The school of the future already exists. 3D printers and hydroponic greenhouses, sofas in the hallway and an agora where students can present their work to classmates in other classes, training in public speaking or arguing in debates, a new name for the ancient ars oratoria. Just walk in to one of the thousand schools of the Avanguardie Educative, the movement born within the Indire-National Institute of Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research to support, and above all, to put in place the innovation of teaching.
Created in Genoa at the end of 2014 with 22 founding schools, today 15% of Italian schools have joined the Avanguardie Educative, with 27 hub-schools, spread throughout the regions. The impressive title of thousandth school enrolled goes to the San Giovanni Bosco Institute of Taranto, in the South of Italy. Of the one thousand schools, 262 are in the North, 234 in the Centre of the country and 504 in the South and Islands; 341 are urban institutions and 659 are in the province; 577 belong to the 1st school cycle (primary and secondary schools) and 423 to the second cycle (secondary schools). “Innovation does not come with the storm but with the rustle of the breeze,” economist Peter Drucker said. So are the Avanguardie Educative, a movement that is changing schools with a gentle revolution. The idea from which the Avanguardie Educative was born is to dismantle “the Tayloristic model of the transmission of knowledge” (as the president of Indire, Giovanni Biondi, called it five years ago): something the school system has been saying for decades. To do this, a network for the best experiences of those who had already tried to change it from the inside was established, supporting them with a research-action project. Because a different model of school is not only possible, but it already exists. And because innovation is not simply trying to do different things, but is the outcome of knowledge.
Opportunities for innovation do not come with the storm but with the rustling of the breeze
Elisabetta Mughini directs Indire's innovation research and is the scientific representative of Avanguardie Eductaive. She talks to us about “a movement that could, with Indire's decades of experience on innovation, currently focusing on new technologies, start to implement the innovations that are changing the school model. Together with the 22 founding schools, we have put out a “Programmed Manifesto for Innovation”, consisting of seven reference horizons that express the vision of AE. Among them, Mughini stresses “the centrality of the students and schools that place students back in the centre, creating active learning situations to build skills for the future”. The starting point is the awareness that “our school model was already obsolete in 2014 in terms of the needs of students and society, even job prospects”.
From the outset it is clear that “innovation” does not coincide with “new technologies”: “technology is a useful ally to innovate the model, but from the outset the obvious need was to make students active. In order to do so, the times and spaces of the school had to be changed, in particular to reverse the ternary rhythm of explanation, homework, questioning,” Mughini explains. That's when schools become places where you have “experience of knowledge”, which means introducing methodologies that make you work with classmates, making teachers walk around between the desks, creating flexible learning spaces and times, where cooperative learning, learning by doing and laboratorism find a home.
Technology is an ally, but innovation means making the students active. To do this, you need to revolutionize the times and spaces of the schools
After five years, the effectiveness of innovation has had its first “impact assessment", which will be presented in early 2020. The results obtained in the Invalsi tests (randomized test to evaluate the efficacy of the school system in Italy) taken by 380 pupils and students from 34 institutions that have been members of the network for at least three years, crossed with the results obtained from schools with similar social, economic and geographical characteristics but not members of the network“, showed higher average scores in both Italian and mathematics", Mughini anticipates. "It is not a direct report, but it can be said that the innovation process is creating good results in terms of improving the performance of the school and students. The other fact is that in almost all AE schools, school drop-out rates have been reduced to zero: innovation also makes schools places where you are willing to be.” For Giovanni Biondi, president of Indire, the numbers of Avanguardie Educative are “the obvious sign that there is a drive for innovation that comes “from the ground”, from the schools themselves, and is not imposed from above”. And it reveals a few more data than the comparative study: “68% of the avant-garde classes have a higher average score in Italian, while for the Math test the percentage is 61.6%”.
Avanguardie Educative was created with 12 ideas in the “Gallery of Ideas for Innovation", from the now famous Flipped classroom to Scenario Didactics. Schools have started to adopt them, implement them and modify them. The Indire researchers, meanwhile, are following the applications and their variants, validating those actually innovative and consistent with the Manifesto:" In these five years the ideas have gone from 12 to 18. For example, Beyond the subjects; Heuristic dialogue; MLTV-making learning and thinking visible, studied with Harvard University and Service Learning, a method of that comes from performing a socially engaged activity, have been added," Mughini says.
The 2019 edition of Didacta – the most important exhibition event devoted to schools, of which Indire is a scientific partner – was titled "Voce del Verbo Innovare (the Verb To Innovate)”. Avanguardie Educative introduced two environments that would physically implement innovation, in the certainty that “space teaches”. One environment enacted the setting for the primary sole, the other for the secondary. Indire's research, in the perspective of architecture, indicates that school should be made up of “four spaces plus one”, Mughini continues: “the individual space, the informal space, the space for exploration, the agora and then the extra one that is the one most similar to the classroom, intended for the group. The idea is that the daily teaching path, throughout the school year, involves different moments: after the reception, where the teacher assigns a task and gives directions on the work to be done, the children move in the school space, going to different environments depending on the task. There is a time for exploration and the laboratory, the time to gather, concentrate and work alone, one to share with other students and one to free the mind, with small libraries and relaxation areas in the old corridors.”
The school should be made up of “4 spaces plus 1”: the individual space, the informal space, for exploration, the agora. And one for the group
Bringing innovation to the ground involves various things: changing school spaces, even within old 1960s buildings; working on the leadership within the school; disseminating a culture of innovation among teachers. Because it may seem strange, but “the culture of innovation is the heritage of teachers who have many years of teaching experience: precisely because they master a discipline and teaching strategies, they are not afraid to lose when they do things differently. Younger people, on the other hand, tend to repeat the model of schooling they have lived and seen at university,” Mughini says.