2011. Vol.2, No.5, 418-428
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.25061
Developmental Process of Dialogical Critical Thinking
in Groups of Pupils Aged 4 to 12 Years
Marie-France Daniel1, Mathieu Gagnon2
1Department of Kinesiology, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada;
2Department of Psychology and Education, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi,
Received October 9th, 2011; revised November 20th, 2011; accepted Novem ber 25th, 2011.
The objective of this study is to model the development of critical th inking in groups of pupils aged 4 to 12 years.
A previous study, conducted with groups of pupils aged 9 to 12 years who practiced Philosophy for Children
(P4C), proposed a model that shows how critical thinking develops in these age groups. The present empirical
study was conducted in three geographical contexts (Quebec, Ontario and France) with 17 classrooms of pupils
who had practiced P4C. Based on a qualitative method of analysis that stems from the Grounded Theory, analy-
sis of the 17 transcripts of exchanges resulted in a revised model of the developmental process of critical think-
ing that is defined by four thinking modes and six epistemological perspectives. Using this revised model, a fur-
ther analysis of the transcripts illustrated that the development of critical thinking occurred through a process of
fading and appropr ia tio n/t ransforma t ion , which is associated with “scaffolding”.
Keywords: Critical Thinking, Epistemology, Ph i lo so ph y for Childre n, Preschool and El ementary School Pupils,
The challenges posed by globalization and social and ethical
changes in the 21st century require the use of significant con-
ceptual teaching tools to help young generations find the
meaning of events, become involved in improving the common
good, and co-construct solutions that are better adapted to this
new reality. The conceptual tool favoured by UNESCO (2011)
is the development of a critical mind; the medium suggested is
teaching philosophy as early as elementary school (UNESCO,
According to M. Nussbaum (2010, chapter 4), Philosophy for
Children (P4C) is considered to be one of the most eloquent
approaches for stimulating complex thinking in children. Based
on previous studies (among others: Daniel et al., 2005; Daniel
et al., submitted), our methodological postulate is that P4C
contributes to fostering critical thinking in preschool and ele-
mentary school pupils.
Inspired by Vygotsky’s social-constructivism, and also by
Socrates’ maieutics and Dewey’s pragmatism, P4C was deve-
loped by philosopher Matthew Lipman at the beginning of the
1970s (Lipman, 2003; Lipman et al., 1980). Philosophical dia-
logue within a community of inquiry, which constitutes the
essence of P4C, represents a powerful means for the develop-
ment of thinking in that it encourages pupils to become active
in their reflections (instead of adopting ideas ready-made from
adults) and to surpass their initial zone of certainty by co-con-
structing their points of view with the help of their peers. In the
classroom, P4C sessions begin by reading a chapter of a phi-
losophical novel. This narration serves as a context for explor-
ing philosophical concepts (liberty, beauty, friendship, justice,
etc.) in which there is no single correct answer. Pupils are then
invited to formulate questions they would like to discuss to-
gether. Finally, the exchanges among pupils are meant to pro-
vide elements of response to the questions posed. The teacher’s
responsibility consists in guiding the pupils, with questions of a
Socratic nature, to engage in a philosophical dialogue.
Although several studies have shown the effect of P4C on
the development of thinking skills that are said to be complex,
and especially skills related to pupils’ logical reasoning (among
others: Camhy & Iberer, 1988; Cannon, 1987; Cannon &
Weinstein, 1985; Caron, 1990; Gazzard, 1988; Kennedy, 1996;
Lane & Lane, 1986), few have focused on understanding the
development of critical thinking. This is the objective of the
present study1. In this paper, the authors present the results of a
research project centered on the following question: How is the
developmental process of critical thinking manifested in groups
of pupils aged 4 to 12 years, when they use P4C? The objective
is not to test Lipman’s approach, but rather to describe the
process of the development of critical thinking when pupils are
stimulated using this approach. And since the essence of P4C is
social, the analysis focuses on the development of class groups
and not the development of individuals.
First, this paper introduces the concept of critical thinking
and presents an initial model of the development of critical
thinking as it emerged from analyses conducted with groups of
pupils aged 9 to 12 years. Second, the paper presents, as a first
result, a refined model, as it emerged from the study of groups
of pupils aged 4 to 9 years and 9 to 12 years. Third, the paper
presents, as a second result, an illustration of how the revised
model can be used as an analysis grid. Finally, it offers a dis-
cussion about the model and an interpretation of the trends
observed in the developmental process in these age groups.
Critical Thinking and Initial Model of the
Development of Dialogical Critical Thinking of
Groups of Pupils Aged 9 to 12 Years
The origin of the concept of critical thinking can be implic-
1The present study was subsidized by the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research C ouncil of Canada
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL. 419
itly found among 17th century philosophers such as Descartes,
Bacon and Galileo, who were already aware of the importance
of stimulating a mental attitude that would enable human be-
ings to counter prejudices (Lipman, 2003). At the time, two
currents clashed: theoreticians who favoured ideas and deni-
grated practical experimentation; and practitioners who insisted
on validating their knowledge to verify its practical utility (see
Belaval, 1973, 1974). From the latter perspective was born
American Pragmatism, particularly in the writings of Peirce
(1956, 1965) in which the rules of formal logic were de-em-
phasized in favor of applied logic. Following Peirce’s footsteps,
Dewey (1933, 1983) favoured the use of logic to improve the
Arising from these reflections, the concept of critical think-
ing was proposed in the middle of the 20th century. To Robert
Ennis (1962, 1985), critical thinking implies logical and crea-
tive thinking; it signifies reasonable and reflected thinking that
enables one to decide what ought to be believed or done (Ennis,
1985). Richard Paul (1990, 1993) recognized a similarity be-
tween critical thinking and the philosophical mind and, from
this, linked critical thinking to moral attitudes such as humility,
integrity, perseverance, empathy and courage. Matthew Lipman
(1988, 2003) stipulates that critical thinking is not an end in
itself, but rather a means to facilitate “good” judgment. He
defines critical thinking as thinking that is based on criteria, is
self-correcting and is sensitive to context. To Lipman, and most
philosophers, critical thinking presupposes generic skills, that is,
it is transferable to any subject matter.
