SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SKILLS IN ITALIAN PRIMARY SCHOOL. MECHANISMS AND DYNAMICS INSIDE CLASSROOMS
Università di Padova, Italy
Social and emotional skills (SES) are non cognitive skills: they have relevant effect on behaviors, attitudes, chances for future. They contribute to the development of the whole child. Then they can be acquired and generated in various learning environments. SES, as the literature indicates, are correlated with performance, increasing self efficacy, favoring cooperative relationships with peers, increasing employment chances in adult life (Clarke et al., 2015; Weare and Nind, 2011; Yoshikawa et al. al., 2015); also positively influencing the possibilities of tertiary education (Domitrovich et al., 2017; Durlak et al., 2010; Durlak et al., 2011) and finally improving the outcomes in adult life from an economic and relational point of view (Belfield et al., 2015). The most recent studies in the educational field have recognized a school role both in the transmission and building of a cognitive knowledge, as well as in the development of SES, and mutual interdependencies (Corcoran 2017a, 2017b; Corcoran et al., 2018).
In the period 2018-2020 a research project on SES was carried out with some fifth classes of primary schools in the city of Turin. Starting from the “Big Five” model, some competences have been selected for pupils and for teachers. For pupils: perseverance; resistance to stress; sociability; cooperation; creativity. For teachers: resistance to stress; cooperation; creativity; energy; organization skills.
The project was carried out with a mix method, which included: interviews and focus group with teachers and principals; questionnaires with pupils and their teachers; naturalistic and participant observation inside classroom.
In this contribution we present results of case study research section, carried out on three primary schools, different for families social class (upper class, middle class and blu collar class) and for school educational offer. Schools were placed in eterogeneous social, cultural and economical contexts, with different resources and constraints.
The hypothesis is that the socio-cultural resources of families and schools, as well as the teaching and educational styles implemented by teachers, influence (positively or negatively) development of children's SES. The main results of the observations highlight the presence of different "educational models", with effects on learning, sociability and skills.
Alongside a performance model, based on performance and school-family conflict, we observe a completely opposite model based on the inclusion and participation of pupils in a mutually cooperative form, with space for rules respect and for the independent children reflexive capacity both with respect to learning outcomes and with respect to interaction with peers and teachers. In between, a further model, characterized by a complexity both in relationships and in learning: strong social mix, delegation and low trust of families in school, organizational inefficiencies and authoritarian educational styles contribute to making learning processes ineffective.
EXPLICIT AND IMPLICIT EFFECTS OF SOCIO-EMOTIONAL SKILLS. AN ANALYSIS OF 2018 PISA DATA
1University of Padova, Italy; 2University of Padova, Italy; 3Università di Roma, Sapienza
The main mechanisms underlying social complexity can be identified in an expansion of the possibilities of actions and experiences, of spreading of technologies within an overall acceleration of social life and a saturation of social and symbolic space (Eriksen, 2016). All these elements determine a pressure on the Self of individuals (Maccarini, 2019). In order to cope with this complexity, it is necessary to develop an approach to education that focuses on cognitive skills, conveyed mainly through school curricula, as much as on social-emotional skills (SES). SES have indeed an important role in giving to young people the right equipment to face present and future challenges, as well as contribute to the development of a sense of cohesion, greater equity and social justice. Already from the first international test-based surveys conducted by the OECD, in addition to cognitive skills, an important space was reserved for non-cognitive dimensions (Giancola, Viteritti, 2015). During the various waves of the OECD-PISA, the PIAAC survey and its follow-ups (for Italy see Di Francesco et al, 2015; at international level see OECD 2015) carried out in view of the new large-scale edition, non-cognitive skills have been progressively re-conceptualized in terms of socio-emotional skills (as illustrated in the historical-methodological reconstruction conducted by Giancola & Lovecchio, 2018). The objective of this proposal is to illustrate, using the OECD PISA 2018 wave data, how socio-emotional skills, in the operationalized and measured version within PISA, have a significant impact on cognitive skills (reading, math, science). This evidence may already be considered interesting in itself, and in line with robust international evidences (Heckman & Kautz, 2012). The presented study shows two other interesting results. Using a set of OLS multiple regression models, it was possible to estimate the single effect, the additional effect and the combinatorial effect produced by socio-emotional skills. A first result is that socio-economic and cultural conditions being equal (summarized in the ESCS index), socio-emotional skills have their own independent strength in terms of better results in standardized tests. Furthermore, possession of these competences also appears to have a positive impact on educational expectations at the end of the upper secondary education cycle. A second result is that these competences have a benefit especially for students characterized by a low level of ESCS (to simplify, we could define them as students of low social class). The implications of these results are of particular interest for the purposes of policies for the social equality of opportunities, equity and system effectiveness (Benadusi, Giancola, 2021). Evidence shows that if a curricular enhancement approach may be useful for reducing inter-categorical and inter-individual gaps, strengthening with respect to the acquisition, development and maintenance of socio-emotional skills is equally useful. An educational system capable of including a balanced curriculum among social-emotional and cognitive skills is one of the keys for the advancement of a society more equipped in dealing with old and new socio-economic inequalities, unemployment, poverty, discrimination and social exclusion.
