Virtue Ethics: COPI lesson


Connel writes ‘Knowledge itself is social, it does not exist in some ethereal realm outside society’ (Connel, 1993). In the current education system of the United Kingdom, facilitators often behave in a manner that knowledge needs to be prescribed to their learners, rather than seeing their learners as already possessing knowledge that can be moulded and furthered as a community (Coffield, 2014). I wish to bring this ethos into my classroom, as I want to produce freethinking democratic citizens rather than solely pushing the bulimic fact-choking that our society currently values, accurately described by Frank Coffield (Coffield, 2014). I have attempted to implement this ethos through Matthew Lipman’s pedagogical theory of Communities of Philosophical Inquiry (COPI). I believe this model is superior at meeting the assessment criteria of Religion and Philosophy (RP) than the one currently implemented at my placement.

RP is taught at level one and two at my placement, a Sixth Form College. It is accredited by the National Open College Network (NOCN) and follows the corresponding syllabus, though the college also embeds Catholic teachings made obligatory by the Catholic Education Service (CES) and citizenship topics made obligatory by the Department for Education (DfE). It is compulsory for all learners to go to these lessons. Members of staff comment that many learners are less motivated in RP than in their chosen courses, attending less and not contributing to discussion.

I planned a COPI lesson to make RP more effective at facilitating discussion, and therefore more effective in the development of knowledge than it currently is. I aimed to engage my learners in critical thinking through applied theories on inquiry, to better meet the assessment criteria. I also aimed to build an improved inclusive environment based on writings by Kizel; empowering learners to voice their own beliefs and thus better meeting NOCN level two assessment criteria 6&8 (NOCN,2019). The purpose of planning this lesson was to write this assignment, and I only had the opportunity to plan a single lesson. However, I think this model should be implemented for the whole two years. I explain why I think this later in the subsection entitled Theory.

I had complete freedom in creating my plan other than fixed learning objectives. The Head of the RP department did not feel comfortable with me deviating completely away from prescribing information. Due to this I had to teach Aristotle’s Golden Mean via prescription, though this presented an opportunity to prove that it is possible to find a compromise between both. I believe the resulting COPI lesson is more conducive to learning than the pedagogical model currently used by my placement.

COPI is based on theories of community and inquiry by Pierce, Dewy and Lipman (1900, 1910, 1980). The value of community will help build an inclusive learning environment in which learners can voice their beliefs and opinions. Collective inquiry will help engage my learners in critical thinking skills. I have also used De Bono’s Hats (Bono, 1999) to help scaffold (Wood, Bruner, and Ross, 1976) cognitive modes within critical thinking. I explain both terms in the section entitled Theory. The college is diverse, consisting of multiple religious denominations and ethnicities. To guard against a term that I explain in the section entitled Theory, micro-hegemonic discourse (Kizel, 2019) within the COPI, I employ Arie Kizel’s Enabling Identity Model (2019) influenced by Burber (1962) and Levinas (1996). This frame for COPI based lessons will empower my learners to vocally contribute their thoughts to the community.

As Lipman writes ‘when people engage in dialogue with one another, they are compelled to reflect, to concentrate, to consider alternatives, to listen closely, to give careful attention to definitions and meanings, to recognise previously unthought of options, and in general to perform a lot of mental activities that they might not have engaged in had the conversation never occurred’ (Lipman, 1980). If dialogue in RP lessons remains predominantly between facilitator and learners, then the learners will not have as great an opportunity to learn from each other, or to engage in as many of the wide variety of cognitive facilities inherent to critical thinking that Lipman describes.

Setting the scene

Though called Religion and Philosophy at the college, the NOCN award is in General Religious Education. GRE level one and two consist of eight modules. To provide evidence to NOCN, the college have created a booklet, which once completed covers all the marking criteria. The booklets are not long, level one at ten pages and level two at thirteen. Each learner in my class is more than capable of completing the assessment booklet. Through COPI the opportunity to do philosophy rather than simply copy out information into a booklet is dramatically increased.

My Virtue Ethics lesson is taught at level two. Though NOCN can grant the qualification once they have received the completed booklets, they also state assessment should take place through ‘Tutor observation, Class discussion, One to one, Group tutorial discussion’ (NOCN,2019). As the level two lesson on Virtue Ethics is not a booklet lesson, it is through class discussion and tutor observation that my lesson will assess learner lead discussion, and its relevance to critical thinking.

