30 SES 02 A, Young People's Views on Agency, Change and Future
Research on sustainability education highlights the importance of developing the students’ competence to take action for a more sustainable development (UNESCO 2017). Transdisciplinary approaches are seen as a key to realize this aim (Ferreria et al 2006; Sterling 2009). In Norwegian schools, however, interdisciplinary approaches appear more common, and this paper studies a secondary school in Norway where an interdisciplinary group of teachers has developed a project on personal consumption. The project’s main goals are to strengthen students’ agency and capacity to take action for a more sustainable future. In this study we focuses on the one day kick-off as it ‘sets the scene’ for the project through the narratives that are told. We ask what characterize the narratives and representations of agency that are communicated in the upstart of an interdisciplinary ESE project secondary school.
Every teaching design can be said to tell a story. Narratives are crucial in meaning making (Livholts and Tamboukou, 2015), explaining connections between actors, social phenomena and time. Within environmental and sustainability education (ESE), a project design defines a problem, situates it within a wider context, and identifies relevant actors. Narratives are set in time, and often provide descriptions of the past, the present and the future. Narratives within a teaching design, such as this school project, also represent agency in particular ways, for instance by challenging students’ personal obligations to make individual efforts for a better future. The narratives are not necessarily explicit and evident to teachers and students involved in a project, but rather manifest themselves indirectly, through discourses and practices throughout the project. In Caravero’s (2000) approach to narrative analysis, storytelling and selfhood are closely linked, making it meaningful to look for narratives in connection to a project seeking to strengthen students’ agency and willingness to cope with sustainability issues.
Research on ESE in schools has shown that teachers choose different educational approaches to sustainability. The discourse on approaches to ESE in schools tends to recommend a pluralistic approach to ESE over a more normative approach (Almqvist, Kronlid, Quennerstedt, Öhman; Öhman, Östman, 2008; Stables and Scott 2002). The normative approach relates to universal principles derived from scientific facts that are seen as objective foundations for value judgments. This approach is critiqued for not including social and economic issues related to sustainability, as well as personal and contextual factors. A pluralist approach seeks to include the different points of view regarding social, political and economic issues having an impact on sustainability, in order to enhance democracy and open up for students’ different experiences and opinions.
Our analysis of the sustainability narratives presented at the kick-off shows a tension between a pluralist and normative approach. A second source of tension stems from the relationship between the sustainability discourse, emphasizing individual responsibility and the importance of the environment and a didactic discourse, putting highlight on learning goals and assessment. In this project, these two dimensions interact, influencing the narratives communicated through lectures, assignments and student-teacher interaction throughout the project. Yet another source of normativity that is conveyed to the students is the teachers’ emphasis in the kick-off on learning goals and assessment – ‘doing schooling’ (Schleppegrell, 2002) - where the outcome of the project is based on evaluation according to a huge number of curriculum aims.
The paper traces the narratives and representations of agency that meet first year upper-secondary students throughout a one day kick-off of a 7-week interdisciplinary project on personal consumption. The project includes the following subjects; Natural science, Norwegian language arts, Geography, English and Social studies, and involves approximately 100 students, aged 16-17. The project’s heading is “Do I need to go naked in order to not feel guilty about my consumption?” and the students are working in groups of 3-5 people. Each group chooses a consumption product they use themselves, for instance Uggs (shoes), denim trousers or coca cola, and conducts a life-cycle analysis examining the environmental, economic and social impacts of the product. The project is framed as an open-ended inquiry where the students are supposed to work autonomously taking responsibility for developing ideas, planning, executing and reporting their own inquiries (Crawford, 2014). The research team consisting of three researchers with an interdisciplinary background from science and social studies education. The team has observed the upstart of the project, consisting of a plenary session and group work within each class. The plenary session started with an invited speaker representing an official eco-label, before the teachers took over. In addition to observing the plenary session and group work in the classrooms, the research team has spent time with the teachers in the breaks and transitions throughout the day, as well as an informal, 90 minutes reflection talk at the end of the day. The research team will also follow the rest of the project, closely, but this paper focuses on the first day. Based on the three researchers’ field notes, we have conducted an open, exploratory analysis of descriptions of the students as actors, including representations of their agency. We have looked for descriptions of collective identities and their inscribed characteristics, occurring in connection with words such as ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘Millennials’, ‘they’ and ‘others’. We also analyse how opportunities and limitations on individual or collective agency are represented, issues that are often aligned with questions about what can and cannot be done. Further, we analyze representations of time and development and the different arguments legitimating the project.
Our preliminary findings show how the students are met with a narrative emphasizing their creativity, judgement and engagement in an open-ended inquiry project. At the same time, the written information about the project, the assessment of their achievements at the center of the project work brings out a tension between a narrative that holds a pluralistic explorative sustainability education as a goal, and a narrative about ‘doing schooling’, where assessment and right answers are central. The teachers’ enthusiasm for the project represented through for instance their allocation of time for the project (7 weeks focus), providing of cake for the pupils on the kick-off, invitation of external speaker etc. conveys a strong implicit normative message to the pupils about the importance of sustainability and ethical consumption. While the teachers’ framing of the project as an open inquiry, not providing the students with a right answer, can however be seen as an attempt to frame it within a pluralist approach. We consider the strong focus on learning goals and assessment that is presented to the students in the kick-off, as a second source of normativity implicit in the project’s narratives; where the product of the inquiry should be measured up to the norms of the assessment and learning goals set for the project, thus ‘doing schooling’. The preliminary analysis of the narratives presented to the pupils at the kick-off of this 7 week interdisciplinary project, therefore indicates that the students are presented with two strong normative narratives, presented through a pluralist teaching approach. In the paper we will discuss what characterize the narratives and representations of agency that are communicated in the upstart of this interdisciplinary ESE project in a secondary school and discuss the limitations and possibilities of these tensions for ESE projects.
Almqvist, Jonas; Kronlid, David; Quennerstedt, Mikael; Öhman, Johan; Öhman, Marie & Östman, Leif (2008): Pragmatiska studier av meningsskapande. Utbildning och Demokrati, 17(3), s. 11-24. Caravero, A. (2000). Relating narratives: Storytelling and selfhood. London: Routledge Crawford, B. A. (2014). From inquiry to scientific practices in the science classroom. In N. Lederman & S. Abell (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Science Education. Vol II. . New York: Rutledge. Ferreira,J.A.; Ryan, L. & Tilbury, D. (2006). Whole-school approaches to sustainability: A review of models for professional development in pre-service teacher education. A report prepared by the Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES) for the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage, Sydney: Macquaire University. (Retrieved Jan 17th 2018 from: http://aries.mq.edu.au/projects/preservice/files/TeacherEduDec06.pdf) Livholts, M., Tamboukou, M. (2015). DIscourse and narrative methods. Los Angeles: Sage Schleppegrell, M. J. (2002). Linguistic features of the language of schooling. Linguistics and education, 12(4), 431-459. Stables, A., & Scott, W. (2002). The quest for holism in education for sustainable development. Environmental education research, 8(1), 53-60. Sterling, S. (2009). Towards Sustainable Education, Environmental Scientist, 18 (1), pp. 19-21 UNESCO (2017). Education for Sustainable Development Learning Objectives. Retrieved Jan 17th 2018 from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002474/247444e.pdf
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