Active Participation and Assistance in the Difficulties of the Handicapped

Theory and Practice of Extra-Scholastic Teacher Training Course

Autor:in - Nicola Cuomo
Themenbereiche: Schule
Textsorte: Artikel
Releaseinfo: English Translation by Julie Wade
Copyright: © Nicola Cuomo, 1992

Learning and Teaching:

The Presence of a handicapped, disadvantaged child demonstrates the importance of research into different ways and conditions of teaching. It also demonstrates that learning difficulties of children, with or without handicaps, are strictly dependent on these conditions. Pedagogic thought in the scholastic and formative field is fundamental to analyse and reflect upon didactic practice, theories and methods.

A global analysis assess two basic models:

a.) Logic and linear which allows passive learning and with pre-established stages, rigidly programmed[1] to which the pupils must adapt;

b.) A more systematic approach allowing for active learning that provides for different intelligence and whose programme is flexible and has an adaptable syllabus and employs consequential adaptable teaching methods to the learning style of the pupils.

In the first case children are almost always totally excluded from didactic projects. Time, space and programmes are organized without including the children in the planning process; the children undergo decisions without knowing why or what for. This makes them passive, always waiting for someone, the teacher, to take the initiative. When there is a child with a handicap and/or a learning difficulty in the classroom and the teachers plan strategies of inclusion or integration, we run the risk of ruining the integration project if there isn't group involvement in the class.

When an integration project is introduced into the class without involving the other children, it can create contrasts. It may also be interpreted by the children as allowing more freedom for the handicapped child. If there is too much attention paid to the child who is defined "handicapped", the other children may interpret it as favouring the child. Integration projects propose that learning be exciting and enjoyable which may be seen as impossible because one automatically thinks that something that is fun can't possibly be Educational. In any case, when the class group is not involved in projects, the children don't recognize the value of learning, of freedom, the independence given to their classmate. They are unable to understand why F. is told she is very clever and why she is paid so many compliments for doing something which they can do better but which passes unnoticed.

On the contrary, when the whole class is actively involved in projects, and they become aware that there exists ways of teaching that are both fun and of high-quality, they are able to understand the efficiency of integration. Furthermore, the children discover that everyone has different rhythms and learning capabilities and it is necessary to find the right one for each person[2]. We discover that ways of acquiring knowledge can go beyond the conventional syllabuses which are often considered the only way of learning and of acquiring knowledge. We discover that seeing images can recall situations, sounds and fears. We realize that smells can bring to mind a history, an experience made of images, words and sounds. We learn that the path towards knowledge is not only a gradual and simple route, the result of an addition of sensory perceptions and events, but it is complex and forms an experience characterized by sensations, emotions, in an emotional dimension.

[1] We prefer the world planning to programme because planning is more dynamic and flexible. It refers to the process rather than the content.

[2] If two people do the same thing it's not the same. To be precise: two elements or two groups of elements that are identical from an atomistic point of view can have a very different meaning from a structural point of view; they could be different by nature. It is necessary to add that: if two elements do different tasks, form an atomistic point of view their action can be, despite this, structurally identical. To do the same thing in a different situation you must do it differently. To be precise: different elements can be structurally the same. See: M. Wertheimer: "Il pensiero produttivo", Giunti-Barbera Ed. Firenze, 1975.

Pedagogic skills for integration:

The idea that attributes inclination and natural ability to teachers and educationalists must be totally abandoned. Vocations and intuitions, although sometimes effective, are substituted by an experimental and verifiable intervention. At this point it seems opportune to introduce Bertolini's theory which makes a distinction between "Education" and "Pedagogy". According to this theory, Education is something that everyone does, it is intuitive, while Pedagogy is an authentic science. Bertolini defines the Education professional a "pedagogic operator". This figure seems suitable for the prospect that, contrary to a vision separated into categories according to the individual and type of teaching, suggests the possibility and the necessity for the integrated didactic projects which foresee the respect for different intelligence and identities. Bertolini distinguished the word Education from Pedagogy.

With the word Education he means to distinguish interventions that, despite producing modifications to learning, experience and knowledge, are not based on theory and methodology. The agent of Education doesn't intervene in a planned and conscious way; the change they produce is not intentional. Therefore, with the word Education we can define all kinds of non-intentionally directed education.

