Students with learning difficulties

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DOI: 10.13140/2.1.1479.4561
In book: REFLEXIVITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION RESEARCH AND MODELS OF INTERVENTION FOR UNDERACHIEVING STUDENTS, Chapter: Students with learning difficulties, Publisher: Aracnide, Editors: Maria Francesca Freda, pp.24
Edited by
Maria Francesca Freda
INSTALL Consortium:
Centro di Ateneo SInAPSi (Services for Active and Participated Inclusion of Students),
Support Centre of the University of Naples Federico II, Italy
Universidad de Sevilla, Spain
National School of Political and Administrative Studies, Romania
National University of Ireland — Maynooth, Ireland
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publica-
tion reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible
for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Reflexivity in Higher Education
Research and Models of Intervention
for Underachieving Students
edited by
Maria Francesca Freda
Aydin Gökçen, Amodeo Anna Lisa, Artigas Maria Velia, Bruno Andreina
Capo Marianna, Capobianco Rosaria, Cuccurullo Alessia, De Fruyt Filip
De Luca Picione Raaele, De Simone Gabriella, Duduciuc Alina
Duyck Wouter, Esposito Giovanna, Ewa Paj ˛ak–Wa˙
zna, Fonteyne Lot
Galdo Maria Carolina, Galimberti Andrea, Garcia–Valcárcel Ana, Gargiulo Anna
Giani Alberta, Gilardi Silvia, González González Miguel Alberto
González–Monteagudo José, Guidi Marco, Ignusci Emanuela
Iorga Elena–M˘
alina, Ivan Loredana, Jolanta Ma´
Lavié–Martínez José Manuel, Margherita Giorgia, Martin David
Martino Maria Luisa, Matos de Souza Rodrigo, Oliverio Stefano,
Padilla–Carmona M. Teresa, Palano Francesca, Parlato Federica
Rainone Nunzia, Ricci Carmen, St˘
anescu Dan Florin, Stevenson Howard
Strain Eanan, Tan Eloise, Tejedor Francisco Javier, Troisi Gina
Venuleo Claudia, Vitale Alessia, Valerio Paolo, Yerin Güneri Oya
Copyright © MMXIV
ARACNE editrice S.r.l.
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 Roma
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No part of this book may be reproduced
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I edition: may 
A short training to help future teachers in fighting discrimi-
Anna Lisa Amodeo, Carmen Ricci, Alessia Cuccurullo, Gabriella De Simone
 The role of english proficiency level
Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
Qualitative and quantitative evaluation of an english language
peer tutoring program for low achieving students
Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
Experiential workshops to involve students in reflecting about
Anna Lisa Amodeo
 Higher education and lifelong learning
Andrea Galimberti
Learning strategies for improving performance in ICT–mediated
Ana García–Valcárcel, Francisco Javier Tejedor
 Reflexivity is listening
Alberta Giani
The impact of a reflexive training setting on the ways psychol-
ogy students interpret their own role and the educational
Marco Guidi, Claudia Venuleo
Reflexivity in Higher Education
Attrition and retention in the academic context: an exploratory
study in a South Italy University
Emanuela Ingusci, Francesca Palano, Maria Velia Artigas
To fail or not to fail? Identifying students at risk by predicting
academic success
Fonteyne Lot, De Fruyt Filip, Duyck Wouter
The thought of the group between resources and criticism
in higher education
Giorgia Margherita, Anna Gargiulo, Gina Troisi
Students with learning diculties, training, border, chal-
lenges. Beyond violence and nearer perfect peace in Colom-
Miguel Alberto González
Literature circles as a methodology for the education of read-
ers in the university
Rodrigo Matos de Souza
 A conceptual and methodological frame to foster reflexivity
on educational identity and professional practice
Claudia Venuleo, Marco Guidi
 Assessing reflective competence through students’ journals
Andreina Bruno, Silvia Gilardi
Students living with parents or by their own: Interpersonal
competence during the First University Semester
Alina Duduciuc
Development of key competences in polish tertiary education
Jolanta Ma´ckowicz, Ewa Paj ˛ak–Wa˙
Counselling for (disadvantaged) students. Models of inter-
vention and experiences at two european universities
M. Teresa Padilla–Carmona, Howard Stevenson
Assessment of competence at University: An explorative sur-
Marianna Capo, Rosaria Capobianco, Maria Carolina Galdo
A social constructivist approach to teaching reflective online:
challenges and opportunities from case studies
Eloise Tan
 Guidance workshop
Alessia Vitale
A comparative study regarding anxiety and negative and posi-
tive emotions
Loredana Ivan, Dan Florin St˘
anescu, Elena–M˘
alina Iorga
Rethinking disadvantage: Towards a mainstreamed model of
intervention with disadvantaged/underachieving students as
a truly inclusive approach
David Martin
How do students experience the NMP as a tool for develop-
ing their reflexive function?
