The main lines of research at ItaStra
The research on didactic models for students and trainers involves ItaStra teachers who continuously experiment with materials and models in the language courses and in the training paths, firstly, the Master “Theory, planning and didactics of Italian as a second and foreign language”.
Also, targeted research routes are active, intersecting national and international projects. Here is a brief description.
Linguistic autobiography and development of multilingualism
This project regards both the Italian courses of ItaStra and the Italian Linguistic courses at the Department of Humanities of the University of Palermo. The development of multilingualism as an individual and collective enrichment is one of the guidelines of ItaStra and the linguistic autobiography is used in different forms with migrants, even the illiterate, with Chinese students and within the training of the trainers. Throughout the years, the research on the use of autobiography in didactics has been placed side by side with different sociolinguistic works and always matched with a methodological reflection on the process of data construction.
The migratory process, between acquisition, complex repertoire, international models and didactics
The study of the linguistic dynamics that characterize the new migratory process, which have Sicily as a protagonist, follow various inquiry lines differentially linked to the research and the didactic experimentation.
New migrants, new linguistic dynamics
The sociolinguistic analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, referring to adults, children, teenagers and, in particular, foreign unaccompanied minors, has allowed us to reconstruct the complex linguistic repertoire of many hundreds of learners. Particular attention goes to the multilingualism and multigraphism forms, which the new migrants show in connection with their literacy competences. Segregation (i.e. the separation from social and territorial context) is also investigated along with bonds and virtual and in person contacts with other social and spatial realities.
Storytelling as an international process
Besides storytelling activities, the ItaStra group has gathered a series of narratives, using both interview and linguistic autobiography methods. These activities see storytelling as an interaction process built in a specific communicative context including the participants, the connections between them and the communicative event itself, during which the participants negotiate single meanings and which shapes the social process being shaped in return. From this point of view, the narratives are not only simple texts, but the result of a cooperation between storyteller and listener. This is an essential theoretical point, over which the Analysis of Conversation has been pondering for a long time. In the case of unaccompanied minors and asylum seeker subjects, the context includes the connection between teacher and student, the weight the presence of unaccompanied minors has on a region like Sicily, and the kinds of talks on migration in recent years in Italy. This way, the narrative shows its nature of conversational international practice, contributing to enrich all the project with the inclusion of migrants.
Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults (LESLLA)
Regarding this area, we focused on the profiles of young and adult learners with low or very low schooling, on the acquisition specificities and on the didactic models needed to overcome the delay in learning and forms of fossilization.
Regarding acquisition characteristics, a first sector of inquiry explores the possibility of tracing some specificities, both quantitative and qualitative, in the process of acquisition of the morphology of nouns and verbs, in L2 Italian of illiterate learners, compared to the general progression of the learning varieties.
A second sector moves from the language forms to the cognitive processes, in particular those intervening in the linguistic acquisition: phonological memory and meta-linguistic awareness. Using tests widely diffused in traditional academic literature, we proceeded to analyse the role of the variable “multilingualism VS mono-lingualism” in the individual speakers. Meta-cognitive test, administered after a course of 100 hours, has allowed to identify the level of linguistic awareness reached.
The strictly didactic research preceded and followed the production of a series of multimedia courses “Ponti di parole. Percorso integrato multimediale di lingua italiana per apprendenti adulti dai più bassi livelli di scolarità”(Bridges of words. Integrated multimedia path of Italian Language for adult learners with low schooling levels, www.pontidiparole.com) running across two different paths. The first starts from the analysis of some features, both linguistic and cognitive, of people who have not had any schooling at an early age or have a very weak relationship with writing; the second, from the concept of literacy as the making of social and communicative skills, where the mastery of reading and writing is just one aspect. At the meeting point, there is situated the work of construction, experimentation and reflection on the didactic devices, which are based on the competency the students already have and which lead to the simultaneous approach to all language levels.
The research aims to the enhancement of mother tongues and of oral linguistic expertise as a starting point towards the process of abstraction and meta-cognitive and meta-linguistic awareness, specific to the written language, and on the development of strategic learning skills. On the other hand the potentialities of the communicative approach are pushed to the maximum, through the early use of texts, even complex ones, from the first learning level. The pragmatic mastery of texts allows the learners to use language as an instrument of social act, compensating the still partial competency of deciphering writing with the mechanism of textual anticipation.