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P4C Stimuli: The What, The What Else, and The How…

This week, a video clip stimulus initially spotted by Eugenio Echeverria and posted by Pat Hannam in the P4C Exchange Facebook group (well worth joining).
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It’s from an old US TV show, “The Munsters”, and features Herman giving his son, Eddie, some homespun advice (don’t mention the names if they occur in your register!). Normally, I’m wary of using stimuli that could be preachy and one-sided, but there’s lots here to unpack:
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Elements of a Fine Stimulus
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The finest stimuli, especially when getting children to generate questions, often have a main “What”, a theme that has some depth, a “What Else” that not everyone will notice that provides an alternative theme, and also “How” that invites questions to respond to the form of the stimulus as rather than its content.
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The What
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In this case, the main theme would appear to be, “What matters?” and the contrast of appearance and character. Of course, Herman makes a statement about what matters, rather than asking a question, but as we saw last week, a statement can be a powerful provocation to enquiry.
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When speculating, the children might come up with the two possibilities: that Eddie has been bullying someone else because of how they look and Herman is rebuking him by telling him how things should be; or that he has been bullied because of how he looks – in which case it might be small comfort if it conflicts with how things actually are. The conceptual difference that talk about how things should be (descriptive), and talk about how they are (normative), is a very important one to grasp, because getting clear about it is how we move from mouthing platitudes to trying to change things.
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The What Else
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The “in the corner” bonus theme here is handsomeness and who gets to define it; whether it’s the individual, society in general, or, plausibly from the clip, groups within society that are large enough to develop and share some standards of handsomeness/beauty that may not be universal, but are common enough within the group to have some meaning beyond individual assertion.
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The How
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The form of this stimulus is parental advice. The difficulties of taking on board such lessons, how they might conflict with other moral pronouncements such as those from school (“You stick up for yourself!” etc.) and what the conditions are for advice to be helpful and valid (What does the person giving the advice have to know – how you feel, or what to do, or both?) are interesting and relevant to children’s lives.
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Thinking about “What-What Else-How” can open up new questions in other stimuli. For example, many good quality picture books will have something else going on in a corner of the page as well as the main theme, and sometimes the form allows the pictures and words to be read against one another.
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Best wishes,
Jason
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PS I’m pressing send on this just before a workshop at a conference for Derbyshire teachers. If you attend a Headteachers’ or teachers’ conference annually, please recommend me to the organisers: these are great opportunities to spread the word about P4C and better oracy. I’m happy to do a keynote and multiple back-to-back workshops so as to work with as many people as possible, and it’s always supported by copies of the minibooks and other resources so it has an immediate impact back in school. My mobile is 07843 555355 if you’d like to explore possibilities.

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