sull'attuale situazione italiana: "Girlfriend in a coma".
A questo link troverete l'intervista pubblicata sul sito GIAC, in lingua inglese:
Di seguito la versione integrale con tutte le idee e le riflessioni della fondatrice di Inglese Dinamico.
Do you want to take a closer look at the reality of Inglese Dinamico? You can do it through Nancy Steinbock words', interviewed by Bill Emmott, the author of the famous documentary about Italy: "Girlfriend in a coma".
At this link you will find the interview posted on the GIAC website, in English:
Following is the complete version with all the ideas and considerations of the founder of Inglese Dinamico.
Interview – GIAC 2013
- In this particular moment of crisis that forced many Italian to leave Italy, looking for better opportunities, what brings an American to Italy trying to develop an educational project?
Actually, I have been in Italy ten years this September. In 2000, I was changing my life and wanted to come to Italy after falling in love with Venice on a visit a year previously. In researching how I was going to transfer my skills as a well-established speech/language pathologist who specialized in dyslexia, I consulted people here in Italy. I was told that with the reform (Gelmini) that people with my skills would be greatly valued and I should write a proposal to that effect. At the time, there was an American who was a prominent presence in deaf education in Italy. She was located in Rome. With her encouragement, I wrote a project that was translated into Italian, that focused upon pre-school language acquisition, an area that I was intimately involved with as a learning disabilities specialist. Suffice it to say, that in fact, my presence was not received with welcoming applause! But, as I had moved over here literally lock, stock and barrel with my 11-year old daughter who had started in an Italian middle school, I was not about to give up and return home. I was intrigued at the prospect of working to overcome the prejudice and as I became more immersed in the culture, particularly, the educational culture and as I gained adequate ability to communicate in Italian, I became more determined to advance educational reform. While I first attempted to work within the institutions and educational structure of the country, I am now committed to working as a reformer from the outside in. In my decade here, I haven’t found that economic crisis or lack of same, makes much difference in the quality or the approach taken in the classroom.
Did you come across many difficulties to develop "Inglese Dinamico"?
Inglese Dinamico has been a labor of love. When it was clear, rather quickly, that people were happy to meet with me, compliment me on my project proposals and then, not fund them, I started teaching in my kitchen with books and materials I had brought over from my therapy room in America. There were parents who were looking for something different and a small group regularly enrolled each year. Looking back on it, the setting was pretty primitive! But, the kids – they were all mostly in elementary -- made progress in oral language and early literacy skills and in that kitchen, I honed over 7 years, what was to be the basis for the laboratories that I opened in Palazzo Sandi in Venice in October of 2010. And, a group of dedicated parents followed me, and helped through word of mouth, to expand the number of students. I am grateful to them and their kids because some of them are now in high school and we started when they were in 3rd grade together. They have provided me with a rich experimental ground and the parents have generally been my cheerleaders. I still don’t receive funding but hope to in the near future as now, people understand that the project is here to stay and has developed its voice with a message that I think is indisputable, i.e., evidence-based teaching methodology works, a positive teaching environment generates trust and learning and that authentic expertise is needed in areas such as dyslexia if students are going to learn critical thinking skills and the problem solving techniques that are essential for a stronger, more dynamic Italy. I think that the approach encourages students to explore ideas they have little chance to do in the regular classroom, even to explore educational opportunities in other countries, but to value their Italian heritage and to understand that they must be the game-changers in their country. The previous two generations have not taken up the challenge. Of course, I’m still financially challenged! With excellent Italian educational partners, I have written a number of pilot research/teacher-training proposals, e.g., in dyslexia, whose quality has been acknowledged. The regional and foundation funding sources, however, opt to support familiar associations or institutions, often without evidence that their programs are effective. This has been an ongoing frustration. But, the learning community of a few public school and university teachers, numerous parents, students and others that has evolved around the project, is a continuing source of strength and I know that our work will go forward ever more strongly. Inglese Dinamico is in the process of becoming a force for change in education; it has become a little center of big ideas and most parents understand that their children are not going to ‘learn or study’ the language, but to use the language for delving into the world using a medium of wider communication. It has been gratifying to see how the project has grown in scope since the kitchen days. Sometimes, I do get the pushback to just ‘teach English’ in the traditional sense, but I didn’t ever do that and each year, more students arrive so we must be doing something right. It is ongoing work to develop understanding that we all have to push for quality education and that people with means and corporations have to step in where public institutions have failed. Even little acts, for example, such as funding technology tools for a classroom or a professional workshop, at the local level is still very difficult to realize.
How would you define your laboratories? Why are they "dynamic"?
