07 SES 02 B, Teachers' Beliefs on Cultural Diversity
One of European society’s common denominator is its growing diversity. The plurality of human flows and, as consequence, the high diversity of contexts is determined by different reasons, origins, destinations, and the dynamics of intra-mobility. (European Commission, 2017). These aspects define both short and long-term challenges with and opportunities for social inclusion at various levels, such as national and supranational policies, or socio-economic measures. The multi-layered complexity of societies and their transformations have significant implications for schools. As an important part of the community in constant change, schoolsneed to face differences to promote respect and foster participation. In particular, teachers have a fundamental role in educating and growing future citizens for more inclusive societies (Council of the European Union and European Commission, 2015). Nevertheless, the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) shows that teachers need more preparation to work with multicultural and multilingual student populations(OECD, 2014). In fact, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission highlighted the importance of developing teachers’ intercultural skills in order ‘to ensure a greater readiness for multicultural diversity in the learning environment’ (Council of the European Union and European Commission, 2015).
Human mobility and a changing society are topics also in Italy: in fact, ‘during last thirty years, [Italy] went from a source of emigrant workers abroad into a significant landing place of migrant flow’ (Agostinetto & Bugno, under review). These aspects also affected formal learning environments. So much that, over time, the Italian education system has increased its commitments on this topic. With the Ministry of Education editing many policy documents and recommendations. The most significant resource is The Italian Way For An Intercultural School And Integration Of Foreign Students (MIUR, 2007). This document affirms a set of indications for both welcoming newly arrived pupils and including non-Italian students in schools. The document also provides actions to take to develop an intercultural curriculum for all pupils. Academics support this view which affirms that the intercultural dimension represents an indispensable interpretation, a fundamental direction of educational practices (Portera 2006, Silva 2013) in consideration of the contextual conditions that characterize the reality, conditions that who act in education obviously cannot ignore. Especially because "migrant emergencies" actually constitute structural aspects, intercultural education is far from being an "isolated answer" and a special measure aimed at solving these "emergencies". (Fiorucci, 2008, Agostinetto, 2016). According to Tarozzi ‘Italy is perhaps the country that has formally adopted the intercultural model as a national policy more completely than any other European country', (2012). Yet, there is an important gap between national school policies and academic studies in one hand, and teachers' intercultural understandings and practices in the other.
This paper describes the development and implementation of a pilot program designed to make formative teachers’ reflection about their own standing points about working in multicultural classrooms. The base is an original explorative study that investigated conceptions about cultural diversity of the same teachers who took part to the program. Using semi-structured interviews and participant observations, a range of teachers’ conceptions about cultural diversity was identified: statements and schools’ practices were often not coherent and in contrast. Starting from this data, contents to discuss and reflect during focus groups were determined to improve teachers’ awareness about their own conceptions and, thus, their educational actions.
Semi-structured interviews and participant observations showed a weak coherence between theory, teachers’ intentions and their educational actions In most cases, participants revealed direct, indirect and implicit conception about culture that reduces it into a fix and rigid entity. Consequently, pupils are often considered as experts of their background, and intercultural school projects are mostly focused on typical ethnic food or traditional dishes and fairy tales. Moreover, conceptions about cultural diversity and working in multicultural classrooms are strongly heterogeneous. For instance, participant teachers consider the main problem to be Italian as a second language.. Instead, a majority of their students are second-generation and attended kindergarten in Italy. Thus, they are bilingual. Besides that, intercultural education is often viewed in a naïve way as tied to specific disciplines. These aspects indicate how the passage from theory to practices is difficult in education, and how teachers need support to empower first their conceptions and, second, their actions on these issues. Starting from this data, we planned four focus groups and we engaged the same participants interviewed and observed: they were 31 primary teachers divided into three different clusters, composed by pre-existing works teams. They were all volunteers, female, with ages between 35 and 62. They were all in-service teacher. Involving in-service teachers is of value because, as Gay (2015) states, most of the studies in this field includes students or trainees. Focus groups were used as the last part of a multi-method action-research project, combined with semi-structured interviews and participant observations. Opening with the results of the two first research instruments, topics to discuss during focus groups were identified. Four thematic meetings for each cluster were planned. Each involved two moderators, an observer and 10/11 teachers. The stimulus materials and specified activities were prepared considering their conceptions, emerged thanks to the first findings: for instance, particularly significant were discussions and reflections after reading teachers’ statements in one time, and after role playing in another, as participants were highly engaged and involved. The discussions were recorded, the data transcribed and then investigated by theme using the software Atlas.ti, for qualitative data analysis.
