Deep thinking and high ceilings: Using philosophy to challenge ‘more able’ pupils

Carrie Winstanley


At different times in their school career and across different subject areas, some pupils may require additional and/or more complex tasks from their teachers, since they find the work set to be insufficiently challenging. Recommendations for coping with these pupils’ needs are varied, but among other responses, it is common, in the field of ‘gifted and talented’ education, to advocate the use of critical thinking programmes. These can be very effective in providing the missing challenge through helping develop pupils’ facilities for building and defending rational argument. However, the exercises can be just that; mental agility tasks that lack relevant context. When children engage in learning philosophy in school, they benefit from the experience of developing logical, rigorous argument; but the subject can offer more than critical skills practice. Since philosophy attends to questions about things that matter in pupils’ lives, discussions can have an ethical and moral dimension and as such can be more than an intellectual exercise. Pupils of all abilities and propensities can become involved in the discussions, but the open nature of the areas of debate lends itself particularly well to providing challenge for pupils who need enriched and extended tasks in order to remain engaged. Some of the well-rehearsed Philosophy with/for Children methods are also designed to help develop mutual respect and understanding and so philosophy not only appeals to the cognitive and intellectual in children, but places this development in a context that fosters positive personal qualities.

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