Then, with the intent of operationalizing dialogical critical
thinking (DCT), a first empirical study (1998-2001)2 was con-
ducted with eight groups of pupils (aged 9 to 12 years) from
three different cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Quebec,
Mexico and Australia). From this study, the main lines of a
developmental process of DCT emerged (Daniel et al., 2002,
2005). Here, the term “developmental” refers to a co-construc-
tion process, which presupposes the increasing complexity of
thinking3. And critical thinking is said to be “dialogical” be-
cause it is situated in the context of philosophical dialogue
among peers. The components of this first model were four
thinking modes (logical, creative, responsible and metacogni-
tive) that are manifested according to three epistemological
“perspectives”4 named egocentricity, relativism and inter-sub-
Categorization of the four components of the model was con-
ducted as follows: pupil interventions that were linked to a
search for coherence, to informal logic, to order, to conver-
gence, or to uniformity in discourse were grouped in the logical
mode. Pupil interventions linked to a search for meaning, con-
textualization of points of view and transformation of meanings
were grouped in the creative mode, as were interventions that
implied original, different or divergent relationships. Interven-
tions that established a connection between behaviour and
moral rules or ethical principles with the intention of improving
personal and social experience were grouped in the responsible
mode. Finally, interventions linked to the ability to think about
tasks completed, points of view or opinions expressed (by one-
self or by peers) and that denoted a retrospective reflection
were grouped in the metacognitive mode.
Thorough analysis led to the observation that the manifesta-
tions of these thinking modes were dynamic, that is, they vary
from simple to complex5. For example, logical thinking begins
with statements of perceptions and eventually manifests justifi-
cation of concepts and argumentation. The authors linked the
increasing complexity of thinking to three epistemological per-
spectives. Interventions that were focused on personal experi-
ence were grouped in Egocentricity. Interventions that referred
to the idea of openness and tolerance in the awareness of a di-
versity of viewpoints were grouped in Relativism. Interven-
tions that implied peer interaction and co-construction of argu-
ments to enrich and transform the initial perspective were
grouped in Inter-subjectivity.
Furthermore, although a thinking mode associated with ego-
centricity is considered less critical than a thinking mode asso-
ciated with inter-subjectivity, both relate to critical thinking
insofar as they lie within the scope of processes that lead to
elaborating judgments. So the model that emerged from these
initial findings constitutes a grid that enables us to analyze
movements of thinking using the components associated with
critical thinking, from its weakest to its strongest expression. A
question remains: Does this initial model reflect the increasing
sophistication of critical thinking in groups of younger pupils?
Method of Analysis of the 2009-2012 Study
The present study is qualitative6. Its objective is to understand
how DCT manifests itself in groups of young pupils who prac-
tice P4C, and to model its development. It is inspired by the
Grounded Theory (Charmaz, 2005; Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
The objective of a Grounded Theory analysis is not to verify
the foundations of existing theories, nor to measure the impact
of an action with the help of control groups, but rather to draw
out a new comprehension of a phenomenon from data collected
on the ground (Laperrière, 1997). It is then a matter of coding
the data and of making as many links as possible between the
codes in order to bring out categories, to group these categories
into viable concepts and to bring forth a theory or theoretical
elements that are coherent and representative of the context
being studied. All the steps of the analysis remain provisional
until the end of the analysis, which occurs when a consensus
among researchers is reached (Laperrière, 1997; Paillé, 1994).
2The project was realized with a grant from the Social Sciences and Hu-
manities Research Council of Canada (SSH RC).
3In a different field of study but in a similar vein, Scardamalia & Bereiter
use the expression “developmental trajectory” to illustrate the process
inherent in knowledge building, which is transformed “from the natural
inquisitiveness of the young child to the disciplined creativity of the mature
knowledge producer” (2003: p. 1370). Hofer & Pintrick (1997) use the
expression “sophistication” of the conceptions to refer to the epistemologi-
cal leve ls and their continua (see Gagnon, 2011).
4We distinguish epistemological posture from epistemological perspective.
Indeed, whereas the former is linked to an epistemic cognition process
identified by the expression of a concept whose object refers to notions o
knowledge, the latter refers to the manner in which meanings and represen-
tations of the world are constructed, no matter what the object in question:
Are these meanings and representations centered on individuals; Do they
take into account the points of view of others; Are they directed at princi-
ples or concepts; etc. Furthermore, epistemological posture refers more to
the idea of personal epistemology, as it is studied in the field of cognitive
sychology, whereas the social character of P4C, in which our work is
situated, presents a “relational epistemology” (Thayer-Bacon, 2003).
The participants were 17 groups of pupils aged 4 to 12 years,
from three different schools. To respect the required diversity
for the Grounded Theory, the three schools were located in
5Here, variation indicates a movement from centering to decentering and
from concr ete to abstract (see Daniel et al., 2011).
6The project was subsidized by the Social Sciences and Humanities Re-
search Council of Canada (SSHRC) (# 410-2009-0028). And an ethics
certificat e was granted for collection of t he data (CPER 09-031 -P(2)) from
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL.
three different geographical contexts: Quebec, Ontario and
France. Although the French language was common to all three,
these contexts offered a cultural diversity that underlies the
diversity of their educational intents and aims. Furthermore,
there was also a socioeconomic diversity, attested to by the
three school principals: in Quebec the pupils belonged to a
working-class environment, in France to a middle-class socio-
economic environment, and in Ontario they belonged to a
privileged environment7. Finally, diversity was also noted in
the pupils’ philosophical experience: in Quebec and France the
pupils had been participating in P4C for one year; in Ontario
most of the pupils studied had two years of experience with
In Quebec seven classrooms of pupils participated in the
study, from kindergarten to grade 6. In Ontario six classrooms
participated, from kindergarten to grade 5 (grade 6 is part of
secondary school there). In France four classrooms participated,
from preschool to the end of elementary school (kindergarten
and grades 1, 2 and 5). Each group was composed of 25 to 30
pupils. Classes were mixed, approximately 50% girls and 50%
In all the classrooms, P4C was practiced weekly during the
entire school year, from October until May or June. Sessions
lasted between 30 and 60 minutes each, depending on the age
of the pupils and according to the availability of the teachers.
