petak, 8. veljače 2013.

Philosophy for elders, first time

As promised in my previous post (link) today i'm gonna write about first workshop in my Philosophy for elders program.

Our first meeting, and i believe this was first time that Philosophy for elders was held in Croatia, took place just few hours ago, in small village of Bijelo Brdo, Croatia. Workshop participants were retired senior citizens from different professions and backgrounds: policeman, graphic designer, teacher, truck driver, farmer and so on. They all were very cooperative and interested in our topic.

For our first meeting i chose a workshop based on Peter Harteloh's method of group philosophical consultations. Basic idea for this workshop is to develop questioning skills, as very important skill for any form of philosophical inquiry. This is where participants learn how to form meaningful and direct questions, actively listen to each other and develop a further sense for questioning the questions. Workshop begins with reading a zen riddle (koan), after which participants have to ask only one question about the story. P. Harteloh calls it The Ultimate Question, because he compared it with a question first asked by philosopher after his client in philosophical consultations has explained their problem. This first question is crucial. It shows how carefully you listened the story and what seems to be the problem you are dealing with within the story, what bothers you most. The thing is that only one participant can ask their question out loud, only if they think that they came up with the best question within the group. After that, everything comes down to facilitating the group. They have the task of questioning the (ultimate) question, asked by this one participant who dared to think their question was the best.

Of course, there are many other things within this workshop, but i would rather just shortly reflect on participants and their reactions to concept of philosophizing. At first, as i sat in that room at 5:10 pm with only three people who showed up on time, i had my doubts about the whole thing and i actually thought that it wouldn't work, but 10 minutes later, the room was full and i found myself explaining to people much, much older than me what philosophy is. As the workshop went on, i felt more secure and i got a feeling that they really liked this opportunity to discuss philosophically. The questions they asked were really good and made a lot of sense, and almost all of them were very active and opened. Even this one man, who forgot his hearing aid, talked loudly all the time so he can hear himself and who didn't maybe hear anything the rest of the group was saying (we had a good laugh, though), even he wrote down a mini Bible and was smiling at the end with a promise that he won't forget the aid next time. The rest of the group also gave a good feedback and expressed their interest in rest of the workshops, eager to hear what is next workshop going to be about and when is the next time we will meet. I think that they felt good with my role of facilitator, giving them little space, once in a while, for discussion, but we all agreed that they have problems with listening to each other without interruptions, which is something we surely will work on in future. Still, I also couldn't be happier with the group and with their engagement, and after one man stated that philosophical approach truly helps to exercise his mind, on which everyone else agreed, i am more and more certain that this program will prove that philosophy can be useful and that it can be done by anyone who is only willing to. 

Zoran Kojcic

ponedjeljak, 4. veljače 2013.

Practicing Philosophy with elders

   My efforts have borne fruit. Since i first engaged in philosophical practice, i wanted to do it all the way and in every possible way. This week im starting to facilitate Philosophy for elders workshops program of my own, and i hope this will be a good way to start with practical promotion of philosophical practice in Croatia.
The program is actually quite simple and it consists of six workshops, mostly based on Oscar Brenifier's approach to methods of socratic dialogue, problem solving, argumentation and conceptualisation. Basic goals of these workshops are to do something useful for community and to promote philosophical practice as philosophy for everyone.

   Few years ago Petit Philosophy association (of which i am a member) started promoting and doing philosophy for children in Croatia. Today, we want to expand to all forms of philosophical practice and philosophy for elders is just a part of that. Public image of philosophy and philosophers isn't good in Croatia and we want to change it by doing something useful for community. In my opinion, key issues here are that philosophy can be useful and that anyone can do philosophy.

   As i grew up and developed great interest in philosophy to a point that i want to study it on university level, i've been told, by my friends, parents, teachers, that philosophy is useless, that it's not even a real job and that i especially can't make a living out of it. Everyone around me seemed to be very pragmatic, but somehow i still wanted to follow the owl of Minerva and here i am, eight years after i first announced to my parents that i want to be poor lover of wisdom for the rest of my life, now trying to share some of the things i learned along the way and show how this strange, ridiculed poppycock we so pretentiously called philosophy can be of any use in everyday life.

   Across the street from my parents house, there actually lived a colleague of mine, philosopher, who moved out a few years before i even started to think about studying philosophy. He could have been a good support to my efforts, but all i was left with were farmers, like my father. I couldn't get any support there, because farmers in these parts of country were called philosophers only to mock one another when they talked too much gibberish. But, now i am trying to merge these two irreconcilable concepts - farmers and philosophy. Since philosophy for elders workshops will be held in two villages, almost all retired elders here were or even still are farmers. And as for me, this isn't the slightest problem - every single man or women during their lives at some point does a philosophical questioning, at least in their own head. The problem is that they either don't know that they are philosophizing or they can't get a good or reasonable answers for themselves.

