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Lifelong Learning and Active Citizenship
Proceedings of the twelfth Conference of the
Children’s Identity and Citizenship in Europe
edited by Peter Cunningham and Nathan Fretwell, published in London by CiCe,
Without explicit authorisation from CiCe (the copyright holder)
only a single copy may be made by any individual or institution for the purposes
members of the CiCe Thematic Network Project or CiCe Association, or
If this paper is quoted or referred to it must always be acknowledged asChistolini, S. (2010) A glimpse of secondary school: Competences and performance from a sample of teachers and students in Italy, in P.
Cunningham & N. Fretwell (eds.) Lifelong Learning and Active Citizenship. London: CiCe, pp. 247 - 256
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All those who contributed to the Conference
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European Commission for their support and encouragement.
A glimpse of secondary school: Competences and performance from
a sample of teachers and students in Italy
Sandra ChistoliniUniversità Roma Tre (Italy)
This research reports on teacher competencies and performance as expressed by anItalian sample group in a comparative study that aimed to investigate the relationshipbetween demand and offer of the competences of teaching staff in selected secondaryschools in five countries. For demand we mean the expectations of students'competences; for offer we mean the effective competences that teachers are using inschool. The research points out the multiple modes of individual perception and socialstanding of the teachers and students in the secondary school context. Who and what is ateacher according to his/her competences, in Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Portugal andRomania? What are the experiences of students concerning their teachers’ mission andcompetences? The study was made using the same questionnaire in each country,adapting it to the school context, to the teachers’ and the students’ understanding.
Further teachers and students were invited to jointly discuss the results of ourinvestigation for improving four levels of knowledge: 1) the status of teachers in schoolas a reflection of what society thinks about them; 2) the experience and perception ofstudents, referring to how they consider their teachers’ competences and mission; 3)what can be introduced into our secondary schools in order to increase mutual, positiveinteraction between teachers and students; 4) awareness of the fact that positiveinteraction in school is a form of education to active citizenship.
Comparative research in Europe
This research is in continuity with the previous comparative surveys on the identity ofteachers and ethics (Chistolini, 2009). The five-country team developed a comparativeresearch in Europe concerning the question of competences in secondary schools fromthe points of views of the offer of teachers and demand of students. Competences play acrucial role in school life. Teachers are required to be competent in teaching and studentsare expected to be able to respond properly to pass from grade to grade. Teachers andstudents face the challenge of the knowledge society in terms of designing new contextsof citizenship. The dilemma the research poses is the ability of theories of competencesto become practice in educating towards a new European citizenship.
Contexts, sample groups and methodological approaches
The contexts of the survey were secondary schools, in which we selected two samplegroups: one consisting of students from grades I - III - V (age 14- 16- 18) and one ofteachers from the same classes as the students interviewed. The instruments ofinvestigation were two questionnaires. One with 27 questions addressed to students andone with 50 questions addressed to teachers. The questionnaires were produced in Italian
and for the comparative study were then translated into the languages of the participatingcountries: German, Greek, Portuguese and Romanian. In each country unit there was anexpert in the Italian language to assure the correct meaning and translation of thequestionnaires. Each country unit of research presented its own composition of thesample groups, selected in accordance with the school timetable and accessibility.
The discussion about competences in secondary school starts from the point of view ofteachers and students: self esteem and evaluation of teachers and students’ perception ofthe professional role of teachers.
Main theories discussed and principal points
The cultural debate about the professional status of teachers reveals fundamentalquestions concerning the nature of professional status within the system of education,which is influenced by factors such as social expectations, cultures of working withparents, family education, the role of other agencies etc. Literature points out: theincreasing autonomy of schools; the ability to diagnose the educational needs of thestudents; the ability to give reasons for the learning process; organisationaldimension; divulgation of knowledge; experience and reflexivity; research attitude;communicative ability; professional deontology as regards freedom and responsibilityof teaching. What appears is a professional attitude, leaning more towards proposal andcreative innovation than the executive role of teachers (Margiotta, 2006). Within theschool context, one also notes the same phenomenology (Spencer and Spencer, 1993).
