General Principles for elaborating European Union values

Cards for Democracy
Published on
January 17, 2022
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General Principles for elaborating European Union values

Erasmus + KA 3 project Teachers4EuropeSetting an Agora for Democratic Culture

In previous articles, we introduced the Handbook for Teachers – Teaching European Values, a text created by the Erasmus + KA 3 project Teachers4Europe – Setting an Agora for Democratic Culture.

The handbook is specifically designed to give you as a teacher a compact knowledge of the origins, functions, policies and strategies of the European Union.

In addition, methods are included that aim, on the one hand, to enhance students’ knowledge about the EU and, on the other hand, to support an understanding of and a connection with basic European values.

This manual was developed with suggestions for learning for and through European values using student-centred pedagogies that are fit for upholding a democratic culture in classrooms and schools.

In addition, this handbook provides accompanying material with resources for teaching about the European Union and European values.

On this article, we will explore some of the general principles for elaborating the values of the European Union.

Critical thinking is defined as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action”.

Flavell (1979) links critical thinking to metacognition, named it as the process of ‘thinking about thinking’. Referring to critical thinking skills, Shakirova (2007) named them as children’s ability to “deal effectively with social, scientific and practical problems” (p.42).

With this ability, children are able to get to a complex ability of solving problems effectively. Many of the components for elaborating critical thinking, for example debate activities, project-based activities, are described in the following paragraphs.

Moreover, learning by doing in a project collaborative activity are the key elements to elaborate critical thinking skills (Ngai, 2007).

Creativity and critical thinking are complementary abilities. Creativity elaborates critical thinking and vice versa. Finding patterns, thinking out of the box and finding a unique solution to problem are characteristics of a creative person.

Moreover, in order to be creative, someone needs to be curious to investigate new things and be intelligent enough to work at the same time with many different ideas (Lucas, 2001).

As Fisher (2004) states, creativity is a characteristic of who the person is and what the person does and that the processes of creativity are generation, variation and originality.


Inquiry-based learning is where knowledge, processes or attitudes need to be investigated through a continuous questioning and constructing of new ideas.

Children are at the centre of learning and they are invited to work with scientific and investigative approaches involving activities.

In an inquiry-based learning children are curious about learning something new and in this child-oriented activities children are invited to observe phenomena, ask questions, draw diagrams, calculate, look for patterns and relationships, interpret and evaluate solutions, communicate and discuss their solutions (Dorier & Maass, 2014).


Cross-curriculum activities are the activities that can link different subjects by identifying what different subject areas can bring to a topic. For example, a cross curriculum activity might have the same general idea. For example, teacher may identify how history, geography, religious education, sociology, psychology can help explain/understand the Holocaust.

Moreover, cross-curriculum activities can be elaborated with project-based learning that may help develop both generic skills and subject specific ways of thinking, based on concepts and processes.

The project may or may not address a specific problem, but aims to provide understanding of various problems at every stage of its development.

The project’s final product is the union of these solved problems (Herron, Magomo & Gossard, 2008).

Example: In learning Geography you learn about icebergs and climate changes. In Science you might learn about the temperature at which water changes form. Furthermore, there are implications for Mathematics in measurement and statistical analysis and in History about humans’ habits and how these changed due to climate changes. English and, generally, languages support the skills to communicate learning clearly and succinctly.

Differentiated instruction is a philosophy and pedagogical approach in which teachers design and plan their instruction tailored to students’ readiness levels, goals and interests, learning profile, personal characteristics and other factors that can affect learning.

Beyond the traditional planning for three levels of ‘ability’, today differentiation should not rely on determinist beliefs about ability because of the many complex ways in which ideas of fixed ability, and the practices based on them, can limit learning (Susan Hart et al., 2004).

Instead, students are not limited by ‘intelligence’ but by knowledge and experience. This means that teachers should look at how to help students understand key ideas in a lesson for them to be successful, and in order to find ways to make lessons accessible also optimally challenging for each student.

Such an approach to differentiation ensures equal access to learning whereas the traditional planning for three levels of ‘ability’ often limits students learning because it makes teachers think that the ‘less able’ need less information to work with, thus creating conditions in which students cannot produce sophisticated answers.

In order to design and apply differentiated instruction, teachers need to be aware of students’ needs and readiness without limiting their learning by maintaining high expectations and challenging learning experiences. Methods such as co-operative learning (see section 5.6) can support differentiation.