Marking criterion 6.1 for level two states ‘6.1 – Explain their individual position with regard to two key issues within religious debate’ (NOCN, 2019 p20). The use of the phrase ‘individual position’ shows the importance of inclusion, the learners needing an environment in which they can express their own voice in order to develop a position they can justify. Marking criterion 8.1 furthers the need stating, ‘Develop skills to be able to respond to opportunities and responsibilities of life experiences’ (NOCN, 2019 p20). In order to effectively act on opportunities and duties, one needs to be able to think for oneself. A COPI model will create an incubator for learners to develop individual thought, explained in the section entitled Key Elements.

I have observed every RP facilitator at the college teach RP. Though I have not seen every lesson, each facilitator employed a horseshoe seating plan during the lessons I witnessed. The facilitator sits at the front of the class and teaches the content of the lesson. I have experimented with several seating plans to see if this could encourage discussion, as the horseshoe has not generated learner lead discussion in the lessons I have observed. Rather, dialogue is generated between facilitator and learner, if at all. I found splitting learners into four small circles increased learner lead discussion.

When considering seating arrangements, Ndofirepi and Musengi quote Splitter and Sharp: ‘maximises the opportunities for participants to communicate with and behave democratically toward one another; a roundtable format perhaps’ (Splitter and Sharp, 1995, cited in Ndofirepi & Musengi, 2019 p132). I interpreted roundtable to mean a circle seating plan. By following this advice and changing the lesson to a COPI format, with the intention of maximising opportunities for learners to speak, the learners have greater autonomy by having greater opportunities to speak for themselves, thus encouraging the development of their own points of view and beliefs.

NOCN state that a purpose of the GRE program is that ‘The qualifications will also allow them to develop and articulate their own points of view about religion and be able to apply these to everyday events’ (NOCN, 2019 p16). A great concern of mine is that by combining teachings that the CES wants a Catholic school to teach with the GRE curriculum, the search for individual truth paramount to critical thinking is undermined.
Whilst individual expression is fostered through inclusive practice in the RP lessons I have observed, I have also observed teachings or inferences made that Catholic teachings are superior to other teachings. This severely undermines the development of individual critical thinking skills. Critical thinking encompasses a multiplicity of cognitive functions, necessary to teaching philosophy, which of course is in the name of RP. Developing and then applying a viewpoint is intrinsically under the remit of critical thinking. Through COPI, a Catholic teaching can be explored as a community rather than be prescribed as true, making secular facilitators and learners who do not feel this way more comfortable with the content.

Moon (2008), in her book Critical ThinkingAn Exploration of Theory and Practice, though making clear that critical thinking encompasses a wide selection of cognitive processes, defines critical thinking as ‘the examination of an idea thoroughly and in depth rather than taking it at its face value’ (Moon, 2008 p17). To improve learners at developing and applying viewpoints I wish to stimulate their critical thinking skills. I use theories of inquiry found in COPI methodology, largely influenced by Dewey to do this (Ndofirepi & Musengi, 2019, p129). I also incorporate De Bono’s Hats to help scaffold the task for my learners, helping them to engage with different types of thinking and broadening their understanding of critical thought. I will explain both De Bono’s Hats and scaffolding in the section entitled Theory.

Description of key elements

The five components Lipman (1991) sets for a successful COPI are:

‘ 1) the communal reading of a text 2) the construction of an agenda, i.e. the identification of questions which the reading of the text has raised and the cooperative decision about where to begin the discussion; 3) solidification, which includes the articulation of positions and counter positions, the definition of terms under discussion, and the search for criteria by which to make sound judgements about the subject; 4) exercises and discussion plans, based on the ideas in the text 5) further responses, which may be in the form of creative writing, dramatization, art, or some other modality’ (Lipman, 1991, cited in Ndofirepi & Musengi, 2019, p132).

My COPI lesson on Virtue Ethics consisted of five tasks, four of them correspond to Lipman’s key elements while the last activity acts as a summary of the lesson objectives. The objectives for this lesson are to reflect on one’s moral character, to discover Aristotle’s Golden Mean of some important virtues (moral values) and to assess whether Religion can help a person become more virtuous. These objectives were pre-set by the Head of my department. I do not think the verb ‘discover’ is appropriate for the lesson, as discover implies that the learners will find them somehow. The information is taught to the learners in a prescribed fashion, though, as it was obligatory to contain the objectives, I did not think it was appropriate to reword them.

