Friday, 16 November 2007

Philosophy for kids

Teaching children the art of collaborative philosophical inquiry brings them persistent, long-term cognitive benefits, according to psychologists in Scotland.

Keith Topping and Steve Trickey first reported the short-term benefits of using "Thinking through Philosophy" with children in an earlier study.

One hundred and five children in the penultimate year of primary school (aged approximately ten years) were given one hour per week of philosophical-inquiry based lessons for 16 months. Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of the 16-month period relative to their baseline performance before the study.

Now Topping and Trickey have tested the cognitive abilities of the children two years after that earlier study finished, by which time the children were nearly at the end of their second year of secondary school. The children hadn't had any further philosophy-based lessons but the benefits of their early experience of philosophy persisted. The 71 philosophy-taught children who the researchers were able to track down showed the same cognitive test scores as they had done two years earlier. By contrast, 44 control children actually showed a trend towards a deterioration in their inferior scores from two years earlier.

The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to 'inquiry' in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher. The children's cognitive abilities were tested using the 'Cognitive Abilities Test', a measure which has been found to predict children's performance on external school examinations.

"Follow-up studies of thinking skills interventions are very rare in the literature, so this finding is an important contribution," the researchers said.
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Topping, K.J. & Trickey, S. (2007). Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school-children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 787-796.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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