The teachers had all previously been trained with P4C, although
each teacher applied it in a personal manner in the classroom
(i.e.: with or without Lipman material, and with or without
Data Collection Instruments
At the end of the school year (in May or in June according to
school availability), a philosophical exchange among the pupils
was recorded in each classroom, for a total of 17 exchanges.
Recordings were conducted using two microphones (one on the
floor in the middle of the class, and a boom microphone that
followed the pupils) and two vid eo cameras (one camera covered
the whole classroom while another focused on the pupil
To ensure that the context of the recordings remained as
“natural” as possible, the themes were not imposed in advance
by the researchers; they therefore differed from classroom to
classroom. The length of the recording was equivalent to the
normal duration of the weekly session in each class. The
recordings were transcribed verbatim by a third party.
Coding and Analysis
Within the framework of this study, analysis of the different
manifestations of critical thinking lies within the scope of a
social dimension that implies examining the co-construction of
meaning during peer exchanges rather than individual perfor-
mance (as is usually the case in the field of cognitive psycho-
logy). This dimension reflects our conception of critical think-
ing as a social process (see Brookfield, 1987).
Coding focused on the form of thinking (e.g. whether a state-
ment is justified or not) rather than on the content (e.g. whether
a statement reflects a prejudice or not). In other words, coding
took into account the manner in which points of view were
articulated, not the matter that inspired them.
To ensure reliability in the context of a qualitative analysis
(Charmaz, 2005; Laperrière, 1997; Savoie-Zajc, 2004; Van der
Maren, 1996, 2006), the transcripts were first coded by the
researchers, then blind-coded a few weeks later. Adjustments
were made until a consensus was reached. Below are the steps
followed to formulate a representative model of the develop-
mental process of DCT in pupils aged 4 to 12 years.
The authors: 1) coded each statement from each transcript in
order to highlight the thinking skills mobilized by the pupils
(definition, description, example, question, etc.) during the
exchanges; 2) associated the thinking skills with the corre-
sponding thinking modes (see Table 1).
From this analysis, only the thinking modes observed in the
initial model emerged, namely: logical, creative, responsible
and metacognitive. Short answers (“yes”, “no”, “I don’t know”)
directed at the teacher were not included in the coding of
thinking skills. In point of fact, there is no means of verifying
whether this type of answer implies some contribution from one
of the thinking modes observed. A child may answer the
teacher’s question with a random “yes” or “no”, without having
given any autonomous thought to his or her position.
For analysis of the epistemological perspectives the authors:
3) recoded each transcript according to two general criteria
(centering/decentering and concrete/abstract) that have been
previously validated (Daniel et al., 2011); 4) grouped these
codes into conceptual categories that correspond to the initial
model’s epistemological perspectives: egocentricity, relativism
and inter-subjectivity (see Table 2).
When the transcript statements did not quite correspond to
the three initial epistemological perspectives (among others,
because of the participants different age groups), the authors: 5)
reanalyzed the transcript by extracting the elements that seemed
sufficiently recurrent to constitute specific reference points (see
6) The final analysis was completed using general criteria
and specific reference points. This enabled the authors to for-
mulate interme diate categories in t he model, expressed in terms
of “post” and “pre” (post-egocentricity, pre-relativism, post-
relativism/pre-inter-subjectivity), and thus further refine the
model of the developmental process of DCT.
Model of the Developmental Process of DCT of
Groups of Pupils Aged 4 to 1 2 Years
To explain the model of the developmental process of DCT
in groups of pupils aged 4 to 12 years, presented in Table 4,
excerpts from exchanges among the pupils were used. The four
thinking modes serve as starting points for the examples; the
increasing complexity of each thinking mode is illustrated by
the epistemological perspectives. Note that the excerpts chosen
were simply examples to illustrate a given thinking mode. This
does not mean that the excerpts do not display other thinking
modes. Indeed, the analyses showed that a single statement
could show the mobilization of more than one mode: logical
thinking (if it contains a justification), creative thinking (if it
implies a new relationship with what was previously stated) and
responsible thinking (if it bears on social or moral values).
To highlight the difference between the DCT model and
other traditional models that evolve in stages, and to demon-
strate the recursive movement of the developmental process,
excerpts from both preschool and elementary school classes are
presented for those same thinking modes and epistemological
perspectives. Finally, it should b noted that not all the compo-
7For an example of criteria used to measure a school’s socioeconomic
background, see the Ministry of Education of Quebec website. e
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL. 421
Categorization of thinking skills into thinking modes.
Examples of thinking skills Thinking mod es
Statement, definition, de scription, explanation, justification, argumentation, etc. Logical
Example, analogy, comparison, counter-example, nuance, critical question, divergent relationship, etc. Creative
Statement, descripti o n, explanation… related to a social/moral b ehaviou r, a rule, a value, etc. Responsible
Recalling a thought, a task, an emotion, a situation… related to self or others with the idea of stating, describing, evaluating,
correcting a thought, a task, etc. Metacognitive
General criteria used to code an d analyze epistemological perspectives.
Centering/Decentering Concrete/Abstract Epistemological perspective
Concerns personal interests (self) Statements based on concrete experience Egocentric i ty
Indicates sensitivity to anoth er person (others) Relationships grounded in somewhat generalized experience Relativism
Concerns social values (comm on good) Conceptual r elations hips Inter-subjectivity
nents of the developmental model are shown by examples; the
illustrations concentrate on components that were recurrent in
the analyses .
Logical thinking, when it is manifested in an epistemology
linked to egocentricity, is simply stated and is without nuance.
It manifests itself in the concrete perception of an object or a
particular situation that refers to the pupil’s personal experience.
