Sunday Interview Highlight – Mary Roche

Each week from October to June I present a weekly radio programme/podcast where I interview people from Ireland and abroad who have interesting perspectives on teaching, learning and education more generally. Over the coming weeks in the “Sunday Interview Highlight” blog posts I am going to transcribe short extracts from a selection of the interviews to give you a taste of the interviewees’ views on some aspects of education.

For the month of September, before the new season begins, I’m taking extracts from podcasts that were uploaded and broadcast in 2015-2016. Below the transcribed text is a link to the podcast where you can listen to the full interview in context.

This week I have transcribed an excerpt from my interview with Mary Roche, author of Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks: A Guide for primary and early years students and teachers. In the interview Mary described how in promoting critical thinking among children she was influenced by Philomena Donnelly’s work on philosophy for children. I asked her how she integrated philosophy for children into her teaching given the fact that philosophy is not a subject on the curriculum.

Mary Roche: There’s an old cliché that every child is a natural philosopher. I totally subscribe to that theory because I’ve seen how deeply….preschool children can think and how searching their questions can be and how curious….I wanted to channel that curiosity and that natural instinct to ask open-ended – “What if?” “I wonder why?”  – questions. And the pleasure and the fun and the complete and utter happiness that children showed, they demonstrated in their body language. Even in the follow-up questions like “Can we do that again soon?” Because I was still in the old teacher mode putting a corral around this and saying “We’ll do this every Wednesday” but now back into teacher-centred, dominant teacher-voice. But bit by bit I realised I couldn’t put a fence around it; it crept into everything:

“Teacher I can tell you three more ways you can do that sum.”

“I disagree with the way you’re doing…” because we had taught them the language of “I disagree with… because….” and “I agree with…. because….”

And now it was popping up in religion, it was popping up in maths, it was “this is very woolly thinking in this textbook, you know.”

So it was great.

SD: If you say children are natural philosophers, what do they learn from answering these kinds of questions in class?
MR: What they learn is, they learn that there’s more than one point of view. They learn that, in Irish we’d say, “Ní neart go cur le chéile.” I think there’s a phrase some place, “thinking with one big head.” I think it was Karin Murris, that we’re thinking with one big head, we’re pooling our ideas, we’re learning from each other. It’s very Vygotskian. It really is that the children can act as more knowledgeable others for each other. They learn new language. They learn new ideas, new ways of interpreting a story or a book. They learn respect for each other. They learn social behaviours. There’s so many unintended and unplanned learning outcomes both in the affective and in the cognitive domain.
SD: And in your own writing you talk more about critical thinking than about philosophy for children. So can you say what is the connection between those two?
MR: Well I think to be a philosopher or to philosophise you have to involve yourself in critical thinking and it is, I suppose, first of all about thinking for yourself. It’s not just receiving passively the opinions and the thoughts of others. It’s about looking at something from several, as many points of view as you can, and then making up, evaluating, and making up your own mind and that’s pure philosophy, I mean that’s what philosophers have to do. And it’s being open to the ideas of others. You know Dewey called the reflective practitioner, the characteristics of a reflective practitioner, he defined them as openmindedness, wholeheartedness and intellectual responsibility. I would say they’re the traits of a philosopher, they’re the traits of a critical thinker. So I suppose critical thinking is one of the skills that a philosopher has to have but also one of the ways of being of a philosopher.

You can hear the full podcast of my interview with Mary Roche here.

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