My trip to Trento

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It’s been a number of weeks since I last posted for the SWITCH blog and so I feel as though I should very quickly catch everybody up before I go on to write about this month’s topic: The Trento Trip.

So, AS students have sat their exams, A2s are in the midst of their exams and I’m still teaching. I have been invited, have accepted, have attended, and have returned from an exchange trip to Trento in Italy to observe the education system in a different country (and promote this wonderful blog, of course!)

In short, the trip was incredible from so many different perspectives: from the way that I was able to converse with students of various languages and backgrounds, to studying the differences between not just teaching and learning, but ways of living. So to make things a little easier to digest (and also to stop me rambling on indefinitely) I’m going to break things down into little subcategories:

  1. What I noticed? – I don’t know whether this was just me but the Italian education set-up seemed more geared towards employment and how this could be integrated into education. Perhaps that’s unfair though, I can only reflect upon these things from an A-level teacher’s point of view and I imagine that BTECs and Apprenticeships approach this from another angle entirely. Most of the time, students worked independently and teachers facilitated which is not dissimilar to my own methods.
  1. What did they do? – Students were presenting projects they had worked on as a whole class and were presenting these ideas back to officials from local banks and newspapers in order to see whether their finished project (and product, in the form of a database) would be used. The curriculum naturally seemed more flexible which allowed teachers to accommodate these kinds of projects. In comparison, having to blitz 521 pages of ‘Jane Eyre’ in 14 weeks leaves little room for work based projects in A-levels, somewhat frustratingly. One student stood at the front of the class and translated the whole presentation for me and my colleagues, whilst others had been delegated roles such as President, Head of Marketing, Human Resources, etc. demonstrating their levels of maturity and their abilities to work within large groups with a sense of democracy.
  2. How was it assessed? – This was an eye-opener for me. As a relatively new teacher (3 years into my career) I have always been encouraged, in both training and at work, to assess students and keep track of progress on a regular basis. Which is perhaps one of the more intense aspects of the profession. Yet when I questioned students about this in Italy, they suggested that marks/grades weren’t necessarily given to these work-based projects – it was in fact about developing skill sets and working collaboratively with peers. At first, I was quite taken back by this: How do you know if students are progressing? What will the reports say?Why is there no mark out of 100? And yet, when I came to terms with this, I realised how questionable marks/grades can be – How exactly can you assess the development of an employability skill? Instead, I recognised that preparing students for the real world of work was the education that was required. Sometimes a grade on a piece of paper doesn’t always do the student (or the progress made) justice.

It’s safe to say that my experience in Trento certainly opened my eyes to the world of education and the versatility of the profession – who knows, maybe I’ll teach in Italy someday? …The weather is (usually) much better than here in the UK! Right?

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