Example: An ‘anchor activity’ is a focused activity that aims to extend and reviews new skills. It ensures students’ better understanding and lets them practice what they have been taught or to transform their knowledge at a whole new level. The purpose of the activity is to maximise students’ participation for having a true learning value and meaning (Koutselini, 2008; Bermudez-Martinez et al, 2017).

Co-operative learning is a student-centred teaching methodology where students work in small groups either mixed-ability groups or same-ability groups. Each student in the group has a role to play in order for the group to achieve its goal.

The design of the activity should be made in such a way that children interact with each other for solving a problem, complete a task or achieve a goal (Johnson & Johnson, 1999; Kagan, 1994). Detailed guidance on how to implement co-operative learning to enhance democratic education is provided in TASKs for Democracy, (Mompoint-Gaillard & Lázár, 2017; pp.24-33).


Dialogue-based approaches promote students’ awareness and use of talk as a tool for thinking. Exploratory talk helps them learn to think with others, develop communication skills and learn content.

Argumentation is an essential practice focused on the construction, critique, and revision of knowledge claims over time (Osborne, 2004). Exploratory Talk is a way of interacting, which emphasises reasoning, the sharing of relevant knowledge and a commitment to collaborative endeavour (“Thinking Together,” 2020; Mercer & Hodgkinson, 2008).

It is important that students learn particular norms that show how they can persuade or convince with their claims. An argument becomes important when it is supported by evidence and reasoning.

Evidence might include research data, scientific references, while reasoning gives explanations of why evidence is important and how it supports the argument (McNeill, Lizotte, Krajcik, & Marx, 2006).

Thinking with others develops generic skills such as listening, multi-perspectivity, and tolerance.

Example: For example, during an argumentation discussion, such as one using population data to debate what organisms an invasive species eats, students can find it challenging to revise their claims based on evidence and critique provided by their peers (Berland & Reiser, 2009).

With careful attention to establishing positive ethos, debate activities can promote interactive learning.

Debate activities are linked with argumentation, as described above, with one big difference: here the goal is to win an argument.

As a systematic instructional approach, debate therefore tends to promote an ‘I’m right/You’re wrong approach.

It refers to a discussion when you try to persuade somebody by making an argument.

It is also connected with critical thinking as in a debate activity you usually have an audience where you try to convince them either to accept or to reject a position.

One method for promoting empathy within a debate activity is role-playing, (Zare & Othman, 2013; Simonneaux, 2001) which is described in the activities in section 8 of the Handbook.


Socrates was the first European to establish the idea of philosophy as an open-minded inquiry and collaborative activity. His method then became known as the Socratic Method.

Socrates engaged Athenians in a process of argument and analysis, with the emphasis on dialogue.

When engaging in discussion with Socrates, people realised that their answers to philosophical questions were either inadequate or unacceptable.

For Socratic pedagogy, it is most important to think both philosophically and dialogically. Socrates was strict when he used argument to uncover assumptions and fallacious reasoning; he showed arguments to be invalid by his questioning. Socratic pedagogy is part of reflective education, in which thinking is understood as a dialectic process of inquiry.

The dialogue is shaped through an inquiry, which includes both agreements and disagreements and elaborates critical thinking (Chesters, 2012).

Questions supporting Socratic dialogue are of different types: clarifications, probing assumptions, probing rationale, searching evidence and source, finding implications, reviewing viewpoints and perspectives, and questions about the question.


The use of drama, practical demonstration and roleplay is very useful for student’s learning on the topic of values, human rights and democracy. Such activities are engaging and fun, but also very serious in that they create conditions for deep learning through experience. Thus, they are ideal for tackling issues or attitude in learners and also developing a wide range of.

There are several advantages when teaching through role-playing.

Firstly, the topic which is raised in classrooms emerges through students’ interests. As Poorman (2002) states “integrating experiential learning activities in the classroom increases interest in the subject matter and understanding of course content” (pg. 32).

Secondly, it is more likely to achieve higher involvement on the part of the students. That is because through role playing students stop being passive recipients of the teacher’s knowledge but instead they become active part of it. Poorman (2002) emphasises that “true learning cannot take place when students are passive observers of the teaching process” (p. 32).

A third advantage is that through role-playing students are taught empathy as well as understanding of different perspectives (Poorman, 2002). Poorman (2002) has found “a significant increase among students in feeling another’s distress as their own” (pg. 34).