As Lipman writes ‘Even where children are said to discover knowledge, that knowledge is often conceived of as something pre-existent, a possession of the adult world to which children have gained access, rather than something that they have had a part in shaping’ (Lipman, 1980). The lesson objectives are the expected outcomes, though I also expect learners to engage with each other in philosophical discussion. I did not make learners aware of this outcome, as I wanted them to feel they were deciding to engage in philosophical discussion in order to shape knowledge, rather than being forced to engage in philosophical discussion. I see philosophical discussion as discussion containing critical thinking, supported by Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, p102).

Further Responses

I used Lipman’s Further Responses stage first. My reasoning for this is that Dewey describes creative inquiry as the rearranging of information we already possess (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012). Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan write ‘To be engaged in art-to be the fabricator of a work of art-is to be engaged in the organizing of parts into wholes’ (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980 p133). I hoped to elicit prior knowledge through the creative medium of illustration, also creating a stimulus for initiating discussion. The created visual representation of learners’ prior knowledge is referred to at the end of the lesson, enabling a metacognitive activity in which they think about their own previous thinking. The learners will be able to see if their positions have adapted or changed.

By placing this activity first, learners who arrive up to the permitted ten minutes late can easily join the lesson without much instruction. The illustrations provide the learners with a method of initiating class discussion themselves. The facilitator makes sure all learners understand that the facilitator’s job is to select the order of who speaks when. The learners are requested to raise their hands when they wish to speak.

The communal reading of a text/Constructing an agenda

Activity two focuses on elements one and two, the reading of a text collectively and the construction of an agenda. Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan write that children with reading problems often also have impaired thinking, so if our learners are encouraged to read their thinking skills will improve (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, p16). The reading was of a news article concerning the accidental death of a teenager in 2017, the hope being to generate discussion of whether the other party present was guilty. I rewrote parts of the article to decrease the literacy level required to take part and increased the font size to 30 Arial to further accessibility, particularly for potentially undiagnosed dyslexic learners. Though there are many kinds of dyslexia, predominantly dyslexia will incorporate a difficulty of distinguishing phonemes and morphemes (Anon, UCL MOOC, 2020).
I decided on size 30 without having found any academic writing to support my choice, though size 30 is a significant increase from the standard font size used by my colleagues.

After the reading I asked each learner to write one question they wanted to ask. The learners were made aware that the whiteboards represent their individual right to speak. Constructing an agenda is important, as Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan write that a good discussion tries to arrive at a conclusion and feels as if it is progressing ‘There is a sense of forward movement having taken place. Something has been accomplished; a group product has been achieved’ (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980 p160). The creation of an agenda through setting an order of which question we would ask when, presents a feel of progress, as we are sorting through a limited number.

Two learners had the same question, so we set that question to be asked first and created a set order in which we would ask the questions. Before moving onto the next question, we had to come to a group consensus for an answer. The whiteboard displaying the answered question would then be turned over, visually representing the community’s progress. After all the questions were finished, we voted on what the verdict of the trial should be.

For the rules of how learners should construct such a question, Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan recommend their good reasons approach, defined as ‘the good reasons approach has no specific rules, but instead emphasizes seeking reasons in reference to a given situation and assessing reasons’ (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980 p138). Lipman goes onto say that it relies on an intuitive sense of what is good reason (Lipman Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980, 1980 p139). The claim that children, and indeed humans, naturally possess an intuitive sense of what good reason is cannot currently be verified by empirically based scientific methodology. We cannot assume all learners will possess such an ability.

Furthermore, If I were to rely on a pre-existent intuitive sense of what is good reason in my learners, then the need of my lesson would be greatly diminished, as the learners’ only gain would be to practise refining reasoning rather than learning what good reasoning looks like, which Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan themselves admit requires at least the modelling of good questions in previous chapters of their book (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980 p 112). Modelling is the concept that a learner can acquire knowledge through watching and mimicking a facilitator proficient at that skill.
Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan contradict themselves through their good reasons approach. Due to this, my PowerPoint presentation displayed six questions framed on De Bono’s Hats, to help scaffold the task and promote critical thinking. I will explain De Bono’s Hats and scaffolding in the section entitled Theory.

