Distance learning – Where will we be tomorrow. Interview with Sara Lazzaro. Part one.
We interviewed Sara Lazzaro, professor of literary subjects and vice principal at the Liceo Scientifico Statale G.B. Grassi, the first scientific high school in the city of Latina, born in 1965.
Here is the interview we had with her on the theme of the new teaching…
In the dual role within the school, as coordinator and as teacher, you surely know the different school dynamics. In your experience, what are the difficulties that teachers encounter with students?
A world opens up here! There is still a lot of teachers who, unfortunately, use a traditional type of teaching, too frontal and linked to the transmission of knowledge, rather than a teaching based on the idea of a sharing of knowledge.
Over the years I’ve come to the idea that essentially the teacher is not a facilitator, nor a transmitter, but is a “knowledge activator” and I am convinced that we can only get to this if there is a relational dimension of affection; this does not mean that “We love each other” in a superficial way, but it means to pay attention to the student and then try to understand which are the emotional and cognitive dynamics that activate knowledge and work on these dynamics.
Is the tendency to use too traditional teaching more linked to the old school teachers or even to the younger ones?
I thought it was a generational issue too, but I found in the last 4-5 years that the new teachers are not always up to the role they play. Paradoxically, over time, older teachers have been able to question themselves much more than young teachers. I believe that this is a human and personal matter on a hand, and on the other hand, I think that the way teachers are still recruited nowadays is not working. I’ve come to have this attention from my personal training and not from university training.
And what are the difficulties that students encounter with teachers?
As for the relationship of students with professors, it is clear that there is a generational gap. Young people’s communication and learning systems have changed and continue to change at the speed of light and objectively many of us cannot keep up. There can no longer be mnemonic and theoretical learning of the past: that was our way of learning, it can not be theirs. Thus, if they do not even perceive the affective dimension and the interest of the teacher, then any form of curiosity is lost and everything becomes mechanical.
The opportunity to make them interested and curious is all our responsibility because the teacher makes the difference. The teacher is “the meeting”! For example, I went to a very traditional school, but in the first two years I met a wonderful teacher, because she was so in love with Greek, Latin and Italian literature and she was so good at explaining, that she conquered me and made me passionate. I chose in the fourth gymnasium, that is in the first year of high school, to become a teacher… because that was my meeting! So today, if we don’t think of ourselves as a meeting, as an opportunity for the students, I think we have failed the mandate.
The role of teachers has always been very important, both for being reference adults outside the family context and because they can be considered as those who facilitate knowledge. What aspects should an adult be careful of to define themself as a valid teacher? And will it be necessary to review the training path for teachers following the pandemic?
The teacher has to understand that theirs is not a job like any other. You can’t be a teacher with an employee attitude. It is not possible because you are working on human material in formation and you are responsible for human formation even before cognitive formation. Teachers should constantly have updates and work very hard on the dynamics of the relationship. Not only to try to understand the students but also to try to understand themselves. The teacher should have the courage to ask themself where they are making mistakes, where they do not understand, where they interacted badly.
We have to start from the fact that teaching is done in two dimensions: relationship and learning.
At the beginning of lockdown in March, you told us that you were going through a lot of news with the students. What did you mean by that? Do you still have that enthusiasm for a momentous change in school?
The forced lockdown of March has activated not only in me but in many other teachers, even the most reluctant, a series of new energies because whether we wanted or not we found ourselves having to rethink of a new technical way to keep teaching. In theory, we all tried to break away from the traditional idea of the ministerial programme and to focus on skills, on know-how, on being able to learn and being able to understand. For me it was a great discovery because although I have always used an interactive teaching methodology, I didn’t utlilize much a series of tools that are fantastic instead. The technological tool has become an opportunity to overthrow the class. We decided the topic that obviously was related to disciplinary content and then everyone added an information, an idea; we organized the slides that were born from everyone’s ideas and then I recorded the first part of the lesson; the homework assignment was to record the second part. Paradoxically, the digital forced us to find a way in which it is mainly students who produce the material while the teacher coordinates them.
For me, it is epochal the idea that today, unlike the Second World War, in which so many children, young people and university students lost years of school and training, technology allows us to keep a connection and therefore to be able to activate teaching anyway. So it allows us to bring school to the students.