Concerning the gap between competences and performance (Chomsky, 2006), one candetermine the theoretical differences in the field dealing with the assessment of targets(Pellerey, 2004) and practice of teaching (Bourdieu, Passeron, 1970).
General quantitative aspects of the Italian sample group
The comments hereafter refer to the results obtained from questionnaires used in theRegion of Lazio, given out to a sample group of secondary schools in the city of Rome.
The two questionnaires, one for students and the other for teachers, were preparedpreviously for a national research and entitled Domanda ed offerta di competenza nellaprofessione docente insegnanti tra realtà, rappresentazioni e aspettative istituzionalinelle regioni Lazio, Veneto, Lombardia, Campania
(Demand and supply of competencesin the teaching profession, teachers midst institutional realities, representations andexpectations in the regions of Lazio, Veneto, Lombardy and Campania). The researchavailed itself of national co-financing, known as Prin 2007-2009. With reference to theinternational research, it was suggested to the group of colleagues from the CiCeNetwork, to be given in secondary schools on Cyprus and in Germany, Portugal andRomania. Here, we are presenting the results relative to Italy.
Aim of the questionnaires
The two questionnaires were given to the students and their teachers simultaneously. Infact, in order to make a cross-comparison of the data given by the students with thatgiven by their teachers and evaluate the competence perceived by the students and theself-perception of their teachers, it was necessary for both parties of the research to bepresent in the classroom at the same time. While the students answered in theirquestionnaires, the teachers did the same with their questionnaires. The time forcompleting the two questionnaires was uniform.
Definition of the sample groups
The sample schools were by making use of the statistical surveys supplied by the UfficioScolastico Provinciale di Roma (Provincial Education Office of Rome) during the monthof April 2009. The information database is the S.I.M.P.I. (Sistema Informativo delMinistero dell’Istruzione dell’Università e della Ricerca – Information System of theMinistry of Education of the University and Research) and concerns the school registerand information acquired for the purpose of the definite organisational procedure for theschool year 2007-2008. The situation is the one known to the S.I.M.P.I. on 29 November2007 when the school population in the city of Rome numbered over 60.000 students. Aclustering
of the schools was carried out through setting up clusters of schools dividedinto Secondary Schools (A), Technical schools (B) and Professional schools (C). Eachcluster
(A,B,C) was weighed up with the student population by identifying theirpercentage uniformity. Then, based on statistical comparisons with other research, apercentage of the sample to be interviewed was established that could guaranteeextension and generalisation of the data. The number of students to be interviewed fromeach cluster and in each school class was established in proportion to the samplepopulation.
Identification of the educational institutions by school class was performed by means ofrandom criteria. Teachers from the classes that completed the questionnaire wereinterviewed in order to verify and compare the perceptions of the competence of teachersand the competence of students. The sample group used to treat the results was set up ina well thought out manner in order to guarantee local representativeness.
In State-run secondary education in Rome, during the school year 2007-2008, a total of71.427 students in 3.166 first, third and fifth-year classes were registered, i.e. 22.56students per class. Out of these, 12 schools were chosen from various study directions. Asample group of 6.249 students from 264 first, third and fifth-year classes was picked,equal to 8,7% of the overall student population. Of these students, 3.572 wereinterviewed, or 57,2%, i.e. over half of the sample group, and 219 teachers, present inthe classrooms while the student were doing the questionnaire.
Comment on the teachers’ questionnaire
Socio-demographic and cultural characteristics of the Italian sample group
The sample group of 219 teachers was selected in the 12 schools. In the questionnaire, 9out of the 50 questions were posed in order to define the social, demographic andcultural structure of the sample group. The school most represented in the survey was theProfessional School (32,4%) and the least represented was the Teachers’ Trainingcollege with 18,3% of the participants. Teachers were rather well distributed across thethree years of school surveyed, with a slight majority from the first year and slightminority from the fifth year due to the time-consuming task of preparing the finalschool-leaving examination.
