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COVID-Safer Philosophy for Children

Readers have requested start-of-term advice on P4Cing in the context of coronavirus, and in a COVID-safe way. These are my thoughts – I appreciate many of you are already back/scarcely left so I’d love to hear yours too. 

1.    Do it.
2.    Do it outside.
3.    Use an “invisible ball”.
4.    Don’t shove coronavirus down kids’ throats.
5.    Small talk before big talk.

 

 

  1. Do it

 

There may be huge (and misconceived) pressure to focus on getting kids “caught up” with their imaginary, never-corona selves. It makes it crucial to hold space in the timetable for children to dialogue, and continue growing into their actual selves. Oracy is just as important as literacy and numeracy, and psychologically probably more so.

 

  1.  Do it outside

 

Much of the science is still uncertain. For example, do the air-eddies created in a well-ventilated room make the direction kids are facing irrelevant? The one stand-out consensus is that risks are (even) lower outdoors. So, get outside whenever you can, and then all the lively strategies I usually advocate are in play. Here is a  PDF of some of the teaching guidance for using Sticky Questions which has lots of ideas. If you must do your philosophy inside, use strategies that reduce speaking volume and thus droplet production, such as having the kids sit down rather than stand up, and having a more patient vibe for small-group talk,.

 

  1.  Use an invisible ball

 

Particularly if you have a “teacher zone” at the front and all kids face you, you are the default focus, making it hard to “Take a Back Seat” and get kids looking to one another for answers. So, to get the focus to follow the speaker instead, have each speaker choose the next, passing an “invisible ball”. My invisible ball is a basketball, so it takes two hands to catch. I bounce it a few times before throwing it to the first speaker, so they get the idea. Handily, you don’t have to disinfect the invisible ball after use.

 

  1.  Don’t shove coronavirus down kids’ throats.

 

Children’s experiences of lockdown varied enormously, and their desire to share their experience will vary just as much, not only from child to child but from day to day There have been times when I’ve followed and discussed every twist and turn of the news, and others when I’ve resented anyone so much as mentioning the pandemic and spoiling my good mood. Don’t oblige children to share their experiences in a way you would find intrusive if you were asked as an adult.

 

I can see particular challenges with student generated/chosen questions. Nightmare scenario: the class vote to discuss “Could corona turn out to be a good thing?” Most bandy around rosy thoughts about family time and countering global warming but one member of the class has been bereaved or has an immunocompromised relative they’ve not hugged since March. If that conversation is on the playground, they can walk away. If it’s in your classroom, they have no choice but to hear it.

 

In my own philosophising with kids in lockdown, I had no ordinary sessions with a pandemic focus, as I didn’t know who might be grieving or especially anxious. I had one opt-in session with the pandemic announced as the subject, which may be the best approach – provide after school or lunchtime opportunities to delve into the many big questions it raises. You can see a PDF of questions submitted by the teenagers who participated. You can read about the session in this New York Times article (paywall). 

Inevitably, the pandemic bubbled up in lots of other discussions. I feel that’s a balance between allowing students to talk about the elephant in the room, but without using my authority as the teacher to ram the subject down the throats of people who don’t want to hear it.

 

  1.  Small Talk Before Big Talk

 

Children’s appetite and confidence to speak in a large group is always very unequally distributed around a class, and that inequality is likely to have grown. So, practice “small talk before big talk”, not just going from pairs to whole class, but experimenting with groups of 4, 6, 8, 10, 15 to find and expand the group size each individual is comfortable with. You may want to start with a group of 1! Ask students to whisper their first ideas into their hand, without actually touching their face, of course, before saying them out loud to a partner. Also start discussions with light and frivolous warm-up questions before moving on to more serious matters.

 

Best of luck to all for the extraordinary year ahead. Please do share things that work for you and your classes.

 

Best wishes,

 

Jason

 

P.S. Sticky Questions are one of the lowest-cost, whole school, year-round resources you can buy. For less that 3p/week per child, every child in your school can have a Sticky Question to take home each week to stimulate home-school dialogue and deeper thinking. Both whole school and individual class sets are available. See www.thephilosophyman.com/stickyquestions

Sticky Questions – The Impact at Stivichall Primary from Jason Buckley on Vimeo.

 

 

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