14 SES 02 A, Rural Schools and Communities: Contributions from Norway, Italy and Iceland
The needs of small schools are plurime and differentiated according to human, technological and economic resources available, to the cultural vision and to the social context of reference. A research led in Italy (Pieri & Repetto, 2019) on a sample of small schools scattered across the national territory, has identified a series of educational and organisational requirements which are chiefly concerned with management issues of multi-age classrooms and single grade classrooms with a limited number of students.
These requirements are even mirrored throughout the international scholarship on education in small schools (Lindstrom & Lindahl, 2011; Hyry-Beihammer & Hascher, 2015; Smit & Engeli, 2015).
A first requirement expressed from teachers and principals is to improve education for groups of students of the same age. For these students, wheter or not belonging to multi-age classrooms, it is essential empowering the development of subject domain and transversal competencies tailored for their age mainly through individual and collaborative activities. For individual activities it is necessary to define personalised learning strategies, enhanced by technologies; for group activites, collaborative learning strategies should be identified, able to promote peer exchange processes able to overcome the boundaries of a single or multi-age classroom and to involve students of the same age from different classrooms and schools. Collaboration among students through “open classrooms” requires the definition of sharing mechanisms of teachers and learning tracks, as far as the individuation of processes to optimize timetables and resources employed.
A second requirement is to harness the potential of education for group of students of different ages. Students of multi-age classroom yet work in this way, nevertheless the design of learning activities fulfilling different age groups is complex and demanding. It is necessary to adopt learning approaches that through curricular alignment and spyral approaches meet the educational needs of students with different ages and motivate them to collaborate to reach specifique learning goals. Also in this case online education, through syncronous and asyncronous activities, could increase the opportunities for students and optimise teachers’ workload.
The review of national and international literature, furthermore, has revealed that the embedding of a small school in the territory as well as its function of cultural and social presidium could be sustained through innovative learning activities, even supported by technologies. These activities should involve the community to which the school belongs and should value, as Epstein (1995) stands for, traditions and assets of the culturale heritage.
In Italy it appears that, even in the most innovative contexts of small schools where technologies are present and are used daily, these are excessively connected to the single subject domain and to the specific topic that is often object of one ore more extemporaneous lessons. There is a lack of a more interdisciplinar and seamless vision of education and of a dominant theme leading and ensuring consistency to learning activities suggested and achieved by teachers.
Thus the main objective of this research* was to fill these gaps and to meet the identified requirements through the creation and validation of an innovative educational model, named “Small schools as educational communities”, which came out from a research action process carried out in some rural schools of Northern Italy.
*The research was funded in the context of the project Piccole scuole – Programma Operativo Nazionale plurifondo (2014IT05M2OP001) per la scuola – competenze e ambienti per l’apprendimento” 2014-2020 – Asse I “Istruzione” – OS/RA 10.1 “Riduzione del fallimento formativo precoce e della dispersione scolastica e formativa” – Azione 10.1.8, Codice progetto: 10.1.8.A1-FSEPON-INDIRE-2017-1 – CUP: B59B17000010006
The model “Small schools as educational communities” was developed following design-based research (DBR). The design principles of this model were identified and tested, according to DBR (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003, p. 5), through a series of intervention-researches carried out in six small schools in Northern Italy which have formed the sample of this research. Thanks to DBR the theoric essence of the model was built starting from these interventions to improve small schools’ educational practices (Anderson & Shattuck, 2012). Literature and previous research informed as well the design of the model. The research phases leading to the creation and validation of the model were: - Identification of two small schools on the same territory with educational and organisational requirements concerned with multi-age classrooms management; - Interventions carried out in these two schools leading to enhance their educational quality level through a research action process which has involved students, teachers, family and the communities themselves; - Definition of the design principles of the model; - Testing of the model in other four small schools where intervention researches were carried out. - Refinement and validation of the model.
The model implies the development of a project organised in six interwined phases, within a time-frame which may vary from few months to the whole scholastic year: 1. On the basis of constraints and available resources, principals and teachers identifiy the schools that could participate, as a network, to the application of the model, as well as multi-age classrooms to be involved. Schools are equipped for online distance communication and for small group activities. A timetable is shared for project meetings among teachers of the involved schools and for planning meetings in presence and online among multi-age classrooms. 2. Students of the involved schools choose a theme to which they confer a relevant identity benchmark and with an high affective value. These theme may concern a natural, a cultural or a landscaping asset being part of one’s own territory. 3. Teachers and students make contact with all the entities (i.e. associations, enterprises…) dealing with that theme and involve actively them, inviting them at school or meeting them on the territory and carrying out interviews, field trips and authentic experiences. 4. Students involve their families and ask them a contribution dealing with the selected theme and connected with learning activities, but that could be even an organisational contribution, functional for whereabouts, for the development of products or for events planning. 5. Students develop an expertise on the selected theme, through both the activites achieved in the classroom and through the authentic experiences gained in the territory. 6. Students share with the community to which they belong the realised products or exhibitions and events they have prepared. This model was validated within the Italian context but it could be relevant to trigger a debate with the scientific community at European level to refine, experiment and adapt the model for other national contexts.
Anderson, T., & Shattuck, J. (2012). Design-based research a decade of progress in education research?. Educational researcher, 41(1), 16-25. Design-Based Research Collective. (2003). Design-based research: An emerging paradigm for educational inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 5-8, 35-37. Epstein, J. (1995). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 72(5), 701-712. Graham-Clay, S. (2005). Communicating with Parents: Strategies for Teachers. The school community journal, 16(1), 117-129. Hyry-Beihammer, E. K., Hascher T. (2015). Multi-grade teaching practices in Austrian and Finnish primary schools. International Journal of Educational Research 74, 104–113. Lindstrom E-A, Lindahl E. (2011). The effect of mixed-age classes in Sweeden. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 55(2), 121-144. Pieri, M., Repetto, M. (2019). Il modello piccola scuola come comunità educante: l’esperienza pilota della Val Susa. Luisi D. and Tantillo F. (Eds). Scuola e innovazione culturale nelle aree interne, I Quaderni della ricerca. La ricerca Loescher. Smit, R., & Engeli, E. (2015). An empirical model of mixed-age teaching. International Journal of Educational Research, 74, 136–145.
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