In this research design, focus groups play two simultaneous roles. First, is the classic one, which involves further investigating the object of the research, that corresponds to further examining two questions: 1) What are the teachers' conceptions about cultural diversity? 2) Do teachers' conceptions about cultural diversity influence their projects and their practices? Second and most important,focus group helped in the creation of a pilot project through which the same teachers who participated in the early stages of the research were involved in active reflection. The main objective was to try a re-configuration of their inconsistent conceptions regarding cultural diversity through pedagogical and educational reasoning. The content of discussions were participants’ interviews and observations made during their work in classroom.Issues were about interculturality and disciplines, teacher-pupil interactions, cultural diversity in school project, and relations with parents. Through a final questionnaire, a high level of satisfaction of the teachers involved was found. Teachers also declared that they had acquired new knowledge, judging the topics covered in relation to the professional development needs, and applicable to their work in classroom. The personal involvements were extremely positive, as they found the action-research interesting and a good opportunity to reflect. The data analysis revealed that teachers, if properly guided, could clarify their conceptions about cultural diversity, increasing their awareness and understanding about intercultural education. Finally, gathering information on the issues faced by teachers during their career, reflecting on intercultural goals, their statements, and their professional practices, allows them to generate changes in their conceptions and, at the same time, researchers to a better understanding of the data collected (Oddone & Maragliano, 2016).
Agostinetto L. (2016). Oltre il velo: l’intercultura che fa scuola. Studium Educationis, vol. 1, 71-86. Agostinetto, L., Bugno, L. (under review). Towards congruence between teachers’ intentions and practice in intercultural education. First results of an Italian qualitative research. Council of the European Union and European Commission (2015). ‘2015 Joint Report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020). New priorities for European cooperation in education and training’, (2015/C 417/04), 15 December 2015. European Commission, (2017). Communication From The Commission To The European Parliament, The European Council And The Council, ‘Commission contribution to the EU Leaders' thematic debate on a way forward on the external and the internal dimension of migration policy’, COM(2017) 820 final, 7.12.2017. Fiorucci, M. (a cura di) (2008). Una scuola per tutti. Idee e proposte per una didattica interculturale delle discipline. Milano: Franco Angeli. Gay, G. (2015). Teachers’ Beliefs about Cultural Diversity. Problems and Possibilities. In Fives, H., Gill, M. G. (Ed) International Handbook of Research on Teachers’ Beliefs (pp. 344-355). New York: Routledge. Miur (2007). La via italiana per la scuola interculturale e l'integrazione degli alunni stranieri. Retreived from http://hubmiur.pubblica.istruzione.it/alfresco/d/d/workspace/SpacesStore/cecf0709-e9dc-4387-a922-eb5e63c5bab5/documento_di_indirizzo.pdf Oddone, F., & Maragliano, A. (2016). Il focus group: un duplice strumento per la ricerca educativa e la formazione docenti. TD Tecnologie Didattiche, 24(3), 156-164. OECD (2014). TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, Paris: OECD Publishing, 2014. Portera, A. (a cura di) (2006). Educazione interculturale nel contesto internazionale. Milano: Guerini. Silva, C. (2013). Pedagogia, intercultura, diritti umani. Roma: Carocci. Tarozzi, M. (2012). Intercultural or multicultural education in Europe and the United States. In Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding, edited by Della Chiesa, B., J. Scott and C. Hinton, 393-406. Paris: OECD Publishing.
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