Exercises and discussion plans

Activity three focuses on element four, exercises and discussion plans. Rather than basing it on the reading I based it on the second lesson objective, the content of the discussion exercise being the Golden Mean. This activity started with me leaving the circle to take a central stance next to the PowerPoint to explain Aristotle’s Golden Mean.
The exercise was to number every other learner in the circle one, then to get that learner to stand up and move clockwise. Each learner is then seated next to a different learner. The learners were then asked to reflect on their illustrations from task one in relation to the Golden Mean. This also aligns with lesson objective one, to reflect on one’s moral character.


Activity four focuses on element three, which is to get learners thinking about counter positions to arguments, using modes in which to search for criteria to make sound judgements. The mode that I wanted the learners to use was comparison, a crucial form of critical thinking used frequently in writing essays. This task also aligns with learning objective three, to assess whether religion can help a person become more virtuous.
Three of the four pictures have religious people undertaking virtuous acts, whilst the last picture was of a group of Muslims in a Chinese concentration camp. The last picture was included to stretch learners in finding a suitable means of comparison. I asked the learners to develop their own questions before facilitating discussion. The last activity was a plenary of the topic. I played Aristotle & Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38, which went over content prescribed for lesson objective two whilst summarising the topic.


The materials I used for this lesson were four A3 pictures which I printed in colour and laminated, each displaying religious denominations participating in activities. I also used a PowerPoint presentation, thirteen white boards with pens and an edited news article.

Theoretical approach


A community of inquiry draws from Lipman’s definition of a community, which is a shared sense of the values of respect, trust, and solidarity. Musengi and Ndofirepi write on Lipman’s sense of community ‘value measured by the members’ ability to exhibit qualities of community life in line with expectations, including tolerance, reciprocity and trust. These attributes must be displayed voluntarily’ (Lipman, 1991, cited in Ndofirepi and Musengi, 2019 p130). The values that are produced by a community are values that will aid facilitating group inquiry, and group inquiry engages our learners in critical thinking. The value of community is built within its members over time, having longer to practise acting on the values and having longer to get to know and appreciate each other. Therefore, I believe the COPI model should replace the current model used by my placement. COPI should be employed for the whole two years.

Defining and deciding how to evidence the terms respect, trust and tolerance is problematic. Though this is the definition Lipman offers of a community, he offers a further definition of what he means by a community of inquiry, writing ‘When children are encouraged to think philosophically, the classroom is converted into a community of inquiry. Such a community is committed to the procedures of inquiry, to responsible search techniques that presuppose an openness to evidence and reason’ (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980). Thus, a community is such while inquiry is taking place, though for communal inquiry to function successfully learners must display the values of a community voluntarily.

Furthermore, I plan to show tolerance and trust by empowering my learners, allowing them to take the lead through question making. I hope by showing trust and tolerance through this method, they will show trust and tolerance reciprocally, creating the value of community. The value of community in turn will create an inclusive environment where learners can share their beliefs and values without anxiety, creating a safe backdrop to develop the skills required for NOCN assignment criteria 6 & 8 (NOCN,2019) and the development of critical thinking.

Communities are necessary for producing conflict with our conceptions of the world, and so are necessary for a change in thinking. Peirce writes that it is only through expressing our thinking to others that individuals change their ways of thinking and acting (Peirce, 1910 cited in Ndofirepi and Musengi, 2019). Dewey supports this, claiming inquiry is an inherently social interaction, and that inquiry must be within a community if it is to expose learners to new ways of thinking (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012).


Peirce, who coined the term ‘communities of philosophical inquiry’, was opposed to Descartes’ rationale that philosophy must begin at a point of no prior knowledge, rather suggesting it comes from observing and participating in action within the world (Peirce, 1910 cited in Ndofirepi and Musengi, 2019). He rejected the concept that any one person could be an absolute judge of truth. To Peirce, society should come together and reason jointly on such matters (Peirce, 1910 cited in Ndofirepi and Musengi, 2019). This is the initial concept behind communities of philosophical inquiry, that it is our learners that must be encouraged to develop their own truth through questioning.

Dewey, influenced in part by Peirce’s works (Ndofirepi & Musengi, 2019), saw inquiry as a natural process central to humanity’s ability to gather information about the world around us. Importantly, this information is gained by the self, from new-borns to adults it is experimentation with the world around us that produces knowledge (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012). This natural inquiry is central to learners building up their own conceptions of the world, helping to empower individual thinking (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012). It is through inquiry that learners develop their critical thinking skills. Dewey wrote on the relationship on what he saw as two separate mental faculties, impulse and habit.

