As a part of the activities relating to the “Small Schools” project, a series of training workshops were scheduled featuring blended learning whose purpose was to provide teachers of the Movement’s institutes with tools to introduce educational and organizational improvements.
The very specific nature of the teaching contexts that were the object of the “Small schools” initiative, namely, the multi-age classroomand isolation, meant that over the years it was impossible to record and consolidate the recognized methodologies and practices geared to improve the quality of education. With particular attention to multi-age classrooms, a theme much debated within the school community aimed at improving educational opportunities in delicate situations, some methods and teaching strategies were identified of potential interest for the setting up of training workshops.
The strategies and methods proposed, the object of webinars between the Movement’s schools in the period from January to April 2018, enabled researchers to identify the points of interest and potential effectiveness for the specific context of small schools if suitably arranged. This meant, in particular, the need for inclusion, recovery and attention to excellence that a multi-age classroom situation demands. The absence of evidence of the methodologies identified for the small school context and the lack of trials – despite the full compliance of the proposed methodologies through talks on the goals of the interventions in conditions of marginalization and multi-age classrooms – highlighted the need to define an original workshop model that could ensure effective and adequate coverage of multiple aspects: competence in the method, direct experience in small schools, the commitment of the entire educational community.
The first non-exhaustive nucleus of methodologies proposed and tested in laboratories consists of Heuristic Dialogue, Spaced Learning, Service Learning, Digital Teaching Content, Extended Learning Environments, Internationalization for Innovation.
The educational model of adult laboratories
The “adult laboratory” is conceived as an action research path and finds in the collaborative dyad, in the training pact, and in the blended training, the tools that guarantee a value formation on which the school community is committed.
The laboratory training model is based on the synergy between expert and researcher.
The expert with many years of experience in applying the method in standard educational contexts is supported by an Indire researcher who, in addition to having followed that method and its pedagogical validity over the years, is also engaged in research on Small Schools.
In the training course, the expert is the figure who is given the knowledge of the methodological and epistemological principles and to the researcher the competence to plan the activities declined in the context and in the cases that the small school can present.
The introduction of the “Training Pact” brings to the system a practice experimented in some Italian schools of Emilia Romagna (Cerini, 2014), in which the mutual commitments that bind the teacher and the community to which they belong are “put on paper” in a special document that encourages us to take an attitude of research and propensity for innovation (Cerini & Spinosi, 2016). In the context of the Little Schools’ adult laboratories, the pact is signed by the teacher, the school manager and the Indire. In particular, the pact commits the teacher to share the planning of a didactic experimentation concerning the strategy subject of the training with the school manager and with the colleagues of the class and institute council. The Indire research group and the experts monitor and evaluate the experimentations of the teachers in training and collect the documentation of the experiences that can be the object of dissemination and construction of training toolkits.
Each thematic laboratory is divided into two meetings in presence and online activity.
The methodological Toolkit was carried out by the Indire research group, inspired by the methodological approach developed by the iTEC project (Innovative Technologies for Engaging Classrooms). It is a document that intends to guide the teacher in the planning of the activities that will take place in the two didactic scenarios, identified and developed by the research group for the schools located in “graphically disadvantaged” territories: the Extended Learning Environment and the Shared Lesson.
Service learning toolkit
The Service Learning Toolkit, deriving from the idea already experimented in the schools of the Educational Avant-gardes, contains definitions and cards that lend themselves to accompany the teachers of the Small Schools step by step in the design of an experience appropriately declined for their context. The document was drawn up on the occasion of the “Service Learning for the first and second cycle schools” workshops organized as part of the Didacta Italia 2018 .