14 SES 11 A, Status and Perspectives on Researching in Small and Rural Schools Practices
Small and alpine schools are pedagogically challenging learning environments. Small schools and Alpine schools are particularly suited for place-based education, social learning dedicated to interaction with the local community. In Switzerland many educational projects of small schools and alpine schools are present, also due to cultural and geographical characteristics. In Switzerland, in 2006 projects in several regions emerged that intended to combine children aged 4 to 8 in a single class, in order to encourage "collaboration between different ages and heterogeneity". In addition, the teaching approach needed to be adapted (Frankhauser, 2013). The contribution presents some research experiences and educational practices carried out in the Swiss context, against the background of teaching in mixed-age classes in small and alpine schools. The project “Small schools in alpine regions” (Raggl, Smit, & Kerle, 2015) explored the situation of peripheral schools as a place for teaching and learning in three rural provinces. Most schools had a size of 50 or less students and all classes were multi-graded. A main goal was to explore the design and the organisation of the lessons. A second question related to the role of team collaboration for school improvement. We employed a mixed-methods sequential research design with a prior questionnaire survey (n = 260 teachers), followed by a case study of 31 primary schools. The project lasted from 2012 to 2015. Another project entitled "Managing heterogeneity in age-mixed SE cycle I classes" (Vannini et al .2019), explored the perceptions and opinions of the various players with regard to the mixed-age classes, evaluating its implementation and progress and gathering useful indications for its sustainability over time. In addition, the project's intention was to explore the ways in which teachers managed the heterogeneity that resulted of the mixing of different primary school grades in one class. A total of 2 headteachers, 11 teachers, and 7 classes, 126 pupils and 113 parents participated in the accompanying survey. The project lasted from 2016 to 2018. A didactic framework of teaching approaches in small and alpine schools is outlined and the effectiveness and possible implementation of these approaches in other school contexts is discussed. To foster the frequency and quality of differentiated instruction approaches our research suggests the implementation of professional teacher development in teams, e.g. in local networks.
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