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Ricerca per l'innovazione della scuola italiana
Innovazione metodologica nell’Istruzione degli Adulti

L2 Italian litteracy

Ambito: Ricerca endogena

In recent years, just before the reform (see Presidential Decree no. 263 of 2012 “Guidelines for the transition to the new system” of 2015), INDIRE oversaw the implementation of the monitoring of the activities carried out by the just established Provincial Centres for Adult Education (in Italian “Centri Provinciali per l’istruzione degli adulti CPIA), analysing the outcomes and interventions of both structural interventions (law no. 107 of 2015, as established by MIUR’s mandate)  and those financed through the PAIDEIA National Plan. After more than 5 years, the focus has been shifted from the monitoring of the results to that of the impact, in order to deepen the research from a qualitative point of view and bring out the most interesting aspects of the educational practice carried out in the now over 130 Italian Provincial Centers for Adult Education. The new objective that Structure 9 has set itself is therefore to identify the “hottest” themes of the CPIA universe and to group the CPIAs themselves according to the identified themes, generating a cluster map which, in addition to being the new focus of research, had the dual function of bringing out excellence and driving the other Centres towards excellence. For each of the 6 thematic clusters identified, a panel of best performers was defined, consisting of the first 10 CPIAs that achieved the highest values ​​with respect to the set of selected indicators. These 6 panels are currently at the center of a qualitative analysis that aims to bring out the key success factors, in order to design a possible improvement model that is potentially transferable to all the others. This research activity concerns the acquisition of language skills in Italian L2, with particular regard to the literacy process in adults who are not literate in their mother tongue.

The importance of this research is manifold, both from a scientific and didactic-educational point of view and, more generally, from a social point of view. In fact, it has only been for a few years that the Italian education system has registered similar language needs in adult learners. These are immigrants who had little or no literacy in their country of origin, or even people who come from contexts in which the mother tongues are used predominantly in the oral form.

To meet these needs, which have spread to European countries following the migration crises of recent years, the language syllabuses have been expanded to include 4 pre-A1 learner profiles (“Syllabus for the design of experimental literacy and language learning paths for Italian at Pre A1 level, compiled by the Italian certifying bodies) and the latest edition of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ​​(Council of Europe, 2018) has included new descriptors for the pre-A1 level. To literate an adult who is unfamiliar with writing or who is only literate in one language with a totally different writing system requires a set of special teaching skills that most literacy teachers do not have. These teachers – mostly former elementary teachers – have in fact transferred the teaching practices used for children who must learn to write and read to illiterate adults. Consequently, they kept a strongly pedagogical approach which infantilizes the students. On the other hand, there are still few approaches that are based on the awareness of the specificity of this type of learners, and which consequently develop targeted teaching strategies, activities and techniques.

Having the opportunity to observe literacy practices directly, through observation in the classroom (in the pre-pandemic period) or by collecting information directly from literacy teachers, through questionnaires and interviews, offers the possibility of studying the characteristics of a new teaching and learning context. This is crucial for the skills that are brought into play regarding learners and teachers. What is more, learners need to reach an acceptable level of command of the new language in order to work and interact with the outside world, in the limited amount of time that an adult migrant, not used to studying (and, in any case, not used to studying according to the Italian educational culture) has at his/her disposal. The teachers – most of whom have never delved into language teaching issues – always face these challenges in an emergency mode. The results of this analysis can contribute to the definition of an inclusive language teaching model, capable of addressing the linguistic but also communicative and intercultural needs of the new adult public, that is, most of the learners of Italian CPIAs. It will also be possible to define the map of the skills of the ideal literacy teacher and develop a training programme consistent with this map. Finally, the value of this research lies in the transferability potential that the solutions developed may have in relation to similar contexts – informal and non-formal learning, and different educational segments.

Research questions

Q1 What is the methodological approach adopted by the Italian CPIAs for teaching Italian as L2?

D2 How are the didactic strategies diversified according to the different training needs of the learners?

Q3 What should the ideal L2 Italian teacher for illiterate adults be like?


Head teacher and teachers of Italian L2 of the 10 CPIAs that make up the panel of best performer CPIAs within the literacy cluster.

Teaching and non-teaching staff of the Italian CPIAs.

Scientific community (areas: language teaching; acquisitional linguistics; andragogy; interculture)