Dan Florin St˘
anescu, Elena–M˘
alina Iorga
Students “at risk” in Spain: Identities, Academic Performance
and Influences from the INSTALL Training
José M. Lavié–Martínez, Dan Stanescu, José González–Monteagud
Empowering non–traditional students’ careers through auto-
biographical writing
José González–Monteagudo, María T. Padilla–Carmona, José M. Lavié–Martínez
 What do you think about INSTALL?
Anna Cannata, Federica Parlato, Maria Luisa Martino
Reflexivity in Higher Education
Inkompetenzkompensationskompetenz: some philosophical–
educational misgivings about Learnification in higher educa-
Stefano Oliverio
INnovative Solutions to Acquire Learning to Learn (INSTALL):
the Narrative Mediation Path Methodology
Maria Francesca Freda
The use of the Reflexive Function Scale (RFS) in Higher
Giovanna Esposito, Nunzia Rainone, Raaele De Luca Picione
Fostering reflexivity in higher education: transformative func-
tions of narration
Maria Francesca Freda, Giovanna Esposito, Maria Luisa Martino, Paolo Vale-
 Can the level of motivation to engage with a programme of
study in higher education impact the development of the key
competence “learning to learn” among students?
Eanan Strain
This work describes an experience promoted by the Anti-Discrimination and
Culture of Dierences Service of “SInAPSi” Centre of Athenaeum, of University
Federico II of Naples, aimed to sensitize future teachers on the themes of homo-
phobic bullying at school. Homophobic bullying is a social phenomenon very
alarming based on sex dierences and gender stigma. There are various forms of
homophobic bullying and it is very common in school contexts; but schools are
often unprepared to engage this kind of situations. Teachers are instrumental in
the development of the students because they promote an integral formation of
students, considering their peculiarity.
The main purpose of the intervention has been to prevent homophobic bullying in
schools through the training of future teachers. Specifically, the experience aimed
to train and provide them useful skills to the recognition and management of risk
situations and the promotion of an inclusive school climate.
The described intervention consisted of a short training organized into a theoreti-
cal part and an experiential moment, and focused on the themes connected with
homophobia and homophobic bullying. The educational path involved groups of
students attended an university course actived from University of Naples Federico
II to train future teachers, named TFA.
During the theoretical part of the training, specific issues about discrimination
based on sexual orientation and gender stigma were discussed and examined
in–depth; while, during the experiential moment, students took part in various
activities connected to their future role.
The experience carried out with the future teachers emphasized the fundamental
role of sharing knowledge and experiences about the themes connected to homo-
phobic violence. Our students, in fact, expressed the desire to examine in depth
the topics of the training, also involving the scholastic agencies.
Keywords: homophobic bullying, higher education, teachers, schools, training
Reflexivity in Higher Education
ISBN 978-88-548-7014-7
DOI 10.4399/97888548701471
pag. 11–16 (may 2014)
A short training to help future teachers
in fighting discriminatios
A L A, C R, A C, G
This work describes an experience promoted by Anti–Discrimination
and Culture of Differences” Service of “SInAPSi” Centre of Athenaeum,
of University Federico II of Naples, aimed to sensitize future teachers
on the themes of homophobic bullying at school.
Homophobic Bullying is actually one of most habitual dynamics
of bullying in classrooms. It represents also a cultural problem with
specific characteristics to inspect. This phenomenon can express itself
in various forms (Rivers, ; Warwick et al., ,), like verbal,
physical or relational abuses, individuals or in group. Scientific literature
consider homophobic bullying a particular form of bullying founded on
homophobic dynamics, not only pointed towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, Trans) population, but also to all the boys and girls perceived as
different because their not adhesion to dominant models of masculinity
and femininity (Kimmer & Mahler, ; Swearer et al., ).
With Platero and Gómez () we can define homophobic bully-
ing as violent behaviors because of a scholar is repeatedly exposes to
exclusion, isolation, threats, insults and aggressions acted from peer’s
group; the bullies use homophobia, sexism and heterosexual values
to de–humanize and disqualify victim. This definition emphasize on
principal theoretical concept of the phenomenon.
It’s important to underline that the studies on bullying (Olweus, ;
Fonzi, ; Bacchini, ; Smith et al., ; Gini, ) locate three
characteristics of this phenomenon: intention, orderliness in time and
relational asymmetry. These factors are also present in the homopho-
bic bullying; in particular, relational asymmetry is connected to the
belonging/not belonging to dominant gender stereotype of the group
(Salmivalli et al., ).