The inferential process is rudimentary; nevertheless it shows
coherence between the topic discussed, the teacher’s question
and the child’s own perceptions and opinions.
When logical thinking is manifested in post-egocentricity, it
is slightly decentered from the pupil’s personal experience,
opening up to the experience of his immediate surroundings
(parents, friends). The experience is not generalized; it remains
concrete and specific.
Logical thinking that is part of the pre-relativism epistemo-
logy was manifested in several classrooms. Although the qua-
lity of vocabulary and syntax in interventions varies between
kindergarten pupils and grade 4 or 5 pupils, there are common
characteristics such as: simply stated points of view (neither
described nor explained), somewhat generalized statements (not
referring to personal experience nor to that of someone close)
and unjustified statements (see examples 1 and 2). Sometimes,
a logical statement situated in pre-relativism manifests an at-
tempt at justification by introducing a “because” in the speech,
but it fails to materialize (see example 3) or it contains a false
or a circular justification. In this perspective, DCT is not very
sophisticated, but it allows progress to be observed in compari-
son with the manifestations of previous perspectives.
Example 1: Kindergarten—F10 answers a teacher’s question
concerning the behaviour of a character in a philosophical tale:
Audrey-Anne did not want to bother her mother.
Example 2: 4th grade—In an exchange regarding the useful-
ness of school, M09 answers: School serves to make you smart.
Example 3: 3rd grad e—In an exc hange about the environment,
F12 notes: It’s not good to play in amusement parks because/
you can’t just go to an amusement park you can only play in
Relativist logical thinking implies that the statement is both
decentered from personal experience and justified. When pupils
become aware that their personal point of view is not shared by
all, they feel the need to justify that point of view. Decentering
leads to justification. In this epistemological perspective, justi-
fication is experiential or concrete (examples 4 and 5). It is
often stimulated by the teacher, who asks the pupils “Why do
you say that…?” Our results have shown that even at five years
of age (example 4), notwithstanding their syntactic difficulties,
children were able to justify their points of view.
Example 4: Kindergarten—M07: (…instead of yelling…) if
for example someone wants his toy you can just ask if you can
give it back because it was yours to begin with.
Example 5: 3rd grade—M08: It is always important to recycle
because if you put a bottle outside it takes centuries years (…).
Post-relativist/pre-inter-subjective logical thinking is mani-
fested in a more elaborate statement. The statement is general-
ized, which is observable in its articulation in a “they” or “we”
form. It is justified with a reason that implies resorting to an
inference rather than referring to an experience (examples 6 and
Example 6: 3rd grade—M08: (…) but if we if people continue
to do that it will pollute the Earth more and more and more and
it will destroy again destroy the ozone layer and it is very dan-
gerous because the ozone layer it (protects) a bit from the sun
the sun can (…) destroy vegetation and things and fruits and
things to eat.
Example 7: 5th grade—F04: I (… ) agree with M11 (children
should not go to war) because children are very young and if
they are killed they will not have had time to live.
Creative thinking, as a search for meaning, is manifested in
an epistemology related to egocentricity through the use of a
personal and specific example. In this case, the example can
illustrate a point of view (example 8) or replace it (example 9).
Example 8: Kindergarten—F12: I don’t know. But I think
that when people are sad when they are angry they cry. Like me
sometimes it’s like what I do.
Example 9: 1st grade—In an exchange about handicaps, in
particular the disadvantages of deafness, M04, who does not
seem to have a point of view o the question, provides a per- n
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL.
Specific reference points used to code and analyze epistemological perspectives.
Specific reference points Epistemological perspectives
-Concrete and referring to the p u pil’s specific person al expe ri ence.
-Centered on simple units (vs. Relations hips).
-Formulated in “i” form.
-Concrete and slightly de-centered, referring to the specific experience of the pupil’s immediate circle (family).
-Centered on simple units (vs. Relations hips).
-Generally formulat ed in “we” fo rm (including self and others) or possessi ve “he/she ” form ( my brother, he is…).
-More elaborate than in the previous perspectives because they “describe” a simple situation.
-Concrete w i t h t h e beginnings of an underlying generaliz ation that is grounded in f amiliar sur roundings (parents, friends).
-Without nuance or with ve r y little nuance.
-Not justified or with an underlying unsuccessful attempt at a justification: justification in “I” form, implicit, circular,
false justification, e t c.
-Generally formulated as a general “we” (we must love everyone) or with a generalized “they” (parents they love their
-Concrete, with underlying beginnings of generalization, and justified.
-In the form of concrete and/or incomplete explanation.
-With underlying simple relat i on s hips betw een ideas ( vs . Units that are independent from each other).
-Generally formulated in “you”, “we” or generalized “they” form.
-Generalized and show the beginnings of conceptualization.
-Explicitly articulated (i.e. : “bec a us e ” or “on account of”).
-Presented in the form of a reason (supposing an underlyin g inference rather tha n l inked to a c on crete experience).
-Related to peer points of view.
-Implies the beginnings of a const ructive evaluation a n d divergent th inking.
-Presented in the form of questioning, dou bt o r a constructive evaluation o f points of view, premises, etc.
-Underlying search for different meanings (vs. For a si n gle truth).
-Included an argume nt ation express ed in nego t iation form.
-Centered o n social or ethical pre occupations.
-Sometimes explicitly in cluded a self-correction.
-Explicitly articulated (i.e. : “bec a us e ” or “on account of”).
-Presented in the form of criteria (subjective or objective).
-Well developed although not comprehensively.
-Linked to peer points of view.
*In this study, no manifestations of inter-subjectivity emerged from the transcript analysis. Therefore we chose to reproduce some of the specific criteria which emerged
from the previou s analysis conducted with groups of pupils who had more than two years of experience with P4 C, in relation to criteria inherent in exchanges of a “dia-
logical critical” nature (Daniel et al., 2002). The specific criteria related to inter-subjectivity have yet to be verified in a future study.
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL. 423
Model of the developm ental process of DCT in groups of pupils aged 4 to 12 years.