Dewey labelled ‘habit’ to mean cognitive structures that form our personality and regulate our behaviour. ‘Impulse’ Dewey defined as states such as desire and anxiety which influence us into different courses of action (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012). The two were seen to be interrelated, though Dewey believed this could lead to negative results, when contributing to the making of what he termed cultivated naivety. Dewey believed we create unhealthy and unrealistic world views in our consciousnesses as part of the mind wishes to go back to a childhood-like state of innocence (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012).

Through the mingling of impulse and habit unrealistic world views can be created called cultivated naivety, defined by Granger as “interpretive dialectic between self and world that resists closure,” (Granger, 1956 cited in Kennedy, 2012). Dewey claims inquiry is seen to take place when items of conceptual knowledge we hold habitually, such as marriage, are broken. Inquiry in a community heightens the chances of such concepts being challenged as a multiplicity of views intermingle.

Lipman saw inquiry as a self-correcting process (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980). Through inquiry it is possible to broaden and change our conceptual world views, overcoming cultivated naivety. Dewey describes inquiry as moving ‘from doubt to the resolution of doubt’ (Dewey, 1916 cited in Kennedy, 2012). and separates inquiry into two types. The first is logical inquiry used to acquire information about the world and the second is creative inquiry, which is the rearranging of information (Dewey, 1916 cited in Ndofirepi and Musengi, 2019). I try to engage logical inquiry through discussion and further analysis of the lesson objectives. Creative inquiry is engaged through learners creating art, expressing knowledge they already possess about the subject through a different medium. I use this through illustration.

All that said, inquiry remains a broad term that realistically refers to a multiplicity of cognitive faculties, which has no firm definition backed by empirically based scientific methodologies. However, the frames drawn by Peirce, Dewey and Lipman make the term approachable and thus pliable to a facilitator of COPI lessons. Whilst I could write a whole paper on what we really mean by inquiry, these theories enable progress on how to better stimulate freedom of thought in our learners, and thus possess value. By drawing on theories of logical and creative inquiry I hope to stimulate critical thinking, and by encouraging an individual search for truth I hope to push my learners to develop their own views, addressing NOCN criteria 6 & 8 (NOCN,2019).

Enabling identity model

I use Kizel’s Enabling Identity Model to support Lipman’s value of community. Arie Kizel, an international facilitator of COPI’s, writes on the importance of enabling each learner to have their own voice. Kizel draws on the works of Levinas (1996), chiefly that the otherness or individuality of a learner must be acknowledged and treasured (Levinas, 1996 cited in Kizel, 2019). Kizel says this can be done by allowing space for the learner to express their identity and narrative. He also draws on the works of Burber (1962), writing that in a community of inquiry, dialogue must be promoted as the height of interrelationships in an environment of reciprocal trust (Burber, 1962 cited in Kizel, 2019).

Kizel suggests a three-stage Enabling Identity Model to overcome what he names dynamics of power. These include but are not limited to class, race, gender, sexuality and religion. The risk is that when one dynamic of power outnumbers others, the larger may dominate discourse. This is referred to as micro-hegemony (Kizel, 2019). A facilitator needs to be mindful to guard against weighted discourse. My class is highly diverse. Eleven are female, three are male. Their ethnicities consist of five Caribbean learners, six African learners, two English learners and one Spanish learner. Between them five different faiths are followed. Thus, such a model is suitable to empower learners within my lesson.

The last two stages of Kizel’s enabling model requires a prolonged period of COPIs, at least over several months. Therefore, I think my placement should change all RP lessons into a two-year COPI model. For the purposes of this lesson I have only incorporated the first stage. Initially, the first stage is to verbally state that everyone’s opinion is valid. Kizel then suggests that each learner is given a coloured circle, and that the following should be explained ‘Each of the members of this community is a circle. Each circle/person has the right to ask questions regarding the things that interest him or her so that we can discuss them in various ways, primarily via questions’ (Kizel, 2019). Though a visual representation of autonomy could possess a symbolic resonance, I believe if such a visual representation doesn’t also possess a function to the development of the lesson, then it only possesses a minor relevance, as other components of the lesson already serve to promote individual autonomy such as the circle seating plan, question construction and the verbalisation of the value. 