With a few exceptions, the introduction of distance learning was an absolute novelty.
What challenges have been faced?
Surely the first immediate challenge was the lack of internet access for many families.
And then, unfortunately, students linked to more culturally disadvantaged social groups who have given little importance to maintaining contact with the school have once again fallen behind.
The challenge now is to equip everyone, including school, with appropriate technologies, with a connectivity to the level of the situation but also with adequate architectural structures. Because we cannot continue to think of splitting classes in presence and at distance, but we must think of ventilation systems, sanitizing instruments with steam to ensure safety.
What did arise of positive, new, of something that was not thought about before the pandemic that can be maintained in the years to come?
One thing that concerns me is the idea that the end of the pandemic means a return to the old school. We must avoid this in any way! We can no longer allow the trandititional teaching organization.
Integrated digital teaching is instead an important experience and must be maintained. As we said, learning needs to be collaborative and we have to abandon the Gentilian idea of individual learning.
Integrated teaching is also a great opportunity to meet the different needs of students. I am against the principle of equality in school: for me the only valid principles are the principle of solidarity and diversity. That is, if each individual is different and has different needs, I have to try somehow to meet them. Online recovery for example could be a tool that allows the school to be more flexible and thus ensure access to students, even those who live far away. The same can happen for the listening desk that can be used in online mode by parents with work difficulties.
It’s essential to rethink the didactic mode at a deeper level, even theoretical and not just technical. Training courses on online teaching need to be activated to acquire digital skills. Teaching cannot be the frontal lesson transferred on a computer! We absolutely need to find a way to create an interaction that at least allows the class to feel a class and not to feel many individualities connected.
With distance learning and chnological tools, is it possible to think about peer to peer?
Even more so with distance learning! But the great thing is that students always get there first. In the afternoon tasks are done collectively by connecting to the computer. They discovered the magical world of technology that develops the idea of collaborative learning. The emotional intelligence that modern pedagogy is interested in is never something that develops only individually.
The pandemic can be considered in two ways. As a bad parenthesis that sooner or later will allow us to return to the previous state, going back to the habits of 2019, or as an epochal change that could allow us to go towards something new, separating us from the past. Where should the school be?
The pandemic was certainly a bad parenthesis, for what it meant in terms of mourning for so many families. But I’m convinced that life is also a great opportunity, so anything that comes along somehow triggers a change. This pandemic is an epochal change also concerning how we will relate to nature. The school should seize this novelty to transform itself. We cannot call ourselves victims of the phenomena of nature and we will have to learn to relate ourselves to the world in a less violent way.
How do you imagine school in two years’ time?
Perhaps in a futuristic way for this country, I imagine a school that becomes the fundamental axis and the center of the territory where kids can find the space to express their needs and where a series of activities can be carried out. A school open at least until five in the afternoon, where the kids, not alone as at home, should do their homework, because it is at school that the skills are activated. At some point, then, there must be a separation, the recovery of a private time that the school cannot invade. In the family, kids have to live far more than of homework.
School needs to be therefore a space of sociality and meetings, a cultural space, open all day and open to the territory for those who want to use it for activities that exult the presence of students. Especially a school that knows how to respond to the individual needs of students and families, that interacts with the external world and knows how to acquire all the elements coming from outside such as digital technology for example, to be a school serving the community and not offering a service.
From this interesting interview emerge crucial aspects that have characterized for almost a year the experience of students. The social uncertainty of recent months, the transmission of a message very often confusing by institutions and more generally by adults on the return to school onsite, the “political” use of decisions on teaching, should be counterbalanced by a different courage and message from teachers, who have the uncomfortable role of transmitting certainty, a new certainty to kids who are facing choices and mistakes that do not depend on them
The sense of uncertainty that was mentioned before should be clarified: within it, unexpected qualities of the human being have often emerged in history. But if it is an uncertainty that doesn’t give rise to change and remains anchored to the previous reality, then it can hurt, crush the kids with responsibility and conflicts.
Good luck to the teachers then, now more than ever. And good luck to the kids, generation forced to fight against everything and everyone!
Maria Giubettini e Walter Di Mauro
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article