Epistemology Logical Creative Responsible Meta Cognitive
Egocentricity Statement b ased on the
perceptual experience of a
specific and personal fact.
Statement that gives
meaning to a p ersonal po int
Statement that is related to a
personal a nd specific b ehaviour
tied to a social or moral belief.
Retrospective statement about
a personal and specific task,
point of view, feeling, etc.
Post-Egocentricity Statement based on
experience (personal or of
someone close) + reasoning.
Statement that gives
meaning to a p ersonal po int
of view (but distanced
Particular/concrete statement tied
to a moral or social rule (learned).
Retrospective statement about
a personal task, point of view ,
feeling, etc .
(distanced fr o m self).
statement that is not justified
or with an implicit, circular or
Statement that is new,
divergent, or t hat presents
solutions/hypothese s (u nits)
in relation to a personal idea
or to someone else’s idea.
Statement linked to a somewhat
generalized action in a moral or
Descriptive retrospec t iv e of a
personal task, point of view,
feeling, etc .
(distanced fr o m self).
Statement based on a
generalization that stems fr o m
reasoning a nd experi ence.
by an adult.
Relationsh i p that gives
meaning to a p eer’s point of
view (by completing it or
adding a nuance or a new
Statement that expla ins a will to
understan d/i nclu de o ther s (from
the immediate environment) with
or without appealing to an
integrated moral/soc i al rule
Descriptive re t rospective of
another person’s task,
thought, etc. (from the
Justification based on “good
reasons” that stem from
Relationship that presents a
different context that takes
into acc ou nt the group’s
Statement that justifies a desire to
understan d/i nc lude othe r s (dist ant
environment) with or wit hout the
use of an integ r ated m oral/social
rule (contex tu alized/justified).
Descriptive re t rospective of
another person’s task,
Inter-Subjectivity Justificatio n based on criteria.
Conceptuali zation based on
Evaluative re lationship t hat
provides a different
meaning and tr ansforms
Doubt that underlies t h e evaluat i on
of categories (rules, principles,
Evaluative statement that
expresses a change in
self-correction) follo wing the
integration of criticism.
sonal example: In my building there were four fire alarms and I
heard one in the night.
Post-egocentric creative thinking also rests on a personal ex-
ample, but this example is slightly decentered from the pupil’s
own experience and includes a person from the pupil’s imme-
diate surroundings (parents, friends) (example 10).
Example 10: 4th grade—F07: (…) each time you want some-
thing you think you don’t have many things/like if you have lots
of things and your friend has just a rabbit you want a rabbit
because your friend has one.
Creative thinking situated in the pre-relativism perspective,
although it is still simple, presents two or more contexts or
alternatives or hypothetical solutions or explanations (example
11), or it adds an additional and new element to the exchange
(example 12). Statements can be related to the pupil’s point of
view or to the point of view of a peer.
Example 11: Kindergarten—F12: Because his mother was
not very nice and because Audrey-Anne said that his question
Example 12: 2nd grade—Differently from those pupils who
agreed that a person who acted badly was a bad person, M07
brings a new distinction: I acted badly a little but that doesn’t
mean I am not a good person it means that at that time I didn’t
have a good behaviour (…).
Creative thinking that is situated in a relativist perspective
increases in complexity to construct relationships between
points of view. It is characterized by decentering, in that the
relationships produced are intended to give meaning to peer
statements. This type of thinking is not dissociated from the
point of view of peers, but completes it (example 13), or pro-
vides nuances and adds a new dimension (example 14).
Example 13: 1st grade—Taking up the words of a peer, F11
completes them: I agree with F14 because it is true that if you
are in a wheelchair you can it’s for your whole life and if you
break your foot it’s not for your entire life because if we break
a foot (…) we can’t walk but we can jump on one foot with
crutches that hold us up.
Example 14: 5th grade—M13: I agree with everyone, but you
have to think that (…) before the Civil War if you were Black
you couldn’t go work in the fields (…).
Post-relativist/pre-inter-subjective creative thinking also takes
into account peer perspectives. However taking these perspec-
tives into account results in a different relationship than that
produced by the group (examples 15 and 16); it is not a
clear-cut opposition but rather a divergence that implies the
beginnings of a constructive evaluation; it often contributes to
transforming the course of the exchange.
Example 15: 3rd grade—M10: (I don’t agree) neither with
F01 nor with M15 because it’s not just cars that pollute it’s all
things like factories parks like Canada’s Wonderland because
they use a lot of electricity (…).
Example 16: 4th grade—F08: To the consensus among pupils
that the main objective of schools is to learn to read and write,
F08 adds a divergent point of view: Schools aren’t just to learn
to read and write they help you (…) get on with others because
if you don’t go to school you are just with your family and
that’s all but if you go to school you have you learn to get on
with people you don’t like (…).
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL.
Responsible thinking is situated in the egocentric perspective
in that it states a personal and specific behaviour within a social
or a moral context (example 17).
Example 17: 2nd grade—While the group took for example
an argument between two pupils, M07 stated: (…) I didn’t do it
on purpose. I will never do that action again.
Post-egocentric responsible thinking is decentered from the
self but is turned toward a known source of authority or toward
a social or moral rule. The rule is considered to be learned
(rather than integrated) because it is simply stated, without
explanation or justification or without being contextualized
(example 18). The statement is not nuanced.
Example 18: 5th grade—In an exchange about the more im-
portant role of men compared to that of women during warfare,
M03 states: Usually it’s boys that have to protect (…) who pro-
tect girls it’s always like that.
Pre-relativist responsible thinking distances itself from le a rn e d
rules and the specific behaviour of a known individual to focus
on a social or moral action that is somewhat generalized (ex-
Example 19: Kindergarten—In an exchange about sadness,
F08 explains: And babies cry (…) to say they are thirsty or
because they are hungry (…) you can try different things and if
he still cries it means he wants something else.
Responsible thinking is situated in a relativistic perspective
when it expresses concern for others. This concern can be
manifested with questions that show empathy (example 20) or
with an explanation that aims at inclusion (example 21). If a
social or moral rule is called upon, this rule is considered to be
integrated because it is justified or put into context.