Thus, rather than use circles, each one of my learners had a whiteboard to use for themselves. I told the learners to write their own question on their whiteboards and to place them facing into the circle. The boards represented themselves and physically displayed their question. Once we had found an answer to that question, we would turn over the board, contributing to maintaining an agreed sequence of democratically ordered questions. In this way each learner possesses a visual representation of their autonomy, which also physically manifests an opportunity to express their own voice. Providing such an inclusive environment will produce a safe space for the development of NOCN assessment criteria 6 & 8 (NOCN,2019).

De Bono’s Hats and Scaffolding

Whilst one of the aims of developing this COPI lesson is to help learners improve their critical thinking skills, defining critical thinking is problematic as it incorporates a multiplicity of thought processes and behaviours. De Bono cautions those trying to teach critical thinking, suggesting that argument is not enough to teach it sufficiently (Bono, 1933). Edward De Bono developed what he entitled Parallel Thinking. Rather than looking at a problem from separate positions, Parallel Thinking aims at getting learners or members of a meeting to thinking of a problem with the same critical faculty.
In this way members of the group do not argue but contribute to developing an answer. His Six Hats method tries to introduce modes of thinking as a group, offering an alternative to argument by getting learners to use the same coloured hat at the same time, complementing ways of thinking rather than clashing. The Six Hats method is thus a form of De Bono’s Parallel Thinking.

De Bono separates the six different cognitive modes into six different types of questions. The categories of hat are as follows:

The white hat is the information hat. A white hat question would be what are the relevant facts? The red hat is the feelings hat. A red hat question would be what do we like about this and why? The black hat is the scepticism hat. A black hat question would be what are the difficulties? The green hat is the creative thinking hat. A green hat question would be how can brainstorming help us here? The yellow hat is the optimism hat. A yellow hat question would be what are the benefits? The blue hat is the metacognition hat. A blue hat question would be how well are we following the Six Hat process? (Bono, 1933). The six questions I used are directly modelled on the six questions above.

De Bono recommends that the hats are used separately for learners to get used to separating their modes of thought, using the same mode at the same time to complement rather than clash. I do use a form of Parallel Thinking, as my learners look at one question at a time in parallel, though I disagree with De Bono that Parallel Thinking needs to deviate away from conflict.

As previously mentioned in the section entitled inquiry, conflict is necessary to break down and produce new conceptions of the world. De Bono warns against using evolving sequence, what De Bono calls allowing learners to pick which hat to use next, as it may lead to conflict (Bono, 1933). However, if we are to encourage learners to think in the same mode as their peers, we are lessening their autonomy to independently think. I allowed my learners to pick which question we would address in which order without fear of conflict. Conflict within a community is not necessarily negative, providing an opportunity to refine and develop our ideas, though it is important to not sacrifice conflict for pace.

Payette and Barnes write ‘We believe there is also value in adapting the Six Thinking Hats in ways that transcend de Bono’s original usage’ (Patty & Barnes, 2017). I use the hats differently from the original usage as a means of scaffolding. Wood, Bruner and Ross write ‘Scaffolding consists essentially of the adult “controlling” those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete those elements that are within his range of competence’ (Wood, Bruner, and Ross, 1976). When displaying examples of sample questions for the learners to base their own questions on, I base the structure on De Bono’s Hats to encourage differing cognitive modes.

By using De Bono’s Hats, I am able to scaffold the question making task, ensuring learners are in control of writing a question which is within their ability, whilst encouraging them to pick and use different critical cognitive modes which is currently beyond their ability. By scaffolding I preserve the learner’s autonomy to address the problem at hand in a way they see fit.

Justification of approach

COPI allows for learners to better develop their own opinions and beliefs, as the facilitator is not prescribing truth but rather encourages the search of individual truth. While the authority of the facilitator is a necessary dynamic, COPI is not meant to fully equalise the learner and facilitator dynamic due to the need of properly enabled discussion, it is a space where learners are encouraged to find their own point of view uninfluenced by the facilitator.

Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan write ‘The teacher’s readiness to encourage intellectual variety is balanced by a consistent emphasis upon the common practice of the procedures on inquiry’ (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, 1980). Though the facilitator must maintain their role as a figure of authority, the value of community as presented by Lipman, furthered by the Enabling Identity Model for COPI developed by Kizel, enables the learners to express themselves freely.