   So, i hope to promote philosophical practice in a way to show people how philosophy can be useful for their everyday problems and that philosophy is something everyone can do. I hope that workshops will be firstly educational for participants and also interesting, challenging and fun to do. Surely, i will report on this blog after every session on how it went and what were the participant's reactions and comments. I hope we will be able to meet once every two weeks for next two or three months and i hope both groups, in two villages, will be satisfied with what they learn during our meetings. Unfortunately, i had no experience with education for elders before, so i am also hoping that after this program i will be able to compile specific philosophy workshop just for them if there is need, which means that i also hope to learn something and use it in future. At the end, i am really looking forward to this program and i hope that all elderly wisdom lovers will find some meaning within it.

Zoran Kojcic

nedjelja, 3. veljače 2013.

Teaching without textbooks

Last year i started blogging on different platform and one of my first posts was about teaching ethics without textbooks. Back then i just got started with this approach and i was developing the idea, so now i get the chance to share what i've learned from this experience so far.
To begin, i would like you to read this post on a link provided here.

Same as i felt back in October 2012, i feel now. It really is way better to approach Ethics in such manner that students engage in discussions, rather than just read or reinterpret what others said. Philosophical practice approach proved to be very useful here. Within it, the method of socratic dialogue shows best results. Lately, i've started to use philosophical cafe practice in classroom. The main idea here is to let my students choose for themselves which topic they want to discuss. Sure, they seem to have some difficulties in keeping the discussion going untill the end of the class, but this is where i come in. As soon as i notice they are having some trouble, i jump in with a question or statement, and the discussion goes on. This might occur few times during the class, it depends on students or on topic of discussion, but it is the point where you see how interesting this role change really is. Students are no longer just students, they are teachers as well. And teacher becomes mere facilitator, directing - not the knowledge students have, but the topic on which they should discuss. 

Socratic dialogue is very useful when you have specific topic in mind. Surely, as a teacher you should have annual plan and program of what you would teach in given subject. Similar to that, you should prepare for all your classes and do the research on topic you want to teach. If the topic is general and already known to your students, then you can begin with specific questions which will problematize it. If the topic is new to your students, then a short introduction is enough for them to grasp the possible views and to form an opinion. From that point on, directed questioning is all that matters. As you set your goals, questions should be directed in that way. Sometimes, i don't even tell a single statements during entire class, all i do is ask questions and students get to do the answering. While doing so, they should always be reminded to use arguments and if possible, also concepts. This type of discussion becomes extremely important for grading them.

Also, flipped classroom is new and interesting approach one can use with ease. With a little help of technology, we can do wonders nowadays. I prefer to use videos as sort of homework assignments. I usually pick videos on Youtube, or make my own videos (using iPad apps and posting them online), send the links to my students with additional tasks/questions to answer. This approach can be used both individually or in group and it works well, because they already watch videos everyday for fun, so it doesn't hurt to watch some for homework for change. I usually pick short videos, which they can understand, mostly animated short films which deal with a topic related to our subject. When i make videos, i make sure they get the most important facts in combination with examples, photos and directed motion, pointing out the most important connections. 

I've been asked a lot of times, by my colleagues, how do you grade your students then? One thing is interesting with this kind of approach - it's that there isn't a single student who will tell you during oral exam "I don't know". When they use textbooks, most teachers expect their students to repeat what's already written there. Based on correctness of repeated material, students are evaluated (in Croatia, numerically, where 1 is the worst and 5 is the best grade). I find that there are many other ways in which i can grade students. It gets difficult when i have students who don't function well with this approach, because they are used to 'textbook - repeat' system for so many years. And they tell me 'Please, just tell me what to write down, i will write it down and repeat it for you on exam'. So, how to deal with those who were taught WHAT to think, instead of HOW to think? They just need time and you have to work with them gradually. Short, individual assignments are best way to grade them as often as possible. Yes, they will still have trouble with oral exams, because they aren't used to express their own opinion, but they will do the assignments as you tell them to and maybe a bit worse grade in oral exam won't look so bad with the rest good grades for all other achievements. With time, they will get the courage and liberty to express what they think, just like the rest of the class. And as for the rest, the ones who were doing well since the beginning, it's really easy to grade them, because they respond with reasoning, arguments and sense. When repeating the textbook material on exams, students are nervous that they will get something wrong and fail the exam because of that. But after my first oral exam, where they weren't quite sure what to expect, i didn't see a single nervous student standing in front of me when it comes to exams or any other grading related situation. I asked them once, how come that they aren't nervous, and one of my best students answered - Because i trust my reasoning.

Zoran Kojcic