Changes brought about under these conditions, however valid and adequate, are destined to remain intuitive, empirical decisions. We encounter "agents of Education" in many daily situations. Traffic wardens, priests, butchers, ... educate us when they provide us with information. Our parents as well educate us but we can't consider them good teachers just because they are our parents.

When we move from the field of Education to that of Pedagogy, we find ourselves face to face with a science, because of the nature of the object to which it refers, human beings, with their continuous changes, is always in search of an epistemological statute. The term Pedagogy refers to the philosophic reflection upon the act of Education. In the field of Pedagogy, there is a constant effort to reach a certain critical awareness of experience and Education, trying to go farther in order to make Education into a real and authentic science.

The result is that pedagogist is a professional who can contemplate experience, make interpretative hypotheses and try to form theories about education. The risk of such a "professional" is that he might linger and remain on a theoretical planes producing a philosophy of Education and remain ideological. It is necessary to established pedagogic reflection on a theoretical and methodological plane but it is also necessary to verify them in practice and procedure, otherwise they risk becoming abstract.

Hypotheses, theories, itineraries of scientific research, methodologies and practice constitute a system that sees these terms in a strict and inseparable relationship.

The possibility to put hypotheses and theories to practice prompts the word "operation" which, united with the word Pedagogy, produces a professional that can be defined as a "pedagogic operator". We have in front of us a "professional" who educates intentionally and effectively and who directs educational practice.

A work hypothesis: heterochrony:

There are many skills that a person must possess to perform activities, ranging from daily activities to more specific and individualized ones, and each one of us possesses a very limited part of them. The relationship between our skills and when we need them or when they are required of us can form the reference that is used to consider us normal, handicapped or disadvantaged. The incidence of handicaps is strictly proportionate to the structure of society and more particularly to aptitude and social organizations. The process of socialization, in a given cultural field, in this case is equally important. This process in which the child's education and instruction take part has as its main function a good integration of the child in his social context. It is essentially centered on collectivity.

The opposite approach, centering on the child and aiming at helping him to make the most of his potentials, would on the other hand, present some difficulties considering:

a.) the difference in the orientation of development and the progression rhythm of different children;

b.) the great variety of qualifications and skills required of teachers in such a personalized service;

c.) difficulties encountered judging the needs of one child compared to another.

Handicapped children show us that each one of us, with or without a handicap, possesses, in the different sectors of our abilities, different levels of skill; the individual during his development doesn't follow constant rhythms but heterochronic rhythms. In other words, individuals develop "at different speeds according to the different sectors of psycho-biological development...". There can also be a difference between psycho-motor ability and mental and physical development. "Heterochrony isn't the static difference between mental age and calendar age, it isn't a ... metric definition of deficiency.. and heterochrony doesn't compare a mentally retarded child to a child younger than him..." [3] Heterochrony is not looking for mental deficiencies but rather they are looking for original and authentic equilibrium of the individual. The concept of heterochrony offers teaching and to learning support tactics and strategies that make integration possible if the pedagogic itinerary organizes a complex and multimedia teaching method of high quality.

VTR presentation produced by A.P.A.D.H.CO-OP in April/May 1992

[3] C.F.R.R. Zazzò:"I deboli mentali", Trino 1974.

Extra-Scholastic Teacher Training Course: Practice

There are three phases in this training process. In the first stage the teachers participated in a workshop. There was a sculpture workshop held by a professional sculptor, a theater workshop lead by an actor, and a music workshop run by a musicologist. The teachers experienced the training process first hand by using various materials, working with their hands, manipulating and transforming objects, and giving different meanings to objects depending on the individual context and situation.

Interview to participants of the workshops:

I participated in the music workshop which was very interesting both because of the methodology that Albert (the musicologist) used as well as for his ability to motivate us to do things that at least I would have never dreamed of doing.

I took part in the sculpture workshop. When I was studying at the Institute Magistrali (the Teacher Training College), we touched on area like theater, music, and art but in a vary superficial way because they were considered secondary to other subjects like Mathematics and Italian (which were regard as fundamental.)Therefore we never got the chance to really explore these other subjects.

I work in a psychiatric hospital and I think that the ability to work with ones hands could be a very important discovery for psychiatric patients who have always been closed in and never get a chance to use their hands to do anything useful.