Research has also shown that role-playing is effective in reducing racial prejudice (McGregor, 1993).

Finally, Luff (2000) discusses the types of skills, knowledge and understanding that these activities support, making a case for the interplay of thinking and feeling in children’s intellectual development, motivation and understanding.


Project-based learning can be defined briefly as a process that organises learning around projects. This approach is quite different from the traditional way of assigning projects to students. The project-based learning movement has spread quickly with many followers practising it. Project-based learning as a teaching approach provides students the ability to connect knowledge and procedures. Moreover, this approach enables students to develop confidence and self-direction since they have the opportunity to progress through both team-based and independent work. Moving towards the completion of a project students develop their organisational and research skills. They also develop better communication with other students and adults. In addition, they often work within a broader community and they have the chance to see the positive effect of their work.

According to Thomas (2000, p.3-4) there are five major criteria for defining a method of learning as project-based learning. More specifically, project-based learning projects are central to the curriculum, put emphasis on questions or problems that guide students to encounter the central concepts and principles of a discipline, involve students in a constructive investigation, are student-driven to some significant degree, and are realistic.

Formative assessment, assessment for/as learning

Based on the above principles and besides standardised tests, we give here examples of formative assessment strategies and give importance to the notion of assessment for and as learning.

1. Entrance and exit slips

‘Entrance and Exit Slips’ are an informal and quick way for a non-formal assessment (Ber-mudez-Martinez et al, 2017).

This method enables teachers to have an overall picture of students’ abilities and knowledge in particular areas. Thus, teachers will make instructional decisions based on evidence.

Entrance slips are very useful to identify students’ difficulties in the prerequisite knowledge because they give students the opportunity to reflect on what they already know. The information gathered by the entrance slips allows teachers to adjust instruction and give students opportunities to work and learn the prerequisite knowledge.

Exit Slips are also useful since they help students reflect on what they have learned and the degree to which they can use knowledge and skills learned. The information given by the exit slips can guide teachers to develop the future lessons on a topic.

Examples of exit slips are: Prompts that document learning, ‘Write one thing you have learned today’, ‘Discuss how today’s lesson could be used in the real world’, Prompts that emphasise the process of learning, ‘I didn’t understand…’, ‘Write one question you have about today’s lesson’, Prompts to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction, ‘Did you enjoy working in small groups today?’

The exit slips can be used by the teachers at the end of a lesson and can be part of an assessment portfolio for students. Both the entrance and exit slips may be in the form of close or open-ended questions depending on its purpose and the subject area that needs to be evaluated (Fisher & Frey, 2004; Wood & Taylor, 2007; Bermudez-Martinez et al, 2017)

2. Portfolio

In general, a portfolio is a systematic collection of products from both teachers’ observations and students’ material. This collection reflects how a student has developed over time in the learning process.

According to Kagan (1998), the portfolio was first introduced in 1990’s and it is defined as a collection of samples of student’s work.

A portfolio serves basically as a tool to give emphasis to progress done in competence development. Students have the responsibility to present evidence of their progress.

The development of a portfolio over time is found to contribute to individual learning (Zeichner & Wray 2000).

The process of collecting targeted information for a portfolio is a highly-reflective process (Hamilton, 1998) and promotes meaningful evaluation and subsequent decision-making about (alternative) routes in the learning process (Messick 1994).

There are many portfolio formats that vary from a dossier to a reflective portfolio.

The latter has proved to be more supportive in the learning process because it gives students the opportunity to evaluate themselves through collected evidence, reflective comments and possible learning activities (Smith and Tillema 2003).

3. Diaries

Diary writing in any form has a major characteristic of a gradual unfolding of insight based on the ability to critically understand experience (Gleaves et al. 2008). Research (e.g., Struyvenet al. 2005) suggests that students’ perceptions of assessment are important for their learning behaviour and that innovative assessment methods like diaries and journals prompt a rethink into transparency of assessing learning and understanding.

The study that Gleaves etal. (2008) conducted produced several categories within both “learning” and “self domains”.

In the learning domain, they suggest that a student can make a diary for: Ideas about being wrong and not knowing why, self-perception of subject-related understanding, the amount of work and effort put it and translating assessment comments into actions.

In the self-domain, they suggest that students can reflect about feelings of worth (good and bad) when given certain grades, self-assessment of coping ability and students‘ comments on using the diaries.

To find out more about the Handbook for Teachers:


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