A Community of Enquiry is a group of people used to thinking together with a view to increasing their understanding and appreciation of the world around them and of each other.
P4C focuses on thinking skills and communal dialogue ('philosophising'), and aims to build 'communities of enquiry' where participants develop the 4C's: creative, critical, caring and collaborative thinking skills.
Caring = listening (concentrating) and valuing (appreciating) (e.g. showing interest in, and sensitivity to, others’ experiences and values
Collaborative = responding (communicating) and supporting (conciliating) (e.g. building on each other’s ideas, shaping common understandings and purposes)
Critical = questioning (interrogating) and reasoning (evaluating) (e.g. seeking meaning, evidence, reasons, distinctions, and good judgements)
Creative = connecting (relating) and suggesting (speculating) (e.g. providing comparisons, examples, criteria, alternative explanations or conceptions)
The P4C or ‘community of enquiry’ approach is very adaptable – which is why it is used in adult groups as well as in schools, and for recreational as well as educational purposes.
Teachers who have introduced the approach in a special session generally find that it carries over into other lessons, affecting both their own style of teaching and their students’ preferred style of learning.
This is because it puts enquiry at the heart of the educational process: teachers begin to ask more open and genuine questions, whilst students become more confident in expressing their puzzlements and in developing their interests.
But developing a community of enquiry requires more than just concentrating on better questioning. It is equally important to develop reasoning and reflection, both public and private. And these bring into play, among other things, emotions and the thoughtful expression of emotions.
In short, the process is multifaceted and profoundly personal. It presents an intellectual challenge to those involved, but also a social and emotional
one. It encourages open-mindedness, and creates conditions for change, both for individuals and for communities.