I’m a therapist and I worked for almost 30 years before I came here, developing oral and literate language skills in kids who were preschoolers with communication difficulties and school-age kids whose oral language difficulties then led to dyslexia and other classroom interaction difficulties. It was easy to transfer a ‘language intervention’ approach, into sessions to develop communication skills in Italian speakers. To be an effective therapist and/or teacher, it is absolutely essential to have control of scientifically-based methodology coupled with best teaching practices. I took my own area of expertise which was rooted in acquisition/language disorders, psycho- and socio-linguistics, researched more carefully best bilingual educational practices and then tried, with many mistakes along the way, to coalesce two Western cultures that are so different in terms of teaching styles, what we hold important as ‘successful’ teaching as well as in some ways, different belief systems. So, perforce, the laboratories became fertile ground for working to build, not only language skills, but, more importantly, a ‘thinking’ head that we could then utilize as we worked to understand our differences and find common ground. Students had fairly arid teaching and I wanted them to feel valued as individuals and as learners and teachers themselves. Naturally then, we began to take on current issues and social ideas that we explored once kids could navigate enough conversation and print. Because topics are inherently interesting and because the teaching methodology supports them as learners, their use and depth of the language continues. Then, meaningful contemporary literature, current films and other pieces are incorporated to explore issues such as bullying, the nature of friendship, gay rights/women’s rights/civil rights, the human cost of war, etc. Even a film such as Hugo for my early middle-schoolers becomes a comment on disenfranchised children and the novella, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is an exploration into community organizing. I try to start young!
- When did you decide to start discussing "Girlfriend in a Coma" during your lessons? How do you think the documentary could be part of an educational project?
I have amazing graduate students that study with me, often to prepare for the TOEFL. Because independent writing is so difficult for them since it means taking responsibility for generating ideas and holding a position, I always engage each student in discussion around topics. I was fortunate enough to have a student of economics. She came to the lab one day, looking shaken, having just participated in the conference that President Carlo Carraro (University of Ca’ Foscari) had organized with Bill Emmott, to screen the documentary. She told me about the film and immediately, I bought it. It seemed to me that it was discussing and supporting several of the issues that I had been trying to promote in my labs. I was up-ended by the film! Immediately, I began showing it to my high-school students and then decided that I would show it as well to my middle-schoolers who had studied a few years with me. It was electrifying to watch their reactions! I had one young boy, 2nd year middle school who sat for much of the film over two or three sessions, with his hand over his mouth. Typical guy kid, totally appalled at what he was seeing. Their reactions ran from embarrassed to humiliated over some of the disturbing parts, but I have been working with them to reframe the discussion so that they can identify issues at the local level, identify social and cultural factors in play and then, understand that they themselves can remain in the country and be effective agents of change. They like the idea – that is, of being empowered, of being responsible for their destinies rather than letting the status quo hamper their ideas and actions. The documentary has become an essential part of all of our conversations, either as a reference (Do you remember in the film. . . ) or as a means of understanding the need for self-discipline, critical thinking and risk-taking. The latter is a daunting concept culturally but the younger generation through social media, through parents looking for change themselves, are not afraid. Before they become so, I want to use the film and the ideas in it, to confront “brutta figura”, to confront learned helplessness and to organize to be doers. That is why I am so proud of the group that thought through the issues after a school classroom crisis in Venice this year, and worked to produce the letter which I sent to Bill. This is how the film can have a powerful, positive effect. It certainly gave me the pathway for the change I was seeking but unable to fully achieve because I am “American” and therefore, suspect as a critic. They saw intelligent, committed Italians doing the right thing. I just want them not to be talking about it outside of Italy but working within the country to elevate themselves!
- If you had a magic wand, what would you change of the Italian education system?
This is easy. Not so easy to do given how people all over the world are slow to change but I would click my red shoes, sprinkle a little sparkly dust and command the following:
Scientific-evidence-based teaching methodology with a strong mentoring component
Authentic expertise that is built on best teaching practices along with subject knowledge. Equally important, hands-on mentored hours of practice in areas such as dyslexia and learning disabilities
Accountability that demonstrates a teacher’s ability to teach and to engage his/her students
Educational community – administrators, teachers, parents and students working to develop positive classroom environments that promote measured learning outcomes, critical thinking and self-discipline
Financial investment by corporations, philanthropists and the government that support all of the above.
The public systems are broken and we have to reach outside the familiar and safe to grow an effective, dynamic educational system from preschool through university. Failure should not be a sign of weakness, but point of departure for improvement.
Reform, funding and accountability have been serious problems for many years in Italy. Having personal experience, both as a mother of a daughter who went through school for 8 years, as a collaborator and then, as a critic of issues discussed at length with teachers within the system of higher education, parents and students themselves, I feel strongly that there is a need to continue the discourse regarding the afore-mentioned.
We need to consider ethics in education. Presently, the training in areas such as dyslexia is generally not provided by professionals who have significant, hands-on experience with diagnosis and treatment. There is an over-reliance on theory without truly understanding how to put it into practice. The lack of meritocracy, the abject waste of tens of thousands of euros, e.g., in promoting ineffective teaching methodology in dyslexia, is not only troubling but speaks to certain issues in ethics. When the future success of children's ability to compete in academia and later an economy now driven by global enterprise and not necessarily family enterprise is compromised, then in achieving true educational reform it is important to address these issues. Additionally, it is clear that oftentimes, people in charge of making these decisions, whether in the Ministry, foundations or regional levels of government, are not really professionally involved enough in the field to make evaluative judgements regarding how funds could be spent most efficaciously. In the 21st century, if the right to meaningful education has been decreed by law, then it is incumbent upon the system to put prepared professionals in place to deliver services to all students, whether challenged or non-challenged.