Most of the teachers were women (69,0%), in the age bracket 34-45; for the most part(52,5%), they had been teaching humanistic-literary subjects, some for over 20 years(48,9% of the cases).
In the vast majority of the cases, teachers had graduate’s degrees (74,4%) but only l,1%held doctorates; 30,6% had attended a refresher course and/or specialisation course forprofessional teacher’s training. Only 9,9% held the qualification of SSIS (SpecialisationSchool for Secondary School Teaching) and 14,2% had attained a teaching qualification.
On the whole, less than 20% did not declare any further educational qualification and theremaining 80% had followed up with post-degree preparation.
Qualitative aspects of the profession
Through 39 structured and closed sentences and 2 open questions, an endeavour wasmade to reveal the representation of the teachers in their professional activity, takingthree types into account, developed afterwards to enable a layered comment on theresults obtained. Each level has seven categories of analysis.
a) the psycho-educational impact on the students 3- 8 (question’s number)b) the pedagogic-didactic dimension of teaching 2-7-10c) the socio-cultural factor of education 4d) the intellectual investment 5e) the interpersonal, human experience 6f)
relationships with external persons
, referring to family and people outside the
g) relationships with persons inside
the school, referring to colleagues, the
Comparison of the three levels, descriptive, interpretative and evaluative, with therelative maximum and minimum reply percentages, allows for an overall reading of thedata collected.
point of view revealed the choice of the proposition ‘When the studentexpresses an experience, I manage to accept it without judging it’ (91,7%) and theproposition ‘I involve the students in defining the rules and undertake to have themrespected (90,8%); this is a sign that the interpersonal human experience is slightlyhigher than the consideration of the social-cultural factor of education. Relationshipswith external persons
are cut off, in the point in question, family (85,4%), other personsoutside the school (54,7%).
The second, interpretative
level revealed the choice of proposition: ‘When I introducenew terms, I explain them carefully’ (93,1%), while, from the opposite side, we find: ‘Igenerally use various teaching methods (lessons, workgroups, simulation, production ofmaterials, projects, etc.) related to the contexts and situations’ (60,2%) as well as thecomment: ‘I manage to mobilise the best resources and aptitudes of the students, bypromoting the development of their autonomy’ (68,5%), not very different from thecollegiate point of view: ‘I usually collaborate with colleagues in an effective collegial
The third, evaluative
level highlights a broad preference for the cultural anthropologicalchoice, expressed by the proposition: ‘I always try to put the persons I’m speaking withat ease’ (90,8%), on an equal par with the choice of proposition of respect andimpartiality: ‘I take the utmost care in treating people equally and valorising eachperson’s specificity’ (90,8%). Less chosen was the sentence concerning collaboration,expressed as: ‘I promote collaborative attitudes and behaviour by using group dynamics’(64,8%).
In summary, what emerges is a scenario of teachers characterised by experientialappreciation, didactic valorisation, anthropological sensitivity and a search for fairness,confirmed by reading the open questions, through which teachers were asked to indicate,where their professionalism is better expressed and where an improvement should bemade.
Places for expressing professionalism
Daily rapport with the students to be able to build up a climate of serenity, trustand mutual respect. They are ready for further explanations and in-depth study ofthe subjects (02.5.43.41 numbers corresponding to School 02 Class 5Questionnaire 43 Question 41
Definitely in teaching, to which I give maximum care and attention, especially insupplying students with the right tools for learning. A lot of care is also dedicatedto making an effort to understand the capacities and problems of each student(07.1.116.41).
Since teaching is a free choice, school is an ideal environment, but today thefigure of a teacher has been degraded; we do not feel sufficiently appreciated,despite our heavy daily workload (05.1.75.41).
I think I do my job well and with due professionalism, even if the job is ratherdemanding and often not given much relevance (07.5.137.41).
Aspects for improving professionalism
More involvement from the students who seem increasingly passive (01.5.17.42).
