22 SES 12 D, Learning and Competence Development: New approaches
The invention of language, defined by the sophist Gorgia as a prominent dominator with a very small body, determined the shift of homo sapiens from nature to culture. In fact, as Cambi (2010) states, “homo sapiens is loquens” (p. 3). From that moment on, language, a peculiar instrument of the human being and the highest expression of his intelligence, became the object of study of various disciplines. In today’s knowledge society, distinguished by a pluralism of languages which we must deal with daily, language becomes a competence comprising several skills that need to be used critically. Issues related to language competence acquisition occupy a prominent position among the priority areas in the field of education. It is not by chance that, notwithstanding the differences among European educational systems, there is a shared approach to address this issue of language competencies necessary for personal fulfilment, active citizenship and social inclusion (Education Council, 2006). Therefore, the ultimate goal of language teaching is the development of a proactive competence which, as highlighted in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001), is aimed at ‘knowing how to do things with words’. The student is perceived as a person who acts in society through language and, vice versa, as a person on whom society acts through language. The complex task of language teaching and learning is, on the one hand, the responsibility of the school, called to guide the tomorrow’s citizens in this process. On the other hand, universities have the role of training teachers and conduct specific research activities aimed to identify methods and strategies for efficient language teaching. Data from international surveys such as PIRLS 2011 (IEA, 2012) and PISA (OECD, 2017) and a plethora of literature regarding the levels of language competence acquisition (Voghera, Basile & Guerriero, 2005; Basile, Guerriero & Lubello, 2006; De Masi & Maggio, 2006; Fiorentino, 2009; De Caprio & Montuori, 2010; Lo Duca, 2013; Vedovelli & Casini, 2016), have illustrated quite a critical situation for Italy. Levels of attainment in language skills decrease as the students become older and the curriculum progresses to higher-order language skills. Alarmingly, the performance levels plummet when reaching University. In fact, for years, university professors and lecturers have been pointing out that students are manifesting difficulties related to explicit grammar knowledge, basic spelling rules, morphology and syntax – aspects that should have been taught during compulsory school years and are expected to be part of students’ cultural background. The causes are numerous, they are closely correlated so much so that they influence each other in a mutual way. Over the past few decades ministerial documents, teacher training and their competence levels, school planning, contents proposed, and the choice of methods related to metalinguistic reflection were all considered to be the causes. The general tendency has been to blame teachers teaching in lower grades for the lack of competence development. Today, it is believed that among the principal reasons which have determined this decline is the absence of a link between the school, which should provide the ‘tools’, and the university, which should deal with ‘science’, as well as the distinct difference between teaching methods adopted in schools and those in higher education settings. Thus, one of the strategies which needs to be adopted is that of bridging the gap between school curricula and the rich capital of theoretical and applied research present at University. The aim of this collaboration is to generate skills in view of the creation of a global and permanent educational project.
The research presented in this paper is a study conducted among 200 students in the Region of Campania (Italy) who were enrolled in the first year of the undergraduate course in Italian language and literature. The research model was based on similar research studies aimed at enhancing language competencies before accessing University (Voghera, Basile & Guerriero, 2005; Lo Duca, 2016). The objective of this study was to provide a clear picture of the language skills students had acquired by the end of their compulsory school years to: - help teachers make informed decisions with regards to the teaching strategies that need to be adopted to enhance students’ learning; - identify the priorities university lecturers and professors need to concentrate on promptly in their teaching and provide the data necessary to organize effective remedial classes. The first step was to identify the prerequisites and admission criteria for the undergraduate course in Italian Language and Literature. This data was collected from school teachers, university lecturers and Article 6 of the Ministerial Decree No. 270 of 22 October 2004. Language knowledge and metalinguistic abilities were the indicators taken into consideration. In the second stage we proceeded with administering a questionnaire whose objective were primarily the collection of demographic data and needs assessment to inform future training programmes. The instrument included four sections: - the first section collected personal data (place and date of birth, type of high school attended, city of residence); - the second section targeted the students’ language portfolio (knowledge of modern languages and knowledge of classical languages); - the third section collected qualitative data on the students’ opinions regarding the grammar lessons they had followed at school and on the quality of teaching; - the fourth section assessed the students’ historical-linguistic knowledge on the origin of Italian and dialects, the skills on grammar and text typologies, and their perceptions on plurilingualism. The questionnaire was administered during the first day of the Italian Linguistics module. Data analysis was carried out using Microsoft Access and Excel®.