Example 20: 1st grade—In an exchange about the difficulties
of being visually handicapped, M06 asked in a worried voice: If
he wants to go to school how can he work?
Example 21: 4th grade—Several pupils take pleasure in re-
peating that school is useless because the teacher repeats the
same things too often and pupils are wasting their time. F10
manifests a concern for inclusion when she adds: When we are
taught something for the fourth time it’s because someone else
has forgotten and it has to be explained to that person.
Responsible thinking is situated in a post-relativist/pre-inter-
subjective epistemology when empathy and concern for inclu-
sion are oriented toward another person who is not part of the
pupil’s surroundings. If the statement is based on a social or
moral rule (e.g. we must, we shouldn’t), this rule is considered
to be integrated because it is justified by a reason or because it
is placed into context (examples 22 and 23).
Example 22: 3rd grade—M19: You must always recycle be-
cause if you throw a plastic bag on the ground instead of recy-
cling it well it will take years even centuries to disappear. (…)
not only can it pollute the Earth some more but on top of th at if
it goes in the water there are turtles and fish that can mistake
them for food and they can die.
Example 23: 5th grade—Regarding the question about w hethe r
or not children should participate in warfare, F17 answers: (…)
it’s good to help but I don’t think it is the children’s duty to
help because it is because children shouldn’t go to war they are
much too young plus children shouldn’t see people die (…) it
really isn’t fair and the only thing they should have to do is
help like support parents and I don’t think that anyone should
go to war (…).
Metacognitive thinking implies awareness of thought (“think-
ing about thinking”), but also awareness of a point of view,
strategy, emotion or task. This thinking mode was scarcely
mobilized in the groups that participated in the research. When
it is situated in a perspective linked to egocentricity, metacog-
nitive thinking is manifested by a simple reflection about one’s
point of view or action (examples 24 and 25). In other words,
the awareness is oriented towards oneself and is simply stated.
Example 24: 2nd grade—F14: (…) when I forgot my home-
work in class I told you I phoned X so (she would give it to me).
Example 25: 3rd grade—M10: What 3M15TO and 3M19TO
said is true. But like I said, it’s the Earth’s rays that protect the
Earth from (…) global warming.
Post-egocentric metacognitive thinking is manifested with a
simple reflection regarding an action, task, point of view, etc.,
of a person belonging to one’s immediate surroundings (exam-
Example 26: Kindergarten—To answer the teacher’s q uesti on
regarding the manifestations of anger, F12 recalls the reactions
she observed in her sister: But my sister when she’s angry she
goes “it’s not fair” (and stamps her feet).
Pre-relativist metacognitive thinking implies a reflection, no
longer simply stated, but descriptive of an action, a task, a point
of view, etc., of a member belonging to the person’s surround-
Relativist metacognitive thinking is also descriptive, but it
shows an interest in what a peer said or did (example 27). The
notion of peer (vs. immediate surroundings/family) is important
here, in that it marks a step toward decentering.
Example 27: 4th grade—F05 expresses her agreement with
F12’s words, which she describes in full: I agree with F12 be-
cause in some countries (…) like in China like you said there
are so many people that there is so much pressure and there
are people who do not have enough money to go to school (…).
Post-relati vist/pre-inter-subjective metacognitive thinki ng takes
up and describes the words, points of view and so on of persons
who do not belong to the pupil’s immediate environment nor
are peers. In example 28, the reflection implies a conscious
relationship between what an author has written and the actual
discussion in which the pupils are engaged—a reflection that
contributed to enriching the pupils’ and the group’s thinking.
Example 28: 5th grade—F09: (…) I already read a book or a
page of a book that said that 97,000 people were killed in the
Second World War and 15,000 were children (…).
In conclusion, the first result of this study stems from the
analysis of transcripts of exchanges among groups of pupils
aged 4 to 12 years. It presents a refined and operational model
of the developmental process of DCT. The four thinking modes
(logical, creative, responsible, metacognitive) now spreads out
over six epistemological perspectives named egocentrism,
post-egocentrism, pre-relativism, relativism, post-relativism/pre-
inter-subjectivity and inter-subjectivity. The examples provided
to present the components of the model show that within the
increasing epistemological complexity, various perspectives
were i d e n tif i e d a mon g d iff e r e n t age groups.
The Model as a Grid for Analysis: An Illustration
The model can be used as a grid to analyze the development-
tal process of DCT by applying its components (4 thinking
modes × 6 epistemological perspectives) to the transcripts of
exchange. After coding, the number of incidences that emerge
from the analysis in relation to thinking modes and epistemo-
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL. 425
logical perspectives were totaled (and transferred into percent-
ages) for each transcript. The analysis allows a global portrait
of the developmental process of DCT to be drawn for each
classroom (see the example of the grade 4 class in Table 5).
In this section, the case of the Ontario school (six classrooms)
will serve as an illustration. For illustrative purposes, the analy-
sis that refers to epistemological perspectives of Ontario class-
rooms is presented (see Table 6).
From the outset, it was noted that the epistemology linked to
egocentricity was mobilized in a low percentage of instances;
the post-egocentricity perspective was slightly more mobilized
than the previous perspective; pre-relativism predominated in
preschool classrooms and at the beginning of elementary school;
and relativism predominated in end-of-elementary classrooms.
The epistemology linked to post-relativism/pre-inter-subjecti-
vity was mobilized to a lesser degree, but increasingly so be-
ginning in the middle of elementary school. No manifestation
linked to inter-subjectivity was noted in any of our groups.
More specifically, it came to light that the epistemological
perspectives that were more significantly mobilized were as
follows: pre-relativism was at a maximum in kindergarten and
1st grade (respectively 62% and 68% of instances). It began to
decrease as early as 2nd grade and dropped to 25% by grade 5.