I would like to have more space for preparing interdisciplinary activities with mycolleagues and improving the teaching plan, so that the students become moreresponsible for their learning path (04.3.65.42).
One should always improve the capacity to listen and know their means ofexpression, using models that inspire them (08.3.155.42).
It is necessary to become more objective in evaluations and leave aside anyeffects that might implicate fairness of judgement (02.5.43.42).
Special attention to the idea of citizenship and civil coexistence is expressed by theteachers who give import to educating towards social coexistence, respect forregulations, active participation of the students as constituent factors in theprofessionalism expressed ‘In rendering the students favourable to the situation ofsocial coexistence’ (07.1.109.41); ‘in respect for regulations’ (07.1.111.41), and to beexpressed ‘In rendering various subjects more up to date from the students’ point ofview, to get them more interested and induce them to actively participate’ (04.1.62.42).
Considering that over 59% of the teachers, who replied to the questionnaire, statedtheir feeling fulfilled by their profession, having chosen teaching through a “free,enthusiastic” decision and being so convinced of the positiveness of this occupation asto be hypothetically willing to repeat it, one understands that the moments of solitude,bureaucratic suffocation, perception of inadequacy regarding their role are onlypassing clouds, which the deep conviction in the significant professional choice forthemselves and society is able to dispel, handing back a highly motivated anddecisively committed teaching staff to the school.
Remarks about the questionnaire taken by the students
Social, personal and cultural characteristics of the sample group
The sample group of 3.572 students from Rome schools was composed of 42,6% fromsecondary schools and 57,4% from professional schools. The specific breakdown ofthe students was 40,5% from the first year (aged 14), 33,5% from the third year (aged16) and 26,0% from the fifth year (aged 18). The total of females and males was 50,7%and 49,3%, respectively, 91,7% of which were Italian nationals.
The 27 closed questions below allowed for describing the sample group according tothe following types related to the competences the students attribute to their teachers.
allow for dialogue, questions 3 (question’s number)maintain discipline in the classroom, 9feeling of restlessness in the classroom, 17put themselves in the students’ shoes, 19involve families, 21
do not always respect the students, 1admit to their own mistakes, 4respect their commitments, 5do not change, 6allocate values, 7
explain, 8do not motivate, 16know the material, 22interrelate the topics, 23outside connections, 24
have no study method, 10use suitable tools, 12few indications, 15discuss things suitably, 18very little comparison, 20do not adapt the contents to the class and students, 25alternate methods, 26support materials, 27
favour some students, 2subjective evaluation, 11evaluate without giving criteria, 13comment on the evaluations, 14
Top-down social interaction
According to most of the students surveyed (q. 3: 72,5%), teachers adopt an openattitude, also towards classroom discussions, do not impose their own point of viewduring these discussions and allow the students to express their own views.
This fact combines positively with the teachers’ capacity to maintain discipline (q. 9:74,5%) and communicate with the students’ families (q. 21: 76,2%), but less so withthe creation of a calm relational atmosphere in the classroom (q. 17: 60,3%); however,it combines negatively with the teachers’ capacity to put themselves in the students’shoes (q. 19: 46,3%).
It follows that the social interaction mostly perceived tends towards a top downapproach
, from the teacher downwards, more than the Bottom up approach
, from thebottom upwards to the teacher, thus generating a certain difficulty in establishing anequal, balanced educational situation and thus, one could suppose, innovative.
Ethical competences suspended between feelings of esteem and respect
Of the students, 51,6% (q. 1) feel they are respected by their teachers, this feelingbeing closely linked to the fact that their teachers generally admit when they arewrong, do not fly off the handle during lessons (q. 6: 68,8%) and are not afraid ofbeing judged by the students (q. 4: 67,4%). In general, teachers respect theircommitments (q. 5: 86,4%) and are consistent in the principles they express and theirbehaviour (q. 7: 75,5%).
