in coming up with a question which will produce useful discussion. We are after “philosophical” questions – they often begin with “how”, “why”, “what”.
The questions are then shared with the class and listed on the board for all to see. It is customary for the child’s name to be written alongside their question, both to identify the questioner and to provide public recognition of the contribution a child has made to the enquiry.
The method for choosing a question to discuss should be reasonable, democratic and agreeable to the majority of participants.
Methods could include: lottery, list order, voting with first past the post, second round system. It is recommended that children are given experience of different methods.
The facilitator’s task is to encourage the expression of as many different ideas and opinions as possible in the group.
The function of the facilitator involves pushing for depth, not to be content with the mere articulation of ideas but to ask continually “Why…what do you mean by” or by providing a challenging counter-argument.
The approach is that of a systematic, serious and sustained enquiry.
One session needs to be spent thinking about what rules would be useful for the discussions. A pair-share approach means children first think individually, then in pairs and then report to the whole class. The process moves from inner talk to oral expression to written form. Other small groups can be used.
Rules for discussion should be posted up for all to see as an aide memoire, e.g. Take everyone’s views into consideration; always listen carefully; be sensible; be polite, disagree respectfully, etc.
Both the facilitator and the children need to demonstrate the skills of listening and responding. When we are listened to, we feel that who we are and the value of what we have to say, are affirmed.
Responsive listening is giving undivided and thoughtful attention in a way that communicates genuine acceptance and empathy:
The following elements of mediation can be provided by the teacher:
The aim is to enable group members to experience the many¬ sides of concepts and to achieve a better understanding of the topic under discussion through shared enquiry.
Shared enquiry is achieved by:
Although the enquiry does not end with the discussion but is part of a continuing process of questioning and reflection, there needs to be a closure.
The closure can be achieved by:
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