Implementing the EU Key Competences for Active Citizenship Teaching Latin-Italian Literature and Assessing Students

Implementing the EU Key Competences for Active Citizenship Teaching Latin-Italian Literature and Assessing Students

Angelo Chiarle (Liceo Scientifico Statale Darwin, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2122-0.ch020
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To meet the complex challenge set by the 2006 European Reference Framework of the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, different didactic tools seem necessary: cooperative learning, problem solving, authentic assessment, understanding by design, differentiated instruction, habits of mind, critical thinking, and student portfolio. Since 1998, teaching both Italian and Latin Language and Literature in two Licei Scientifici Statali in the Province of Turin (Piemonte) to students aged 14 through 19, the author has gradually implemented all these didactic tools. The author’s working hypothesis is to construct the “three storey competence building” starting from the daily “ground floor” of attitudes or habits of minds, rising whenever possible to the “first floor” of authentic assessment, coming up to the “attic” of student portfolio with some willing students. The author’s main goal is to submit some critical reflection and evidence on what teachers can really achieve with their students if they accept the challenge of refocusing their instruction and their assessment practices.
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The question is: “If it is so, what does it change or what should change?” In September 2007, some weeks after the publication of Ministerial Decree n. 139 of August 22, 2007,1 the first official acknowledgment by Italian Ministry of Education of EU Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, Lucio Guasti ended with this basic question the first part of his threefold paper, presented at a technical seminary in Piacenza University, on the topic of Content Standards and Competences (n.d.). Guasti’s pungent criticism about the EU Recommendation enucleated focal points of paramount importance: “It was useless to introduce the concept of competence, because it doesn’t modify any content, unless the competence consists in trying to work on the same contents in a different way. […] The problem now is to understand if the choice made by all the European States is a coherent, practicable, significant choice for the development. […] Somebody will have to say that, if this paradigm is assumed, the things will improve.”

Four years later, after a substantial number of significant, both national and international, meetings held in Italy, Guasti’s question is widely open, the discussion being absolutely not exhausted, at least from the didactic point of view.

As teachers’ trainer, I can witness the growing irritation of many colleagues involved in many refresher courses when listening experts, mainly from the academic world, speaking about competences from a sheer theoretical point of view, with scanty idea of the daily problems rising in the classroom “(battle)field.” On the opposite, I always receive signs of appreciation for the concreteness of the experience and didactic suggestions I submit to colleagues in my workshops. The main perplexities I usually hear rise from the fact that I speak about an individual experience devoid not of theoretical nor scientific, but simply normative foundation, especially dealing with assessment.

Actually, the Italian teachers’ irritation is increased by the general abstractness of Ministerial Decrees, mixed with ambiguities, contradictions and serious lacks. Just to restrict our consideration to Ministerial Decree of August 2007, it is evident the contradiction between the K-S-A competence pattern adopted by EU Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006, and the first attachment of the enclosed technical document, where doesn’t appear any mention about attitudes. Apart from this, the most momentous normative need is the overall revision of the assessment system of the Italian school.

EU Recommendation is sheer wishful thinking or is it possible to effectively rethink and redesign the schoolwork with students in the perspective of the Reference Framework of the eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning? Which way? What didactic tools can be used? How has to change students’ outcomes’ evaluation? Like Hercules at the crossroads, I simply didn’t choose a timeless waiting for our ministerial Godot. This chapter’s aim is precisely to submit a possible effective answer to these questions.

The present chapter can be considered the consummatio of nineteen years of teaching both Italian and Latin language and literature just in two Licei Scientifici Statali in the towns of Carignano and Rivoli (Province of Turin), to students aged 14-19. The reflections and outcomes here submitted are the product of twelve years of experimentations begun in 1998, attending a first refresher course on Cooperative Learning given in Turin by Mario Comoglio, the author of the first Italian book on this subject (1996), and carried on, from 2003 to 2007, attending several other courses, always with prof. Comoglio, about Understanding by Design, Authentic Assessment, Student Portfolio, Learning Communities, Differentiated Instruction. Form 2007 I refocused my instruction according Costa & Kallick (2007) Habits of Mind. In the last two years I worked to reorganize all these didactic tools to meet the complex challenge set by EU Recommendation of 18 December 2006.

The hereby discussed experience can be better understood if related to his proper context, which can be analyzed at national, local, and sectorial level.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Competence: DeSeCo defines a competence as the ability to successfully meet complex demands in a particular context. Competent performance or effective action implies the mobilization of knowledge, cognitive and practical skills, as well as social and behavior components such as attitudes, emotions, and values and motivations. EU defines competences as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context.

Attitude: A complex mental state involving personal beliefs, feelings, values and dispositions to think and act in certain ways (inner attitude). The tendential way a person views something or tends to behave towards it (mental attitude).

Employability Skills: Skills required not only to gain employment, but also to progress within an enterprise so as to achieve one’s potential and contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions. They are the product of a mix of basic skills, intellectual abilities and personal attributes that contribute to overall employability.

Backward Design: Is a central principle of Understanding by Design. In backward design the teacher begins from the end, first identifying classroom learning goals and then planning the curriculum towards that goal, choosing learning activities and materials that help students to reach the planned goals.

Student Portfolio: It can be better defined as portfolio for student growth. It is a gathering of assessment tasks realized by the student, who narrates the “backstage” and reflects on his learning process. Student portfolio offers the opportunity to document a certain range of student attitudes, skills, and learning over the school year. It offers rich evidence about the inner dynamism of the student’s learning process. Through the portfolio the student can develop the self-awareness, goal-setting, and decision-making, skills essential for lifelong self-determination.

Authentic Assessment: Authentic or performance or alternative assessment ask students to perform meaningful contextualized tasks that replicate real world challenges, to see if students are capable of doing so and therefore competent. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field. Authentic assessment provides a more direct and reliable evidence to assess a competence.

Habits of Mind: Identified by Arthur L. Costa, the sixteen Habits of Mind, are the dispositions skillfully and mindfully displayed by characteristically intelligent people when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent. ‘Habit of Mind’ is a metaphor (from Latin habitus) to indicate that a certain disposition is so ingrained that the mind ‘wears’ it effortlessly.

Understanding by Design (UbD): A tool developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and utilized for educational planning focused on “teaching for understanding.” It consists in a framework for designing curriculum units, performance assessments, and instruction that lead your students to deep understanding of the contents they have to learn.

Key Competence: According to DeSeCo, key competence indicates a competence important for all individuals, and instrumental for meeting important, complex demands and challenges in a wide spectrum of contexts. For EU key competence is that which all individuals need for personal fulfillment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment.

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