The typology revealed an ethical dimension, suspended between a feeling of esteemfor the teacher, who seems almost perfect, does not get upset, admits his/her mistakes,accepts criticism and respects commitments, and a relational difficulty expressed by acertain weakness and fragility in his/her feeling of respect that students believeteachers have for them.
Disciplinary competences versus the knowledge society
The students state that, in most situations, teachers give clear explanations (q. 8: 72,9)and know the material well (q. 22: 79,7%); the judgment becomes rather difficult withregard to the capacity of teachers to interrelate the topics of the various lessons (q. 23:67,6%) and gradually collapses, when one reads that only 57,4% of the teachersmotivate towards study (q. 16) and 50,3% do not supply occasions for in-depth study,through activities and cultural proposals outside school (q. 24).
The scenario is illustrative of a teacher skilled in paying attention to his/her owndisciplinary training as a body of knowledge closed within itself, incapable ofstimulating the passion for study in young people and intersecting with fields ofknowledge outside the school in order to compare themselves dialectically with the so-called knowledge society.
Scant innovative methodological competences
According to the students, their teachers use tools (q. 12: 78,5%) and discussions (q.
18: 66,4%) suitable for evaluation purposes; however, 44,0% of them find that teachers
do not help them work out a personal study method (q. 10) and 49,1% find teachers donot offer methods for more in-depth study, such as bibliographies and web sites (q.
15). Of the students interviewed, 56,9% believe teachers
collaboration in the classroom (q. 20) and are generally able to adapt the contents ofthe lessons to the needs of the classes and individual pupils (q. 25: 59,6%). Thepercentages drops as regards the variety of the teaching methods; 49,2% find there isvery little differentiation (q. 26) and that many teachers prefer using only written texts(q. 27: 49,3%).
The methodological competences recorded by the students are generally expressed inthe repetition of traditional teaching and learning models. New technologies remain onthe fringe of the teachers’ interests.
Assessment competences and social justice
Students feel their teachers do not discriminate negatively or positively in theirscholastic judgements (q. 2: 66,96%), evaluate objectively (q. 11: 69,1%), give priornotification of the test evaluation criteria (q. 13: 60,7%), and explain and comment onthe evaluation (q. 14: 64,8%).
In general, the students value the assessment competences of their teachers as regardsboth fairness in adopting the judgement criteria and the specific professionalpreparation used for evaluating tests. A significant number of teachers, approx. 2 out of5, use evaluations without an analytical procedure that anticipates and comments onthe tests. In the students’ eyes, the teachers seemed to be more concerned about notcontradicting the principle of fairness in their judgements than applying an evaluationprocedure capable of functioning as a means for investing young people withresponsibility and able to promote systematic studies of the effects of the evaluation.
Assessment competences are considered a relevant pathway towards acquiring aclimate of social justice in the classroom, while the concern for using an evaluationuseful in personal cultural development and organised for the purpose of scientificrevelation, also in self-verification of their teaching, remains in the background.
The wide range of students and teachers from classical, scientific, technological andvocational pedagogical schools allowed us to specify four levels of knowledge: status;competences; interaction; and citizenship. In general, students appreciate their teachersas regards professional preparation, teaching ability, family involvement, responsibilityand sense of duty. Students find a lack of social interaction in classroom life; teachersare not always aware of the different personalities of the students; their assessments area form of cultural discrimination. In addition, they find school/teachers unable to offerthem sufficient motivation to study. Due to the monotony of teaching methods, thelearning process tends to be uniform and school-centred, hereby neglecting the equalopportunity principle and individualisation of teaching strategies. In general, teachersfeel an understanding towards the students, an openness to human communication,favourable towards dialogue and the equal opportunity principle. They consider thediscipline of study only part of their professional role. In general, one could say thatour sample confirmed the efficiency of teachers’ competences and the complete
assumption of their teaching mission. Very much criticised was the real humanrelationship between students and teachers: students consider teachers less democraticas regards the offer of equal opportunity education. Schools look forward to a newmodel of teaching and learning, which could be found in the concepts of activecitizenship.
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