10 SES 16 D, Early Childhood Teacher Education
This study investigated implementation of the programme Philosophy for Children (P4C) and its efficiency in supporting the development of pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills. In the present study especially children’s language and thinking skills were supported with quality questioning (Walsh & Sattes, 2011) and with Socratic questioning technique (Brüning, 2001; Pagliaro, 2011) during philosophical group discussions according to the P4C, in order to facilitate their acquisition of better verbal reasoning skills.
The aim of this study was to investigate 5- to 6-year-old Estonian pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills by their responses to questions asked by an adult moderator, during philosophical group discussions based on P4C. The aim was achieved by answering to two research questions:
- Are pre-schoolers from intervention group who participated in philosophical group discussions able to provide significantly more verbal reasons if they are asked to reason their opinion than pre-schoolers in the control group?
- Are pre-schoolers from intervention group who participated in philosophical group discussions significantly more talkative if they are asked to reason their opinion than pre-schoolers in the control group?
According to the results of previous studies, it could be supposed that people who have higher verbal reasoning skills are better at acquiring new information, but also understanding literal texts or verbal contexts, communicating with peers, teamwork, and solving problems etc., because verbal reasoning is positively related to reading comprehension (Ribeiro, et al., 2016; Tighe & Schatschneider, 2014), vocabulary, non-verbal reasoning (Ribeiro et al., 2016; Tighe & Schatschneider, 2014), fluency and listening comprehension (Tighe & Schatschneider, 2014), language skills and emotional understanding (de Stasio, Fiorilli, & Chiacchio, 2014; Tighe & Schatschneider, 2014), mathematical thinking (Vukovic & Lesaux, 2013), and verbal description and explanation (Tolmie et al., 2016). It is known that pre-schooler’s different types of reasoning skills support their later development, learning, and academic success; pre-schoolers reasoning skills are also associated with literacy, behaviour, and mathematical ability (Whittaker, 2014).
Previous studies have shown that teaching methods influence the development of children’s verbal reasoning (Gillies & Haynes, 2011); and structured group discussions using a specific questioning technique enabled interaction between adult and peer could be good places to promote children’s verbal reasoning skills as co-operative approach (Aubrey et al., 2012; Boyd, 2015; Daniel et al., 2012; Gillies & Haynes, 2011; Jacoby & Lesaux, 2014; Lipman, 1973, 2003; Pontecorvo & Arcidiacono, 2010; Sperber & Mercier, 2010). However, as there are no scientifically examined methods to systematically develop pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills, it is essential to research evidence-based methods to support the development of pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills.
The development of verbal reasoning skills is related to speech and language skills (Lipman, 2003; Ribeiro et al., 2016; de Stasio et al., 2014). Therefore, it is most efficient to support children’s cognitive development simultaneously with the development of language skills as suggested by Vygotsky (1934/2014). One method to develop verbal reasoning is philosophical group discussion implemented according to the programme Philosophy for Children (P4C), which combines several approaches in interactional and logically created contexts, in order to develop thinking, speech, and language skill (Fisher, 2007; Trickey & Topping, 2004). The implementation of philosophical group discussions have shown a positive effect on 5–10 year old children’s thinking skills (Daniel et al., 2012; Topping & Trickey, 2007, 2014). P4C is widely used with pre-schoolers, but investigated rarely (Daniel et al., 2012; Cassidy & Christie, 2013). The greatest value of P4C lies in the possibility to develop verbal reasoning skills in the integration with developing language, social and cognitive skills and based on the different everyday topics, and through multiple activities and curriculum topics in preschools (Murris, 2016; Zeitler, 2010).
A quasi-experiment was carried out to develop pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills via implementation of the programme P4C. First, to measure pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills the Younger Children Verbal Reasoning Test (YCVR-test) was composed specifically for this study (Säre, Luik & Fisher, 2016b). The test consisted of three phases: introduction, practice, and testing. The introduction phase consists of questions which encourage the child to talk about themselves. The practice phase enables the child to imagine three situations from a personal context. The test phase includes five scenarios, each with two questions. The test consists of a total of 28 open- and closed-ended questions. The same YCVR-test was used as a pre-post-test of the intervention and control groups (time interval between pre- and post-tests was eight month) with the 125 five- to six-year-old children to compare the responses among the two groups. Group discussions of the 58 five- to six-year-old children (intervention group) were video recorded to help evaluate children’s verbal reasoning skills and to determine the types and functions of the researcher’s questions. Data was collected over 25 weeks. In total 20 video recordings (four per group) were made of the philosophical discussions. To analyse pre-schoolers’ verbal reasons during the pre- and post-test among the intervention and control group, scoring was adapted to take into consideration the appearance of verbal reasoning at different levels and substantive observations. The changes made to the scoring system were: when children provided very few and simple reasons, the subcategories of verbal reasons were summed; the level of fragments heard from adults and partly the level of direct description of the picture were left out. The reason to exclude these levels was that it was not possible to determine if the children’s verbal reasons were their own vis-à-vie fragments heard from adults, and on the level of direct description of the picture. Responses where the child poorly described the situation in the picture and repeated the researcher’s explanation without their own interpretation were not scored as verbal reasons. The rates of verbal reasons and number of words (talkativeness) in the pre- and post-tests of the intervention and control groups were compared using repeated-measure ANOVA, to estimate whether there was a difference in the mean scores.
Pre-schoolers in the philosophical discussion intervention group performed higher in their thinking skills than control group. When examining pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills at different levels it emerged that reasons on the levels “connection between words”, “sense-making explanations”, and the use of the phrase “because of that” were higher in the results of children attending philosophical group discussions, p < .05 . Thus, there is evidence that pre-schoolers’ verbal reasoning skills could be developed in philosophical group discussions by using specific questioning based on the programme P4C. The analysis showed an increase in the verbal reasons per the sub-type “connection between words” per the intervention group that was significantly greater than the control group, where a decrease was observed, F = 36.61, p < .05. In relation to the sub-type “sense-making explanations”, the increase per the intervention group was significantly higher than the control group’s, F = 81.96, p < .05. The results of the quasi-experiment showed a positive effect on talkativeness. Children in the philosophical discussion intervention group were significantly more talkative than in the control group, if they were asked to reason their opinion after the eight-month implementation of philosophical discussions. The increase in talkativeness in the intervention group was significantly higher than in the control group, (F = 22.08, p < .05). According to The results of the pre-test, children’s talkativeness in the intervention and control groups did not differ significantly (p > .05), but in the post-test there was a significant difference (p < .05). Results allow to recommend the implementation of philosophical group discussions in kindergartens on a regular basis, for example once a week in order to develop pre-schoolers verbal reasoning skills.
Cassidy, C., & Christie, D. (2013). Philosophy with children: talking, thinking and learning together. Early Child Development and Care, 183(8), 1072-1083, doi: 10.1080/03004430.2013.773509
Daniel, M. F., Gagnon, M., & Pettier, J. C. (2012). Chapter 7 philosophy for children and the developmental process of dialogical critical thinking in groups of preschool children. By John A. Sutterby, ed. Early education in a global context. Retrieved from:
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