Student assessment

Among the many frameworks that have been proposed for assessing students’ performance and skill development as participants in collaborative philosophical enquiry, a particularly comprehensive one is Robert Fisher’s ‘Checklist of discourse skills’. This checklist was published in Fisher’s 2003 book Teaching Thinking (London: Continuum), and is reproduced below with minor amendments:

1. Participation

  • number of comments
  • response to teacher
  • response to another student
  • extended utterances
  • response to agenda (building on the discussion)
  • unclassified response (non-specific response)

2. Organising

  • identifying task (e.g. problem/question to be discussed)
  • planning (e.g. organising discussion)
  • directing (e.g. asking for responses)
  • concluding (e.g. summing up, last words)

3. Collaborating

  • active listening (giving serious attention, allowing each speaker to finish)
  • agreeing (specifying with whom/what view you agree)
  • encouraging (showing verbal or non-verbal responsiveness to others)
  • turn-taking (yielding turns to others)
  • self-correcting (moderating one’s views during discussion)

4. Questioning

  • asking initial question (identifing a puzzle or problem for discussion)
  • identifying kind of question (factual/philosophical/literary, etc)
  • asking follow-up questions (seeking reasons, clarification, etc)
  • self-questioning (rhetorical or genuine self-inquiry)

5. Initiating

  • making initial statements (within a stage of the discussion)
  • setting a new line of inquiry (introducing new problem or issue)
  • seeking justification (asking for reasons, proof, evidence)

6. Extending

  • developing the discussion (building in ideas, making connections)
  • adding detail (giving examples, evidence, instances, etc)
  • translating (re-phrasing one’s own or other’s ideas or contributions)

7. Countering

  • raising objections (with reason, argument or counter-argument)
  • qualifying (clarifying, drawing distinctions, amending viewpoint)

8. Reasoning

  • explaining (defining, clarifying, illustrating the meaning of…)
  • justifying (giving supporting reasons or evidence)
  • comparing (comparing or contrasting, drawing an analogy)
  • hypothesising (suggesting a theory/explanation/possible consequence, etc)
  • generalising (arguing from a particular instance to a general rule)

9. Recounting

  • using anecdote (is it relevant? coherent? illustrating a point?)
  • paraphrasing (e.g. summarising a text, event or idea)
  • describing (giving an account of a situation, experience or idea)

10. Reviewing

  • reviewing (analysing progress of discussion or element of discussion)
  • monitoring (checking understanding of one’s own or others’ contributions)
  • evaluating (assessing quality of contributions to discussion)
  • judging (critical judgement of discussion or element of discussion)
  • commenting (giving opinion on relevant features of context of discussion)


The reasoning skills outlined in Fisher’s point 8 (above) may be usefully supplemented by the following list of skills involved in analysis, inference and evaluation, written by Christina Slade and published in ‘Critical and Creative Thinking: An evaluation of philosophy for children’ (Analytic Teaching, 13 (4), Nov. 1992):

Analysis involves

  • identifying what is being said
  • distinguishing what is relevant from what is not
  • seeing connections between different strands of thought
  • recognising vagueness and ambiguity, then clarifying terms
  • identifying members of a class, in terms of likeness
  • identifying counterinstances, as different in some respect
  • identifying analogies

Inferring involves

  • drawing out the consequences [i.e. implications] of what is said
  • identifying underlying assumptions
  • generalising from particular instances – i.e. abstracting
  • applying analogies to reach new conclusions
  • recognising cause/effect relationships

Evaluation involves

  • giving reasons for beliefs and decisions and then choosing how to act
  • criticising ideas constructively
  • modifying ideas in response to criticism