My placement is a Catholic college. Predominantly learners come from Christian backgrounds, though many come from other faiths or no faith. Lipman’s value of community makes an environment in which personal beliefs can be shared and respected, whilst the Enabling Model can challenge micro-hegemonic discourse. Christianity is the dominating belief system so this concept is highly applicable. The Enabling Identity Model and the values of a community provide a method to better balance the variety of belief systems and opinions, making assessment criteria 6 & 8 of the NOCN booklet accessible to learners. The creation of an environment in which learners can generate, share, debate and discuss their own viewpoints also increases the effectiveness of logical and creative inquiry, generating their own ideas rather than adopting others.

The inquiry element of COPI and De Bono’s Hats furthers the practice of critical thinking, presenting the opportunity of challenging fixed views on the world that our learners hold. Logical inquiry, creative inquiry and reflection on the views we hold about the world are all part of our critical faculties. The addition of De Bono’s Hats helped to scaffold critical thinking to my learners, presenting six clear variations of critical cognitive modes of thought. De Bono did advise using the hats singularly as a group to avoid conflict; however, his hats have been adapted by other educational professionals, whilst conflict aids in reshaping previously held conceptions.

Critical Review and reflection on changes to future practice

Further Responses

The learners to begin with did not seem to trust my approach and questioned why I had asked them to draw traits. Asking the learners to draw a trait was too difficult for them, the task needed to be scaffolded more to present possibilities of how to draw a trait. In the future I would have more instructions on how to complete this or would have examples of potential illustrations they could adapt. We all completed the task and moved onto the reading together, partially equalising the learner facilitator dynamic.

The communal reading of a text/Constructing an agenda

The learners were reluctant to engage in the reading at first, but by the time we had finished the reading the learners had many questions they wanted to ask. I reminded them that we were now question making, so they needed to write them on their boards to be answered by the group. I stated that the whiteboard with their questions on represented their right to speak. These resulting stimuli were successful. The PowerPoint displayed six example questions following De Bono’s Six Hats method. Some learners structured questions based on these samples, though I did not explicitly mention their significance. I would explain this more explicitly next time to establish the link to critical thinking.

Once we had finished writing questions, we set an order of which questions we should ask. Two learners had written the same question, so we started with that question. This part of the lesson was very successful. Once the community had decided we had sufficiently answered the question at hand, we turned that whiteboard over and moved to the next question. Once we had answered all the questions, we voted on how the man should be prosecuted. During this activity I barely had to talk other than setting the speaking order. Learners would begin to speak over each other during the discussion which, although it displays that I should have set clearer guidelines, also shows a high level of engagement. Having a clear purpose to the discussion contributed to the activity’s success.

Exercises and discussion plan

Next, I introduced Aristotle’s Golden Mean. We discussed how courage is a virtue, but a lack or too much of this virtue can lead to it becoming a vice. I had to take more of an authoritarian role in order to prescribe this content to my learners which, though it worked, seemed disjointed. In the future, I would adapt this part of the lesson to try and give greater control to my learners by changing the drawing task at the beginning. They seemed to be disengaged with the starter activity partly as they did not know why they were doing it. Making this task directly relatable to Virtue Ethics would improve the efficiency of the lesson.

After teaching the content of the Golden Mean, I then asked them to apply it to the traits they drew on their boards at the beginning of the lesson. Numbering half the learners and re-pairing them increased engagement. Again, though it worked, the lesson was brought very much back into my control. Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan do say it is necessary for the facilitator to remain as a figure of authority (Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan, p104), but in the future, I would put lesson objectives one and two together at the beginning of the lesson to allow for uninterrupted community based inquiry.


After this we moved onto the picture comparison task. The A3 pictures for comparisons worked well. The learners discussed them with each other before being instructed to do so. Laminating the pictures was a good decision, they were visually more stimulating as a result and the learners were engaged. Again, I asked them to make questions, but to focus on comparisons and differences, engaging different cognitive functions related to critical thinking.

After setting an order of who would ask which question, the community commenced inquiry, attempting to figure out what was going on in the pictures through postulating the purpose of separate items within the visuals, and by postulating potential linking themes. The college has a policy that learners can leave after 45 minutes if all the work is completed. This is the first lesson none of the learners asked me if they could go early, which I think is a sign of increased engagement.


Though the lesson was successful, I found it difficult to fulfil the requirements of a COPI lesson and to cover the learning objectives. The initial activity needed to be scaffolded more to help learners achieve the goals of the activity, though it also needed its link to the rest of the lesson better explained. The second task went particularly well, the reading of a text, development of individual questions and subsequent communal inquiry were all successfully facilitated.

