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Geographic places as learning resources

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With a point of departure in a geographic place, pupils can simultaneously learn subject matter, strengthen their identity and actively participate in local society. This is shown in a new study based on two examples from primary school.

It is in an article in the scientific journal Environmental Education Research that Margaretha Häggström and Catarina Schmidt describe how teaching can take the form of “critical place-based pedagogy”. Such a pedagogy begins with a geographic place and aims to simultaneously teach the pupils subject matter, promote their personal development and train them in actively participating in society. One prerequisite is that the pupils already feel some affiliation with the place or else develop such an affiliation. They must also be given the opportunity to describe and critically reflect on the place themselves.

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Portrait of Catarina Schmidt.
Catarina Schmidt.

“Places can be used as a form of text. It involves initiating meaning-making processes in which the pupils can use their own experiences to, paraphrasing the pedagogue Paulo Freire, read the world to gain an awareness of their position in it in order to be able to change it,” says Catarina Schmidt.

Two different examples from primary school

In the article, Margaretha Häggström and Catarina Schmidt have taken their point of departure in interventions in two different primary school classes. One of the examples used photographs of the school playground and the children’s stories about their local society, a socio-economically deprived neighbourhood, to create a school textbook. This strengthened and developed the children’s identity while simultaneously helping them to learn to read and write. The other example used a nearby forest so that the children could both experience and learn about nature and biodiversity at the same time.

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Portrait of Margaretha Häggström.
Margaretha Häggström.

“In both cases, the children felt that they were listened to, that they had something important to say, and that they got to use their resources creatively. The places were, however, used in different ways. The first intervention was centred on the pupils’ resources and strengthened them. In the second intervention, the pupils developed new resources. They learned about biodiversity, which stimulated their desire to stand up for nature and to go out and demonstrate for the environment,” says Margaretha Häggström, and continues:

“One central line of thought in critical place-based pedagogy is to demonstrate the opportunities for change. It is important that even younger children feel that they have the ability to participate in society and to use their resources to influence.”

Calling for a new perspective on knowledge

Despite the pupils developing and learning more effectively in both cases, the teachers were worried as to whether the pupils had learned the “right” things.

“We need to embrace new ways of viewing knowledge and learning. The pupils achieved several goals of the curriculum in these two cases. Although not in all subjects. This is a holistic approach in which the teacher creates didactic processes without knowing beforehand exactly where they will lead,” says Catarina Schmidt.

Margaretha Häggström and Catarina Schmidt are also editors of a forthcoming international anthology on learning for sustainable development, which is to be published by the publishing house Springer in spring 2021: Relational and Critical Perspectives on Education for Sustainable Development: Belonging and Sensing in a Vanishing World.

Critical place-based pedagogy

The article Enhancing children’s literacy and ecological literacy through critical place-based pedagogy is published in Environmental Education Research.