JOURNEY INTO CHARACTER SKILLS. PEOPLE, RELATIONSHIPS, VALUES
Fondazione per la Sussidiarietà, Italy, Universita degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca
A recent volume published by Il Mulino in the Fondazione per la Scuola series in collaborationwith the Fondazione per la sussidiarietà (“Viaggio nelle character skills. Persone,relazioni, valori “ edited by Giorgio Chiosso, Anna Maria Poggi and Giorgio Vittadini) takes up the theme of non-cognitive skills (NCS) or character skills developed by Nobel Prize winner James Heckman..
Since the origins of economic science scientists have been defining Human Capital, the human being’s contribution to production by virtue of his innate and acquired abilities. In more recent times many authors linked HC to the quantity and quality of knowledge acquired in school and training. In recent years it has emerged that HC does not depend only on knowledge but also on non-cognitive skills, individual’s traits and behaviors influencing his ability to relate to others and to reality as a whole. These non-cognitive skills are malleable and can be improved in the educational path; their increase leads not only to a positive effect on school and work performance but also to a greater solidity and stability. Therefore we can conclude that non-cognitive skills can be seen as the observable characteristics of the underlying inseparable personality of a human being.
As shown by a recent research carried out by a team of researchers of the Universities of Milan Bicocca, Trento and Iprase showed that also in Italy a didactics that stimulates the growth of NCS determine an improvement of CS, measured by school results
In addition, educational interventions designed to improve NCS have a positive and causally demonstrated effect, on the NCS most related to student characteristics. Thus, the educational programs that are shown to be most effective are those that aim for full development of the person, that intend to make students aware of their choices and reasons, and that support the full development of their character.
The importance of character skills in the educational journey was shown unequivocally in distance learning classes during the pandemic crisis caused by Covid-19. Those dramatic months of 2020 saw a true revolution in teaching methods. It was not digital communication per se that made the difference. Rather, in many cases, where it was possible to activate connections, digital platforms stimulated professors and students not to give up in the face of adverse situations, to confront each other more and to support each other in taking initiative. Commitment, motivation, the ability to ask questions, to think in terms of problems, and to learn to work together to achieve a common goal have all been seen.
It can be concluded that studies on character skills are relatively recent and still little known and used in schools. However, it can already be said that where they have been introduced, when applied in a shared and participatory way, they have coalesced the professional community around clear objectives, they have characterized the learning environment and have questioned the very competencies of teachers and the training and educational offerings that characterize the school.
NON-COGNITIVE SKILLS IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL: A STUDY ON ACADEMIC SELF-CONCEPT CHANGE AND OVERVIEW OF THE ‘SENTIRSI FORTI’ PROJECT
1Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Trento, Italy; 2Department of Education and Culture, Office for the Evaluation of Educational Policies, Autonomous Province of Trento, Italy; 3Department of Human Studies - Communication, Education, and Psychology, LUMSA University, Italy
Non-cognitive skill(s) is a broad term that includes several kinds of psycho-social, motivational, emotional, and personality characteristics. Nowadays the role of non-cognitive skills as significant positive precursors of academic achievement and well-being is attested by a large number of empirical findings. Among the various non-cognitive skills, academic self-concept (ASC) proved to be one of the most important predictors of academic achievement (Marsh et al., 2019), and thus it was the target of several theoretical models (e.g., I/E FOR model, REM, RI/EM; see Sewasew & Schroeders, 2019) and interventions (Parker, Dicke, Guo, & Marsh, 2019). However, some findings showed that ASC negatively affects academic performance in non-matching domain (e.g., math self-concept negatively affects verbal achievement). Therefore, caution is advised when implementing interventions tackling ASC.