Despite the progress in language teaching and learning and the dissemination and adoption of good textbooks, the results do not reveal a very satisfactory scenario. Some of the main issues that emerged were: inaccurate grammar notions often dealt with superficially, inadequate transmission of rules, lack of awareness of the variety of communicative situations to which they may be exposed, absence of knowledge of a historical and pluridimensional vision of the language. How should we intervene in the immediate future? Undoubtedly, the osmosis between school and university is fundamental, as well as the concrete implementation of a vertical curriculum approach, the systematic shift from 'implicit grammar' to 'explicit grammar', encouraging metalinguistic reflection, and enhancing the potential of all students. However, as Sabatini (2016) points out, it is important that in educational contexts, already from early primary school years, there needs to be scientific cognisance of the role our language has in the general cognitive development of the individual and of the complex cerebral process that allows its learning. This would place Italian language at the centre of all disciplines and really become a transversal competence underpinning learning of all the other subjects. Unfortunately, to date, this is only true on a theoretical level. Young adults need to understand that having to live in a very complex international reality entails constantly updating, improving and expanding one’s linguistic competencies in order to be able to communicate by using different codes and levels depending on the many types of contexts in which they will find themselves (Voghera, Basile & Guerriero, 2005; Council of Europe, 2006; Voghera, 2008).
Basile, G., Guerriero, A.R. & Lubello, S. (2006). Competenze linguistiche per l’accesso all’università. Roma: Carocci. Cambi, F. (2010). Competenze linguistiche, emancipazione e cittadinanza. Relazione tenuta il 14 novembre 2009 a Firenze nell’ambito del Convegno “Diritti di cittadinanza e competenze linguistiche” presso l’Istituto degli Innocenti. Council of Europe (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Strasbourg: Ed. du Conseil de l’Europe et Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from: www.coe.int/lang [10 May 2017] De Caprio, C. & Montuori, F. (2010). Il ruolo della grammatica nella formazione linguistica fra scuola e università. Studi linguistici italiani, XXXVI(2), pp. 161-207. De Masi, S. & Maggio, M. (2006). Gli studenti universitari: quanta e quale grammatica conoscono. in D. Russo (a cura di), Questioni linguistiche e formazione degli insegnanti (pp. 156-177). Milano: Franco Angeli. Education Council (2006) Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competencies for lifelong learning. Brussels: Official Journal of the European Union, 30.12.2006 Fiorentino, G. (2009). Perché la grammatica? Validità della riflessione sulla lingua e curricolo di grammatica. In Id. (a cura di), Perché la grammatica? La didattica dell’italiano tra scuola e università (pp. 7-11). Roma: Carocci. International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement [IEA] (2012). PIRLs 2011 International Results in Reading. Chestnut Hill, MA, USA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center. Lo Duca, M.G. (2013). Lingua italiana ed educazione linguistica. Tra storia, ricerca e didattica. Roma: Carocci Lo Duca, M.G. (2016). Didattica metacognitiva e riflessione sulla lingua. Relazione tenuta il 9 maggio 2016a Catania nell’ambito del Seminario conclusivo del corso di aggiornamento e di perfezionamento per docenti “Progetto Mat-Ita” presso l’Università degli Studi di Catania. OECD (2017). PISA 2015 Assessment and Analytical Framework: Science, Reading, Mathematic, Financial Literacy and Collaborative Problem Solving. Paris: OECD Publishing. Sabatini, F. (2016). Lezione di italiano. Grammatica, storia, buon uso. Milano: Mondadori. Vedovelli, M. & Casini, S. (2016). Che cosa è la linguistica edicativa. Roma: Carocci. Voghera, M. (2008). Lingua e testi: verso una grammatica comune. In AA. VV. (a cura di), Testi e linguaggi (pp. 9-17). Roma: Carocci. Voghera, M., Basile, G. & Guerriero, A.R. (2005) (a cura di), E.Li.C.A. Educazione linguistica e conoscenze per l’accesso. Perugia: Guerra.
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