Research Summary

Didactical dilemmas when planning teaching for sustainable development in preschool

Teaching choices in early childhood facilitate sustainable learning in students

Environmental Education Research
2021

Education for sustainable development (ESD) is important to integrate into all ages of learning. In Sweden, ESD for preschoolers currently consists of teaching about the environment, and less so about environmental issues and solutions. There are two common methods of teaching to preschoolers. Normative teaching practice is defined as using traditional teaching methods to teach children, it is fact-based, such as teaching kids what can be recycled. The teacher has a crucial influence on the learning in this context. In contrast, pluralistic teaching does not present one solution or answer to an issue, instead the students explore an issue based on their values and beliefs and come to conclusions. The students have a crucial influence on the learning in this context. This study analyzed student teachers’ conversations about their work plans for teaching sustainable development to preschoolers in Sweden and explored the didactic dilemmas they faced in lesson planning.

In this study, researchers analyzed seminar recordings for a teacher education course in Sweden. Groups of five or six student teachers (averaging 29 years old) planned a project concerning sustainable development for a hypothetical group of preschool children aged one to five years old. The scenario the student teachers are presented is that the group of preschoolers find trash in the park. Researchers analyzed 5 group discussions about the project (ranging 25-28 minutes) from seminars in which 96 student teachers participated. In the discussions, participants discussed didactic choices- roleplaying moments of teaching the preschool students. Transcripts were collected for each recorded discussion and analyzed for common themes.

By analyzing and deciphering the recorded conversations among student teachers within the seminars, didactical choices became apparent. Researchers found that participants faced dilemmas deciding on who should determine learning goals (children or teachers) but valued hearing children’s creative thoughts and opinions. The researchers discovered the students’ discussions led to two scenarios; in one, the student teachers landed on teaching ideas based on predefined content, and in another they created content based on children’s questions. In the second way, asking children to inquire why an environmental issue presents in a specific way facilitates agency and allows for a goal rational process, and is extremely important in ESD. The student teachers discussed four ways to handle student questions; conduct inquiries, conduct interviews, participate in discussion, and take action. In a third approach, the student teachers handled didactic dilemmas by oscillating between the two scenarios. This way they avoid normative teaching, and embrace pluralistic teaching. This approach also does not focus on changing behaviors of students, as some sustainable development teaching does. Some predefined learning content is important and helps structure the lesson, and can help bring sustainability content into the learning.

This study had limitations. This research was conducted in Sweden and may not be representative across the globe. Repeating similar studies in other parts of the world could yield more representative conclusions about agency and learning in early childhood.

This study investigated didactic choices made by student teachers in Sweden. The results showed the benefits of using preplanned learning content and creating learning opportunities with the children. It also supports learning as a democratic participation, meaning children help facilitate their learning and are offered opportunities to creatively confront problems.

The Bottom Line

This study analyzed group discussions among groups of student teachers in Sweden planning sustainable development curricula for preschoolers. By analyzing the recorded conversations among students within the seminars, didactical choices- choosing how to facilitate learning- become more apparent. Results showed the student teachers would move between teaching their predefined content and the students created content. By doing this approach, the children’s agency and creative thinking was supported. The researchers recommend this teaching approach for education for sustainable development.