In this contribution, we first showed a longitudinal study on the relationship between math/verbal SC and math/verbal achievement; then, we overviewed an ongoing project (‘Sentirsi Forti’) we are carrying on in the Province of Trento.
In our longitudinal study, we explored stability and change in math and verbal SC (by means of Latent Change Models) and found that both significantly decline from the beginning to the end of the junior high school. Yet, we shown that there is substantially variability in the way students change across time in ASC. Finally, our study shown that if we consider ASC change (instead of stability) the negative effect of ASC in academic performance in non-matching domain is actually non-significant or positive-significant. In sum, our study suggests that the ability to contrast the overall negative trend of ASCs is associated with amelioration in academic achievement at the end of junior high school. From a practical standpoint, these findings suggest the importance of (a) assessing and intervening on ASCs during junior high school; (b) intervening in math and verbal self-concept separately; (c) taking into account student’s own way of changing.
Given the above results, starting from summer 2020 – as a partnership between University of Trento (Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science) and Province of Trento (Department of Education and Culture) – we implemented a project (titled “Sentirsi Forti”, funded by Fondazione Caritro) that aimed to help teachers in acknowledging and nurturing non-cognitive skills (in particular ASC) in pupils, after the covid-19 crisis. Seven junior high schools and 21 teachers in the Trentino area have been involved in the ‘Sentirsi Forti’ project. Measures were collected in 322 students at T1 (December 2020 – February 2021), whereas T2 data will be collected in June 2021. The project consists of three phases: (a) assessment of non-cognitive skills; (b) training of teachers on non-cognitive skills by means of three seminars and three “operational guides”; (c) coaching/consulting provided to teachers in regards to interpretation of data collection, feedbacks, and didactic planning.
In conclusion, in this contribution we offered (a) empirical findings about the importance of taking into account the effect of “ASC change” on academic achievement, and (b) the overview of an intervention on non-cognitive skills that may be adapted to other educational contexts and constructs.
FOR A SOCIOLOGY OF DEFENCES AGAINST EMOTIONS IN EDUCATION: WORK DISCUSSION GROUPS AS AN ACTION-RESEARCH METHOD
1University of Bari Aldo Moro, Italy; 2Soc. Coop. Psi.f.i.a. - Psicoterapeuti per la famiglia, l'infanzia e l'adolescenza
The importance to bring to light the cultural structures informing professional practices and organizations can be found in research oriented by critical sociological perspectives. For example, the concept of habitus of Bourdieu have been adopted to uncover structured and structuring dispositions that affect educational work below the level of consciousness (Perrenoud, 2010). Other theories like transformative learning of Mezirov (2016) stress the need to critically reflect on the symbolic contents of unconscious meaning schemes and frames in practitioners’ educational background.
The purpose of the paper is to explore further cross-disciplinary developments of these sociological perspectives by drawing on the practice of Work Discussion Groups (WDGs) oriented by the psychoanalytic theory of social defences, with specific attention to their applications at school (Armstrong & Rustin, 2015; Rustin & Bradley, 2008). The concept of social defence refers to subjective escape routes from emotions provoked by the educational work, especially when teachers feel such emotions as an immediate threat for the own personal wellbeing. A defensive culture could embed in school organizations over time, for example in the form of thought-styles (Douglas, 1986), informal norms or routines, which are gradually incorporated in training and induction of new teachers. An excessive level of defences embedded in educational practice and systems can impede an effective focusing of needs, opportunities and borders within the educational relationship.
From this perspective, reflective agency appears not only a cognitive process, as long as it requires the socio-emotional ability to hold - and not to avoid - emotions and to reflect on their impact with the support of a group. In a WDG session, this process is based on the elaboration and discussion of observational narratives on a particularly complex or challenging work situation.
