30 SES 09 A, Complex and Critical Thinking in ESE
Recent policies have suggested putting our efforts towards a more sustainable society. The Agenda 2030 puts emphasis on that “all learners (should) acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development …”) (target 4.7., UN, 2015, p. 19). However, ESD is as much a new subject-matter for teachers as it is for students, and literature about ESD manifests that teachers feel unsure how they can tackle the task, what material is appropriate or what classroom practices would have the desired effect (e.g., Borg, Gericke, Höglund & Bergman, 2014).
A proposed model for teaching ESD based on holistic, pluralistic, and action-oriented approaches aims to develop powerful learning environments in Education for Sustainable Development (Sinakou, Donche, Boeve-de Pauw & Van Petegem, 2019). Holism focuses on facts, pluralism focuses on values and action has existed as an educational goal for over three decades. A holistic approach to SD includes three dimensions of SD: the environmental, the social and the economic and puts emphasis on their interconnections also taking into consideration the time and geographical perspectives (e.g., Öhman, 2008). The pluralistic component mainly focuses on learning experiences where the whole class is involved as a group or the whole school is involved as a group. Pluralistic approaches are thought exercises wherein students collaborate and through dialogue (e.g., Rudsberg & Öhman, 2010) and gathering information from diverse sources (e.g. Sinakou et al., 2019) they aim to form their own opinion. Finally, the action-oriented approach encompasses the previous two (holistic and pluralistic) and translates them into robust conversations that lead to examining SD issues, negotiating realities, and reaching new solutions with much more dynamic potency.
This triage describes classroom practices that include structured dialogue, an investigation of the current and local status quo, the global needs for ESD and action, analysis of these narratives, interpretation into action, evaluation for effectiveness, all of which are skills and behaviours that are included in the theory of critical thinking (i.e. Dewey, 1933; Ennis, 1962 & 1964; Paul, 1990; Siegel, 2010 to name a few). Applying a critical thinking lens allows for studying the dynamics of these interactions and consequences among several aspects of SD issues, which can enable students to discuss and debate sustainable development and drive action within their schooling experience. In the context of pluralism, critical thinking incorporates the investigation, analysis, and interpretation as group exercise; in the context of holism CT proposes investigating an issue from different aspects; in the context of action-oriented approaches CT encourages action through group decision-making and planning. A CT framework, therefore, enhances thought processes that use tools such as analysis, evaluation of information, interpretation, open-mindedness, and rigour of sources to determine the formation of an opinion.
To combine the theories and bring them together as theoretical conceptualisation we reviewed the theoretical literature that maps critical thinking as a learning process, as well as the literature of transitioning from Environmental Education to Education for Sustainable Development. Additionally, we examined the literature for holism, pluralism and actions as a stand-alone framework in Environmental Education/ Education for Sustainable Development and found that the three aspects interchanged in dynamic combinations. Each has been the focus at different times, sometimes focusing on theory and knowledge other times focusing on values and normalising motivation for action (e.g. Öhman, 2004, 2008). However, the results of these approaches have not translated into environmentally active and informed citizens (e.g. Öhman, 2004, 2008). Following the philosophical thought exercise proposed by Sund and Lysgraad (2013) we engaged in reflective discussions of ways we can enable classroom practices to be more inclusive and dialogical for students. Using a bottom-to-top, approach we worked from the desired educational outcome backwards, looking into the CT, holism, pluralism and action practices both separately and holistically. Therefore we explored the theoretical nuances in the overlaps of these theoretical spaces using a CT lens and inserted a vision for ESD that can lead to student engagement, student independent thinking and, as a result, student action. The long-term outcome is to educate informed and active citizens.
In this stage of the study we present the theoretical basis for teaching ESD using integrated theories of CT, holism, pluralism, and action. With this framework we aspire to facilitate knowledge dissemination and knowledge absorption, putting equal emphasis on classroom practices such as debating, doing research beyond the textbook, developing spaces for fruitful dialogue and translating those into classroom-wide actions. We argue that critical thinking theory and practice offer a new perspective to ESD. Critical thinking is an essential element towards a pluralistic ESD, which aims to empower students towards taking action against SD issues. In critical thinking practice, the dynamic of teacher as knowledge dispenser and students as knowledge consumers is broken. On the contrary, both teacher and students look for valid information on the issue under investigation. This is particularly significant in a pluralistic ESD, since the aim of pluralism is to make well-informed but also active and democratic citizens. Inquiry, investigations and rational discussions help students to better understand the SD issues they are called to deal with. This, in turn, enables hands-on engagement by taking actions towards these SD issues. This is a theoretical model that caters to flexibility and adaptability for primary and secondary education settings. From a combined theoretical and practical perspective, we claim the best practice for ESD through a CT lens lies in solid and flexible theoretical foundation as well as the practical implementation and practicability, which we intend to develop in the next stage of the study.
Borg, C., Gericke, N., Höglund, H.O. & Bergman, E. (2014). Subject- and Experience-bound Differences in Teachers’ Conceptual Understanding of Sustainable Development. Environmental Education Research, 20, 526–551. Dewey, J., (1933). How We Think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative Process. D. C. Heath: Boston, MA. Ennis, R.H., (1962). A Concept of Critical Thinking. Harvard Educational Review, 32 (1), 83-111. Ennis, R.H., (1964). A Definition of Critical Thinking. The Reading Teacher, 17 (8), 599-612. Öhman, J. (2004). Moral perspectives in selective traditions of environmental education. In Learning to Change Our World, In Wickenberg, P., (Ed) Studentlitteratur: Lund, Sweden, pp. 33–58. Öhman, J. (2008). Values and Democracy in Education for Sustainable Development. Liber: Malmö, Sweden. Paul, R., (1990). Critical Thinking: What, why, and how. In, R. Paul and A.J.A. Binker (Eds.) (1990) Critical Thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, Sonoma State University: Rohnert Park, CA, pp. 44-63. Rudsberg, K., & Öhman J., (2010). Pluralism in Practice – Experiences from Swedish Evaluation, School Development and Research. Environmental Education Research, 16 (1), 115–131. Siegel, H., (2010). Critical Thinking* In, P. Peterson, E. Baker and B. McGaw (Eds.) (2010) International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition). Elsevier: Oxford, pp. 141-145. Sinakou, E., Donche, V., Boeve-de Pauw, J. & Van Petegem, P. (2019). Designing Powerful Learning Environments in Education for Sustainable Development: A Conceptual Framework. Sustainability, 11, 5994, doi: 10.3390/su11215994 Sund, P., & Lysgaard, J. G. (2013). Reclaim “education” in environmental and sustainability education research. Sustainability, 5(4), 1598-1616. UN (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, September 25, United Nations General Assembly, New York. Available on-line at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E
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