That said, next time I would set a short amount of time to discuss each question to improve pace, extending this time only if purposeful conversation had been facilitated. The learners did engage with cognitive critical facilities. Using whiteboards to represent each learner’s rights as an individual, to express themselves and contribute seemed to work. Each learner did contribute a question and joined discussion.

The exercises and discussion element needs reinvention, as learners did not like being taught content after having had more autonomy. Mixing the learners by numbering half and rotating them could have been extended into a more engaging task, though I think mixing this with the further responses task will work better in the future. The A3 pictures were particularly successful, eliciting comparative critical cognitive faculties, discussion, and the appearance of the construction of belief positions.


My COPI lesson on Virtue Ethics created an inclusive environment so learners had the autonomy to express themselves freely, thus learners could develop their own opinions and beliefs, as assessed by 6 & 8 in the NOCN criteria. It engaged learners in cognitive faculties related to critical thinking by increasing discussion between learners. The value of community as set out by Lipman enabled a safe environment for exploration of individual beliefs to take place. This was furthered by Kizel’s Enabling Identity Model. Engaging learners in both logical and creative inquiry as proposed by Dewey helped to further critical thinking skills, and by conducting inquiry in a community, ideas could conflict to better develop individual beliefs.

During the question making task, critical thinking was successfully engaged with the additional influence of De Bono’s Hats, helping scaffold cognitive faculties associated with critical thinking. The picture comparison task also enabled learners to lead discussion and promoted comparative modes of critical thought. If the COPI model is employed by my placement for the entire RP course, the benefits of the value of community and Kizel’s Enabling Identity Model will produce a grounding on which compulsory teachings, set out by the CES, can be explored unconfrontationally in a secular setting. The learners in my class are all able to copy information into a booklet for assessment, though through COPI they can do philosophy, refining critical thinking skills which will aid them in all walks of life.

There was also much room for improvement. Trying to complete the lesson objectives made it hard to fully arrange the lesson in a COPI format. I chose to prescribe content, which disrupted the flow of the lesson and decreased engagement. The first task was not easy for learners to engage with, they needed more scaffolding for the task to be accessible. For this task, example images and a bank of key terms would be provided for scaffolding. Next time I would combine these activities together, covering both learning objectives and allowing uninterrupted communal inquiry subsequently. Overall, more work needs to be done to integrate the set lesson objectives into a COPI format.

As facilitators, our duty is to educate. It is impossible to improve our effectiveness if we are afraid to innovate. It is through the exploration of pedagogy and its application that we can improve the effectiveness of our art. Even in a product curriculum with set learning objectives, facilitators should be encouraged to fight against the bulimic learning that many educators accept as a social norm, rather than a norm that we are rewarding through inaction.


Anon, NOCN General Religious Education Qualification Specification 7.0, (March 2019)

Anon, Supporting Children with difficulties in reading and writing, (UCL, 2020)

AK, “Enabling Identity as an Ethical Tension in a Community of Philosophical Inquiry with Children and Young Adults.” Global Studies of Childhood 9.2 (2019): 145-55. Web

DK, “Lipman, Dewey, and the Community of Philosophical Inquiry.” Education and Culture, vol. 28, no. 2, 2012, pp. 36–53.

DW, RG, JB, et al. “The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving *.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 17, no 2, 1976, pp. 89-100., doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x.

EB, Six Thinking Hats / Edward De Bono. Rev. and Updated ed. London: Penguin, 2000. Print.

FC, Beyond Bulimic Learning, Institute of Education Press (May 2015)

JM, Critical Thinking An Exploration of Theory and Practice, (London: Routledge, 2008)

ML, AS, FO, Philosophy in the Classroom / Matthew Lipman, Ann Margaret Sharp, Frederick S. Oscanyan; [photos., Joseph B. Isaacson]. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1980. Web.

NP, MM, “Community of Inquiry as Pedagogy of Doing Philosophy for Children: Adding the African Dimension.” Africa Education Review, vol. 16, no. 1, 2019, pp. 125–141., doi:10.1080/18146627.2016.1224581.

PP, BB, “Teaching for Critical Thinking: Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.” National Teaching & Learning Forum 26.3 (2017): 8-10. Web.

RC, Schools and Social Justice, Temple University Press (1993)

Published by Coffee & Alex

Alexander Clarke is a sole trader who writes and teaches. He’s published articles, blog posts, short stories and poems. He’s taught philosophy, theology, ESOL and PSHE.

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