Relativism, although present in all classrooms, was less mobi-
lized in kindergarten (5%). It grew beginning in first grade
(20%), reaching its highest percentage of mobilization in grade
4 (47%). Post-relativism/pre-inter-subjectivity, absent in kin-
dergarten and first grade, began to manifest itself slightly in the
2nd grade (2%), and kept evolving starting from the 3rd grade, to
reach its highest percentage of mobilization in the 5th grade
Furthermore, an analysis of Table 6 highlights certain trends.
In kindergarten, the analyses indicated that the epistemological
perspectives, although anchored in pre-relativism (62%), still
had roots in egocentricity and post-egocentricity (respectively
13% and 20%).
In the 1st grade, pre-relativism also dominated (68%), but this
percentage clearly distinguished itself from the two previous
perspectives (egocentricity and post-egocentricity) to take root
in relativism (20%).
Grade 2 illustrates an uncertainty in epistemological deve-
lopment8: pre-relativism still dominates, although in a lesser
percentage (53%) than in grade 1. This decrease was offset by a
corresponding increase in post-egocentricity (18%), while there
was also progress toward relativism (20%), a more complex
The 3rd grade marks a movement in the developmental proc-
ess, as relativism, an epistemology that implies decentering and
the beginning of abstraction, was dominant at 45%. However
the previous perspective, pre-relativism, remains mobilized at
38%, and the subsequent one, post-relativism/pre-inter-subjec-
tivity, accounted for 12%.
The 4th grade carries on the trend begun in the previous
classes, as relativism was mobilized at 47%. Although the foot-
hold in the previous perspective (pre-relativism) is still strong
(32%), the process does not stop increasing in complexity, with
Example using the model as an analysis grid—grade 4, Ontario.
Modes/Epist emology Logical Creative Responsible Meta-cognit ive Total of incidences and percent ages
Egocentricity 0 0 0 0 0 (0%)
Post-egocentricity 0 2 0 0 2 (2%)
Pre-relativism 19 7 0 0 26 (32%)
Relativism 6 17 3 12 38 (47%)
Post-relativism/pre-inter-subjectivity 2 3 9 1 15 (18%)
Inter-subjectivity 0 0 0 0 0 (0%)
TOTAL of incidences and percent ages 27 (34%) 29 (36%) 12 (15%) 13 (16%) 81
Developmental process in Ontario classrooms—percentage of epist emological manifestations for each grade.
Epistemological perspective/Grade Preschool 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Egocentricity 13% 6% 7% 2% 0% 0%
Post-egocentricity 20% 6% 18% 2% 2% 7%
Pre-relativism 62% 68% 53% 38% 32% 25%
Relativism 5% 20% 20% 45% 47% 41%
Post-relativism/pre-inter-subjectivity 0% 0% 2% 12% 18% 27%
Inter-subjectivity 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
8According to formal and informal data provided by the school administration, this group of pupils, from kindergarten on, had concentration and learning
difficulties. For relationships between epistemological development and intellectual skills in adolescents and adults, see Friedman, 1995 and Jensen, 1998
quoted in King & Kitchen er, 2001.
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL.
a mobilization of 18% in post-relativism/pre-inter-subjectivity
(vs. 12% in grade 3 and 2% in grade 2).
In grade 5, relativism still dominates (41%), but the foothold
in pre-relativism lessens (25%) in comparison to the percent-
ages observed in grades 3 and 4, and mobilization in post-rela-
tivism/pre-inter-subjectivity incr eases significantly (27%).
In conclusion, from the illustration presented in Table 6, the
following elements emerge: First, the epistemology of a major-
ity of preschool children’s interventions surpassed the limits of
egocentricity, which is traditionally expected of children in
these age groups, to find their expression in a pre-relativist
discourse. Then, a majority of 5th grade pupil’s interventions
were situated in relativism and in post-relativism/pre-inter-
subjectivity, and none in the more complex perspective of in-
The increasing sophistication of DCT that emerged from the
analysis seems to indicate an underlying trend, which was re-
peated in each classroom; the authors suggest an interpretation
of this trend in the following section.
The first contribution of this paper is related to the revised
model of the developmental process of DCT.
In the model, DCT is defined as multimodal (logical, creative,
responsible and metacognitive thinking), rather than being de-
fined in reference to the rules of formal logic, as is the case
with most theories related to critical thinking (Kwak, 2007).
The second element in the definition of DCT is that it is a
process, as each thinking mode increases in complexity through
qualitative differences, spread out across six epistemological
perspectives (see Table 4).
The model the authors propose is developmental in that it il-
lustrates a “progression in reflection” (see Kuhn, 1999; Kuhn &
Weinstock, 2001) that is, an increasing sophistication in the
manner in which the pupils’ representations and meanings are
co-constructed during exchanges within a community of in-
quiry. The progression in reflection is observed in the episte-
mological perspectives (pre-relativism is more complex than
post-egocentricity, and the latter is more complex than egocen-
tricity), as well as in the groups’ epistemologies between pre-
school and grade 5 (see Table 6).
In the model, the development of DCT is a “recursive” pro-
cess (Chandler et al., 2001; Schommer-Aikins, 2001) in that it
is not linear; it is revisited, revised, re-utilized during all grades
of elementary school. As illustrated in Table 6, interventions of
pupils at the end of elementary school, although situated in
more complex perspectives such as relativism and post-relati-
vism/pre-inter-subjectivity, continued to be manifested in sim-
ple perspectives such as post-egocentricity and pre-relativism.
Unlike most models related to reflexive thinking (among oth-
ers, King & Kitchener, 1994, 2001) or critical thinking (among
others, Kuhn, 1999; Kuhn & Weinstock, 2010) that apply to
adolescents or adults, the DCT model concerns groups of pupils
aged 4 to 12 years.
The model does not pretend that preschool and elementary
school pupils’ thinking is in itself critical, that is, evalu at i ve and
argumentative, but it supposes that th e developmental process of
critical thinking begins as early as preschool as long as children
are stimulated in this direction (see Chandler et al., 2001). Of
course, critical thinking is a product because it supposes know-
ledge/experience that is articulated to generate a judgment,
whether it is actualized or not (Lipman, 2003). However, the
authors emphasize the fact that critical thinking is first and
foremost a research process, in that it attempts to satisfy certain
standards of quality during the effort to generate a judgment:
thinking critically means learning to think well (Lipman et al.,
1980). The research process be gins as soon as pupils’ think ing is
fed by doubts that stem from significant problems presented by
the teacher (Dewey, 1933) or by peers (Lipman et al., 1980).
