ERG SES H 07, Communities and Education
Rural schools with their multi-age classrooms are frequently gone beyond their historical assignment as literacy teaching of peripheral areas. They have often became an experimental laboratory destined to offer to entire school-system several pedagogical alternatives (Little 2005, 2006; Stone 1996, 1997, 1998). The innovative approach has walked on two pathways: the classroom and the teaching-learning pattern. Although all the education reforms, school system generally dictate the same organizational pattern: the single grade classroom. If we look at the research on how children learn, we discovery that this approach is not take for granted. We refer to Piaget’s Constructivist Learning Theory and to Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory that Sandra Stone, one of the most active researcher in multi-grade education, highlights in her studies (Stone 1996, 1997, 1998). She claims that is important for every teacher to be knowledgeable about learning theories like these, because they are strongly reflected in the multi-age classroom (Stone, 1997). It means that children should became interested only in what they can understand and do, according to their grade of development and not according to their chronological age. Maria Montessori demonstrated in practical terms how is possible organize a school based on these principles. The second element is the teaching-learning pattern. This is linked on the organizational approach: education for single-grade classrooms is organized around a single-grade program, which is often presented to children in form of lessons ex-chatedra. Often the result are photocopies and packaged didactical forms. Sandra Stone claim that “teaching content to a mix-age group of children requires instructional strategies that differ from traditional approaches. The multi-age teacher present skills ranging from simple to complex to address needs of mixed-age learners in large-group instruction and concentrates on specific children’s needs during small-group and individual instructional times” (Stone, 1996). In a multi-age context a teacher can not use the ex-chatedra approach because the children are, for example, from six to eleven years old.
Nowadays studies on small rural schools are focused on two pathways: multi-age classrooms teaching strategies and principles on the one hand; the relationship between school and the local community in which school is embedded on the other hand. Too often these two elements are singly considered, impede to look at small rural schools as a whole.
The research question is: "How multi-age teaching-learning practices and principles can encourage the active involvement of the community and community organizations in the school?"
Studies that highlight the teaching practices and principles in multi-age classrooms unfold the presence of a wide range of practices. The reason of that could be possibly the lack of multi-age teaching options in textbooks, materials and curricula, as well as in teacher education at university (Hyry-Beihammer & Hascher, 2015; Little, 2001). In fact, teachers in small rural schools have to face pedagogical challenges of teaching multi-age groups (Smit & Engeli, 2015; Kalaoja & Pietarinen, 2009). For this reason, several studies claim a specific multigrade emphasis in the context of the preparation of teachers for multigrade teaching (Mulryan-Kyne, 2007). The studies focused on the relationship between the small schools and local community highlight the importance of the environment as a context for learning process and the importance of the relationship between all the actors in order to develop the school as the social centre of the village (Kalaoja & Pietarinen, 2009; Winsome, 2001).
The objective is insert the activities that connect classroom and community into the curricula as main activities; only if we can experience them daily they became education.
In order to unfold the research’s interests, the main focus is on teachers’ theaching practices and principles. This bring to a narrative approach in order to understand the personal work and principles of multi-age teachers through their narrative description of these aspects (Elbaz-Luwisch, 2005). In Latin, narrario means a narrative or a story. Researchers use these two terms in different ways. In the study of literature, story is used as a sub-concept of narrative: “Narrative inquiry refers to a subset of qualitative research designs in which stories are used to describe human action” (Polkinghorne, 1995). In line with Riessman (2008), we use the two concepts as a synonymous. What is more important for us, is the narrative research aim to capture individual and the context: according to Vigotskij (1978) human learning develops into a social and cultural context. Thus, stories cannot be viewed as something isolated from cultural setting (Bruner, 1984). A narrative approach like that, is placed in a framework of sociocultural theory “where the challenge for the researcher is to examine and understand how human actions are related to the social context in which they occur and how and where they occur through growth” (Moen, 2006). The aim is to listen to teachers’ “voices” (Elbaz-Luwisch, 2002; Gudmundsdottir, 2001; Moen, 2006) and the “language of practice” (Gudmundsdottir, 2001, p. 228-229), in order to collect stories and the cultural, historical and institutional settings in which they occur (Elbaz-Luwisch, 2002). In fact, classroom is a complex setting and our aim is to keep the whole of this multidimensional reality. Schools in which collect the interviews are select among Italian small rural schools. In order to have some etherogenity, the schools have selected on the base of four macro-categories: geography (mountain, see-island, countryside); economy (agriculture-farm, tourism-handicraft); social environment (presence of association-cooperatives or not; high or low immigration); educational aspects (expert teachers, beginners teachers; one room classroom, more multi-age classrooms). After a preliminary research based on these categories, we first send an e-mail enquiry to the headmasters of the institute and, after a positive response, we have took the interviews. The interviews will be recorded on digital recorders and transcribed. The theory that supported analysis will be based on the method of content analysis.
