The challenges of complexity and the society of innovation (Pentucci & Rossi, 2021) and the need for a new democracy (Zecca, 2020, 940) have highlighted the presence of two strongly connected types of knowledge in everyday teaching activities: “disciplinary” knowledge, epistemologically organised, which can be “said and described”, and practical knowledge which, on the other hand, lives embedded in action and can neither be described nor described by separating it from it. It lives in action and in reflection on action.
Aristotle (1986) spoke of two types of science: sciences that cannot be acted upon and practical knowledge. Today, the two types of knowledge are intertwined and in dialogue, just as nature and culture, science and politics are intertwined. Post-constructionism (Rossi, 2013), post-humanism (Braidotti, 2014) and post-digitalism (Jandrić, 2019) have noted such recursive interaction, but institutions often resist change.
Schools are in the middle of the ford between disciplines and competences. It has certainly introduced authentic tasks, problem-solving, making, alternation, citizenship education, but then it proposes disciplinary curricula, assesses disciplines and competences separately, introduces alternation practices and does not take them into account in final assessments.
Separation returns when embodied and institutional routines intervene, i.e. when:
– Curricula are structured without taking into account the two red threads, that of disciplines and that of processes;
– Sessions are designed without articulating the two types of knowledge in the same activity;
– Assessing by separate subject areas without taking knowledge and processes into account at the same time (Pentucci & Rossi, 2021).
It overlooks the importance of informal learning (Pederson, 2010) in overcoming the rigid boundaries of epistemologies, promoting change and social justice, and re-motivating young people towards learning that places the emerging instances of contemporaneity at the centre, in a post-human perspective (Quinn, 2018).
The delay is also theoretical and how to mediate processes has not been explored in depth. Processes concretise the mobilisation that the student carries out in action and make competence operationalised and therefore observable: they are the moment in which – almost simultaneously – one acts and reflects in action and on action and restructures action, progressively and reciprocally transforming the self, the environment and its different components and in fact realising learning, which is then ‘incorporated’ into becoming/being competent.
If in the didactics of the disciplines the mediation is between the subject and the cultural object, in the processes the mediation is between the subject who acts and the subject who reflects on his action, between the subject and his personal and professional identity (Pentucci & Rossi, 2021).
In this context, the following changes occur: (1) the role of the teacher, who goes from being a disciplinary expert to a tutor and companion; (2) the mediators who support teaching-learning.
In the mediation of disciplinary concepts, the mediator intervenes in the construction of knowledge. In this case the active, iconic, analogical and symbolic mediators that reify and represent the concept can be of help. In order to mediate processes, the mediator should reify and document the process, encourage and bring out the recursive relationship between immersion and distancing, between the subject who acts and the subject who reflects on his action (idem). In this direction, the digital becomes an essential support, as a logic before being a technology (Rivoltella & Rossi, 2019). The protean character and hybridisation allow the production of artefacts that change in itinere and trace the process. Digital aggregators, LMS, social media, e-portfolios document the process by fostering recursiveness between action and reflection on action.
Damiano describes three scenarios for mediation: the mother-child relationship, the mediation between subject and cultural object, and the mediation of mediators (Damiano, 2013). The latter is central when working on practical knowledge. The mediatisation of mediators can be interpreted in two ways. (1) It is the vicariousness enabled by digital objects that act as substitutes for some of the teacher’s functions: digital aggregators orient the student, provide goals and feedback, reify the relationships present. (2) In the work on practical knowledge, the teacher does not mediate concepts, but mediates his own function insofar as in relation to processes he accompanies the student in learning to learn, in planning, in evaluating, in reflecting on his action. It goes beyond the mediation of cultural objects and mediates the typical functions of teaching.
The current challenge for schools is to cross the ford. To understand that disciplinary concepts and processes interact in every activity, and consequently to overcome the linear and sequential dichotomies between the moment of “teaching” and the moment of “evaluation”, between knowledge and skills.
It is necessary to design activities in which disciplines and processes dialogue, as in EAS (Rivoltella, 2016). Reflect in the annual curriculum on the families of processes and include them according to a progressive and exhaustive logic. Rethink assessment, identifying ways of synthesising different objects, experiences and postures, disciplines and skills. Implement a visible design shared with the students, as proposed by DEPIT (depit.eu) and take account of the digital culture. Interaction is not given by interdisciplinarity, but by the co-presence of epistemological logics and those of practical knowledge deeply embodied in actions (Sibilio, 2020), and by an activity in which complex knowledge and processes dialogue.
Pier Giuseppe Rossi
Maila Pentucci is Professor of Education at the University of Chieti. Her productions include “I formati pedagogici” (2018).
Pier Giuseppe Rossi is Professor of Education at the University of Macerata. Among his productions is “Didattica enattiva” (2011). The two lecturers are also authors of “Progettazione come azione situata” (2021) FracoAngeli.