I enjoyed the workshop because with the musicologist I was forced to pick myself out of the crowd even if I didn't want to.

The skills acquired during the workshops taught people how to effectively manage their bodies and words in order to communicate. After the workshops the teachers had the opportunity to work on a project in groups which is what we are doing here in Lizzano, near Bologna, in the mountains. The teachers were re-divided into three groups. All three groups had two people who partook in the music workshop two people who participated in the sculpture workshop and two people from the theater workshop so that all skills were represented. Each group's job was to plan a journey that they would lead the other two groups through. Therefore Group A had to plan a "journey " for Group B and C, group B planned a journey for Group A and C, and so on.

Group A started with the idea of a submarine that was supposed to save these shipwrecked people. The goal was to get the shipwrecked people to the submarine.

This is the situation. You are shipwrecked. You are on an island and you must somehow get to the submarine. That is your only hope of being saved. In order to get the submarine, you have to stop off on two other islands.

The experience involved using the body to express one self. The shipwrecked people had to find one another and from groups with their eyes closed. In the passage from one island to the next, they had to from a chain, moving one at a time using physical contact that at times was quite rough. the stops on the other islands involved specific activities. The first island involved sculpture. The shipwrecked people had to prepare gifts to entice and attract us, the submarine crew. The construction of these gifts therefore required abilities in sculpture.

On the second island there was a musical theme. The object was to attract the submarine crew with music. With the guidance of Group A, the other groups had to figure out a song and sing it. Once that was accomplished, they could move to the third island.

The stop on the third island involved theater. They had to form a human sculpture. Then the final passage from the third island to submarine had to be done following a musical rhythm. At first there were two teams with two different rhythms that had to find a harmony between them.

Basically the idea was that it would start as a competition between two teams and eventually finish with everyone cooperating and forming a union of everyone involved, which is in fact is what happened in the end. In the beginning the two teams were competing against each other and in the end they were working together.

We, Group B, came up with a different metaphorical journey and we lead Group A and C through the journey. We were instructed to work on emotions. The idea was to get everyone to feel different emotions. First we talked about these emotions and feelings and we tried to figure out what they were about and we made a list of them. We took a few of them and we tried to transform them into a code, in other words, an emotional language. Certain

objects, gesture and sounds were associated with a pre-determined emotion. It was a code that we invented and everyone who followed us had to understand and learn it.

We made this list of emotions and we tried to start the game with feeling, that is, the idea of going to a place we didn't know because we were blindfolded, having to follow directions from who knows who, from people who couldn't speak and having to completely give in to and trust other people.

We deprived people of certain communicative tools, important tools that are usually used to orient oneself in foreign settings. They had to move from one reality to another where all points of reference were turned around. Communication became something that had to be discovered. There was a sheet that symbolized the separation between two worlds but still allowed the others to perceive us in order to understand us.

The task description i s that there are the se human beings that are taken to a far away planet or to another dimension about which they know nothing. They don't even know where they are, and in this foreign place they have to learn a ne w language by observing and imitating the inhabitants of the place in order to communicate with them.

The journey is a metaphor, a simulation that necessitates a process that has objectives and an itinerary. These objectives and itinerary find in the metaphor a certain sense of unity, a unifying background upon which experiences are produced. Fundamentally, what is being stressed here is communication, relationships, affection and emotions. This training helps the teacher acquire skills and be able to transfer these skills and apply them to real situations. These experiences, in a state of well-being, anticipate in a simulated way the teachers' projects relative to their works and therefore become an integral part of the teacher's experience.

On one hand there is the theory and on the other hand there's the context in which the theory is applied. In this process, the opportunity is given to reflect upon one's own experience. In this experience, in the state off well-being, situations of positive feelings are produced. being able to refer to this training experience that produced both a theoretical and practical dimension, teachers will be able to plan educative itineraries in their respective schools or institutions. The training process was a workshop where different problematic situations were simulated. It is these situations that the teachers will encounter in the work day after day.

Author's address:

Dr. Nicola Cuomo

Department of Educational Science University of Bologna



Tel 051 258445

Fax: 051/228847



Nicola Cuomo: Active Participation and Assistance in the Difficulties of the Handicapped -

Theory and Practice of Extra-Scholastic Teacher Training Course

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