The paper discusses benefits, limitations and possible improvements of WDGs as an action-research approach for critical sociology in education. When applied for evaluation purposes, WDGs also support double loop learning processes (Schön, 1992), by helping practitioners to cope with the fear to put in question their implicit theories and assumptions.
In conclusion, the paper suggests new action-research on educational practices during the pandemic emergence and the successive recovery phase. The adoption of WDGs with schools is discussed as a possible reflexive space on pre-existing or new forms of social defences against the sense of threat and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 disaster, as well as from the emotional work needed to develop new practices in response to the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic crisis on students.
Armstrong D. and Rustin M. (2015) (eds.), Social defences against anxiety. Exploration in paradigm. Karnac
Douglas M. (1986), How institutions think. Syracuse University Press. New York
Mezirov J. (2016), La teoria dell’apprendimento trasformativo. Cortina Editore
Perrenoud P. (2001), Mettre la pratique reflexive au centre du projet de formation, Cahiers Pédagogiques, n. 390, pp. 42-45.
Rustin M. and Bradley J. (eds). Work discussion. Learning from reflective practice in work with children and families. Karnac
Schön D.A. (1992), The Reflective Practitioner. How Professionals Think in Action. Routledge
SYNERGIZING COMPETENCES: ENCOUNTER STUDENT NEEDS THROUGH PEER COLLABORATION
1University of Turin, Italy; 2Indire
RELEVANCE: Life skills as competence set in 21st century education
During the pandemic period, hard skills were not in tune with needed soft skills to overcome destabilizing socio-emotional circumstances and educational inequalities became a central concern (Giovannella et al 2020).
According to an INDIRE research, for example, during the distance learning secondary school students showed slight improvements on some soft skills, such as collaboration and self-regulation, while, on the other hand, in the younger student groups, distance interaction led to a worsening of all the main soft skills.
Collaborative processes must therefore be renewed in order to favor rebalancing, and not accentuating the skill gaps.
Several authors confirm that collaborative peer-to-peer processes, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds help to promote friendship and socio-emotional skills (Jordan, Le Métais 1997) and can foster a greater sense of belonging (Baloche, Brody 2017).
METHOD: Holistic approach to student needs
The authors propose a methodology based on peer collaboration that benefits from highly diversified educational contexts:
Firstly, student “buddy” couples (2 pupils) collaborate in formal and informal situations through provided and co-created learning contents. Learning contents would be produced:
- From teachers for learners according to the ‘classical’ front-class teaching method.
- From buddy to buddy: exchange through and elaboration of supporting learning materials.
- From buddy couples for classmates. Trainees become trainers when explaining co-created learning contents to their peers.
Secondly, also teacher “buddy” couples co-create recommendations for student buddy-building and the implementation of corresponding learning methods. Teachers must be trained to recognize and valorise competence stocks that derive from the learner’s life course and the familial-ethnical habitus.
RESULTS: new models of peer collaboration
Educational activities – especially in (post-) COVID scenario - would be improved as:
- Emphasis is thus not exclusively on educational needs but also on the child’s socio-emotional and structural needs (Pinson, Arnot 2007) and in the integration between formal and informal learning.
- Student’s own production and their involvement as trainers allows children to express their own point of view, overcoming a predominant adult-centric vision.
- lessons acquired during the pandemic era can be useful for deep understanding how to module and differentiate cooperation and distance interaction practices according to the specific characteristics of students.
- Baloche, L., Brody, C. M. (2017). Cooperative learning: exploring challenges, crafting innovations, Journal of Education for Teaching, 43(3), 274-283.
- Giovanella, C., Passarelli, M., Persico, D. (2020). La didattica durante la pandemia: un'istantanea scattata dagli insegnanti a due mesi dal lockdown. Bricks Rivista 20 (4), 24-41.
- INDIRE (2020). Indagine tra i docenti italiani sulle pratiche didattiche durante il lockdown. Report preliminare. (http://www.indire.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Pratiche-didattiche-durante-il-lockdown-Report-2.pdf .)
- Jordan, D. W., Le Métais, J. (1997). Social skilling through cooperative learning, Educational Research, 39(1), 3-21.
- Pinson, H., Arnot, M. (2007). Sociology of Education and the Wasteland of Refugee Education Research. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(3), 399-407.