The educational potentiality of rural schools organized in multi-age classrooms (responsibility assumption, peer toutoring, cooperativism,…that we find in the theories mentioned above) take shape into the community context in order to help the pupils human development. This point of view entail a structural renovation of entire school system. Highlight the feature of multi-age rural schools could be a starting point for future school system decision-making. In detail, the research expected outcomes are linked to a common view of the role of school in our society by teachers and others figures that take part in school life. We expect to find activities in which take part the community, in that schools where teachers highlight the educational potentiality of multi-age education and put into practice these potentiality.
Elbaz-Luwish, F. (2005): Teachers' voices: Storytelling & possibilities. Greenwich, CT: Information Age. Gudmundsdottir, S. (2001): Narrative research on schools practice. In V. Richardson (Ed.) Fourth handbook for research on teaching (pp. 226–240). New York: MacMillan. Hyry-Beihammer, E. K.; Hascher, T. (2015): Multi-grade teaching practices in Austrian and Finnish primary schools. In International Journal of Educational Research 74, pp. 104–113. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2015.07.002. Kalaoja, E.; Pietarinen, J. (2009): Small rural primary schools in Finland: A pedagogically valuable part of the school network. In International Journal of Educational Research 48 (2), pp. 109–116. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2009.02.003. Little, A. (2005): Learning and Teaching in Multigrade Settings. Edited by EFA Global Monitoring Report. UNESCO. Available online at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001466/146665e.pdf. Little, A. (2006): Education for all and multigrade teaching. Challenges and opportunities. Dordrecht: Springer. Moen, T. (2006): Reflections on the Narrative Research Approach. In International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5 (4). Mulryan-Kyne, C. (2007): The preparation of teachers for multigrade teaching. In Teaching and Teacher Education 23 (4), pp. 501–514. DOI: 10.1016/j.tate.2006.12.003. Polkinghorne, D. E. (1995): Narrative Configuration in Qualitative Analisys. In International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 8 (1), pp. 5–23. DOI: 10.1080/0951839950080103. Riessman, C. K. (2008): Narrative methods for the human science. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. Smit, R.; Hyry-Beihammer, E. K.; Raggl, A. (2015): Teaching and learning in small, rural schools in four European countries: Introduction and synthesis of mixed-/multi-age approaches. Introduction and synthesis of mixed-/multi-age approaches. In International Journal of Educational Research 74, pp. 97–103. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2015.04.007. Stone, S. J. (1994): Strategies for teaching children in multiage classrooms. In Childhood Education; Olney 71 (2), 102-106. Available online at https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.unibz.it/docview/210386206?accountid=26471, checked on 5/20/2017. Stone, S. J. (1996): Creating the multiage classroom. Tucson, AZ: Good Year Books. Stone, S. J. (1997): The Multi-age Classroom: What Research Tells the Practioner. In ASCD Curriculum Handbook (13), 13.91-13.107. Stone, S. J. (1998): Teaching Strategies. Creating Contexts for Middle-Age Learning. In Childhood Education 74 (4), pp. 234–236. DOI: 10.1080/00094056.1998.10521943. Veenman, S. (1995): Cognitive and Noncognitive Effects of Multigrade and Multi-Age Classes: A Best-Evidence Synthesis. In American Educational Research Association 65 (4), pp. 319–381. Vigotskij, L. S. (1978): Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press.
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