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F. Battaglia, L. Bontempelli

University of Pisa, Department of Psychiatry, Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Biotechnologies (ITALY)
In order to truly innovate teaching practices, it is important to also think about the sustainability of what is proposed, in both structural and cultural terms. The main constraint is constituted precisely by the autonomy of teachers, who have consolidated beliefs and habits that are the product of their experience. It would therefore be very profitable to try to understand how small changes in a restructuring of the educational setting may affect and orient teachers to autonomous improvement in their daily teaching practice, so as to convert the constraints into levers for improvement.
One of the central aspects of teaching activity is assessment. Teachers draw up a work scheme on the basis of an initial evaluation (entrance tests). Assessment is a fundamental occasion when teachers, students and families can measure the effectiveness of the teaching/learning process, especially in those countries where it constitutes a barrier to the continuation of the educational process.
Excessive bias towards a summative type of evaluation may nevertheless have negative effects. According to studies by Dweck and colleagues, the best conditions for learning are those in which students see learning as a value in itself, and not in terms of an external reward, such as obtaining positive evaluation. Moreover, negative evaluations can reduce self-esteem and hinder the learning process. In this paper, therefore, we intend to try out a new kind of evaluation in some classes of Italian Primary School: in each test, the teacher does not give marks or judgments, but simply points out one strength and one weakness. The teachers involved in the project are told that they have to indicate only one weak point so that it becomes, for the pupils, an immediate and clear goal for improvement, and only one strong point so as to reinforce, from among the already acquired competences, the one that is most useful in the pupil’s learning path. Evaluating the tests in this way makes it easy to reconstruct the student’s learning progress in a portfolio, on the basis of which the summative evaluation of the school report would be compiled.
There are, in our opinion, many advantages to this kind of evaluation:
-Teachers would be encouraged to look for skills in their students and to reflect more on their potential. They would also be encouraged to choose from among the various deficiencies of the student that one that the student can remedy immediately. Teachers would tend to be more reflective in their teaching, greater personalization of their approach, greater awareness of the progress made by students.
-Students would be able to experience less anxiety when being evaluated, because they would see evaluation as a contribution to educational progress and to a kind of orientation toward learning goals rather than performance goals. The fact that a strong point is always stressed contributes to strengthening self-esteem.
-Parents would be able to follow the work done in the school and help their children. In addition, the inability to immediately compare the marks of the various tests among students would strengthen the focus on the learning goals rather than on performance.
In this paper we also propose a theoretical framework for analyzing the results based on a comparative analysis of standardized tests and questionnaires.