The second contribution of this paper is to bring to ligh t trends
in the developmental process of DCT, for which the authors
propose an interpretation.
Whereas designers of other models refer to the trends they
observed in terms, for example, of “falls” (Perry, 1970) or
“waves” (King et al., 1994; King & Kitchener, 2 001), the authors
suggest an i nterpre tation draw n from the “scaffold ing” metaphor
and which the authors extend to the cognitive development of
groups of pupils who have been previously stimulated by an
adult and peers during dialogues within a philosophical com-
munity of inquiry. The authors use the scaffolding metaphor for
its key concepts rather than its instructional and pedagogical
A review of the literature indicates that the original notion of
scaffolding applies to individual performances and tasks and
refers to the instructional and pedagogical fields (Pea, 2004). At
the end of th e 19 50s, Bru ner in troduc ed the “sca ffold ing” t heory
to refer to language skills that young children acquired with the
help of their parents. Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) took up th e
scaffolding metaphor and applied it to the field of education.
Scaffolding describes the type of accompaniment that teachers
can offer pupils to help them master a task or a concept that is
difficult to u nder stand a priori. T he scaffold ing proce ss includ es
two ideas, that of “fading” or “gradual withdrawal” (Collins et
al., 1989; Davis & Miyake, 2004; Pea, 2004) and that of
“appropriation” ( Rogoff, 1995). The fading process begins when
pupils start t o un derst and t he task or the conc ept, a nd the tea cher
gradually withdraws to leave them more and more r esponsibility,
until they are able to work autonomously. Appropriation is not
only the internalization of another person’s behaviour, it is a
process by which children acquire new skills as they participate
in an activity; it is linked to the “transformation” of com-
prehension following an interaction. These skills are gradually
“integrated” and used in other activities (Jadallah et al., 2011).
Brown, Collins and their colleagues have incorporated notions
of fading and scaffolding into instruction grounded in cognitive
learning (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Collins, Brown, &
As illustrated in Table 6, for each classroom there is one
epistemological perspective that emerges more significantly.
However, this dominant perspective is not isolated: it coexists
with preceding and subsequent perspectives. A decrease, but
not a disappearance, (fading) is therefore observed in preceding
perspectives that are less complex, and a gradual emergence of
subsequent perspectives that are more complex (appropriation
and transformation). For example, at the end of the school year
in kindergarten, pre-relativism (mobilized in a percentage of
62%) seems on its way toward integration by the group; how-
ever its complete appropriation cannot be asserted since their
epistemology remained strongly anchored in the less-complex
perspectives of egocentricity (13%) and post-egocentricity
(20%). Bridges toward relativism were beginning to be built,
but remained weak (5%). In grade 1, however, pre-relativism
seemed more appropriated (68%) since its footholds in egocen-
M.-F. DANIEL ET AL. 427
tricity (6%) and post-egocentricity (6%) had significantly di-
minished, and a more complex perspective, relativism, was
already being constructed by the group (20%).
The same trends (fading and appropriation/transformation)
were displayed in the higher-level classrooms, but within epis-
temological perspectives that were progressively more complex.
An example of this is the 5th grade pupils. This group had inte-
grated and surpassed perspectives linked to egocentricity (ego-
centricity and post-egocentricity), which were mobilized re-
spectively in percentages of 0% and 7%. The appropriation/
transformation occurred around relativism, which was the
dominant perspective (41%) in the group. The preceding per-
spective was still being mobilized, but it was fading, at 25% of
interventions, while the more complex perspective, mobilized
in a percentage of 27%, was being constructed. In other words,
the class group, in an appropriation/transformation process, was
still looking for concrete support in pre-relativism, while it was
trying to integrate post-relativism/pre-inter-subjectivity.
Since our research is of the qualitative type, it does not pro-
vide direct evidence regarding developmental processes, but
only avenues to explore sequences of change that underlie these
processes. And because of the social character of the analysis,
the research does not provide any data on how individuals
change over time. Research in cognitive psychology could pro-
vide evidence about change over time by assessing individuals
at multiple points in time. Also, quantitative analyses with large
numbers of participants could be used to ensure the reliability
of the model’s components, and to interweave these compo-
nents with other measures of the development of critical think-
ing could serve to validate the model. Furthermore, the DCT
model the authors propose originated from exchanges among
pupils who were experimenting with P4C, and this context may
have influenced the thinking modes manifested. It would
therefore be useful to verify the components of the model in the
context of exchanges in other school disciplines and in the con-
text of informal exchanges. The study was conducted within a
framework of verbal exchanges; it would also be useful to study
pupils’ DCT as manifested in written works. Finally, the pro-
posed model is essentially descriptive. Therefore, research in
social and cognitive psychology aimed at analyzing and ex-
plaining the transition regarding the mobilization of a thinking
mode into the expression of a point of view, and comparing
them to the simultaneous mobilization of several modes of
thinking into the expression of a similar but more complex
point of view, would also be useful.
This study, conducted with groups of P4C pupils from pre-
school and elementary school, presents a refined and opera-
tional model of the development of DCT. The model represents
a (social) process of co-construction of meanings. It is com-
posed of four thinking modes that increase in complexity ac-
cording to six epistemological perspectives, illustrating the
development of DCT from its weakest to its strongest expres-
In the study’s second analysis, the model is used as an analy-
sis grid. As such, it draws a global portrait of the epistemology
of class groups in an Ontario school from preschool to grade 5.
From this portrait, the authors observed trends in the groups’
developmental process of DCT. These trends were interpreted
with the concepts of fading and appropriation/transformation
which are found in the scaffolding metaphor, which the authors
applied to the cognitive development of classrooms of pupils.
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