 Anna Lisa Amodeo, Carmen Ricci, Alessia Cuccurullo, Gabriella De Simone
Beyond the assonances with traditional bullying, there are also
some peculiarity of homophobic bullying (Lingiardi, ; Tharinger,
): the greater invisibility of the phenomenon, the lack of support
to non normative sexuality, the contamination of stigma for LGBT
supporters, the normalization of homophobia and the prevalence of
heterosexist ideology in society.
In the Italian context few researches has been realized to study the
diusion of the phenomenon: from a study realized in  (Prati,
) on a sample survey of  students, results that about half part of
students used homophobic epithets toward their friends, considered
gay and /toward a girl considered lesbian. So, the ,% of survey
sample can be considered a “bully” according to scientific criteria of
Fonzi () and Olweus (). Moreover, the ,% suered acts of
homophobic bullying at school about every week.
Another Italian study has been realized from Bacchini () in
Campania: over % of the survey sample ( subjects of lower and
higher schools) results involved in the phenomenon, in the role of
bully, victim or both.
The studies about homophobic bullying emphasizes a double ten-
dency of the phenomenon, systematized by Minton et al. () with
the division of it in to two typologies: the hetero–normative bullying
and the bullying based on sexual orientation.
Considering the incidence of phenomenon, many studies focused
on the eects of it on psychological wellbeing (see vol. , n. “School
Psychology Review”, ).
The perpetuated abuses constitutes dierent stress factors, with
short–run and long run risks for victims: scholastic desertion, auto–
marginalization, isolation, aective–relational problems, psycho–somatic
problems, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, self–destruction behav-
iors and suicide. These studies are founded on the theoretical con-
struct of “minority stress” (Meyer, , Lingiardi, ), that is the
stress correlated to the belonging to a minority. Psychological devel-
opment of people belonging to a minority and stigmatized group
is signed by a dimension of continuative stress, macro and micro
traumatic, consequence of hostile or uninteresting ambient, stigma-
tization episodes or violence. Homophobic bullying configure itself
as one of the most strong predictors of psychological disease and
psychopathological risk (Rivers, ).
A short training to help future teachers 
Many studies were interested in define all the factors, connected to
personality dimensions, that can stem or obstruct episodes of homo-
phobic bullying. In general, literature gives a fundamental importance
to two elements: the peers’ group and the scholastic environment.
Peers’ Group. Many studies enphasizes that homophobic behaviors
are mainly perpetrated by groups, and in particular in peers’ groups
where an higher grade of SDO
(Dominant Social Orientament) dom-
inate (Poteat, ; Poteat et al., ).
Scholastic environment. School is one of principal places where ho-
mophobic abuses manifest themselves: the practice of deride peers is
really widespread (Phoenix et al., ; Poteat & Espelage, ). Part
of literature attributes to scholastic environment, in particular sexual
gender and scholastic climate, a most important role in homophobic
acts. The network of friends could be a positive factor if scholastic
environment is also welcoming.
Teachers’ support is also many important: with his role, in fact,
teacher can moderate the perception of exclusion lived from LGBT
population (Murdock & Bolch, ).
Despite of this fundamental role, even now Italian teachers appears
low informed and formed about these theme. Many of them are not
capable to engage situations of homophobic bullying in classroom.
For this reason, starting from the literature suggestions, it has been
important to improve teachers’ capacity of recognize and engage
situation of violence based on homophobia.
. Objectives
According to the study of literature, the main purpose of the interven-
tion has been to prevent homophobic bullying in schools through the
training of future teachers.
Specifically, the experience aimed to train and provide them useful
skills to the recognition and management of risk situations and the
promotion of an inclusive school climate.
. SDO is a construct of the social dominance theory (Sidanius & Pratto, ). Ac-
cording to it, in the Society groupal hierarchy exists; so, some groups are dominant on
 Anna Lisa Amodeo, Carmen Ricci, Alessia Cuccurullo, Gabriella De Simone
. Methodology
The described intervention consisted of a short training organized
into a theoretical part and an experiential moment, and focused on
the themes connected with homophobia and homophobic bullying.
The educational path involved groups of students attended to the
TFA; each group was composed of  students, future teachers of
every school subjects and, with each of them, two training meetings
were organized. The training was divided into a theoretical moment
and a experiential one. During the theoretical part of the training,
specific issues about discrimination based on sexual orientation and
gender stigma were discussed and examined in–depth. In particular,
the following topic were discussed: gender stereotypes, characteristics
of homophobic bullying; the components of sexual identity; forms,
dynamics and consequences of homophobia.
Starting from these focus, a discussion among students was en-
During the experiential moment, students took part in various
activities connected to their future role. For example, a situation of
homophobic bullying at school was presented and, after this, stu-
dents had to express their opinion and, specifically, their reactions and
behaviors as teacher.
At the end of the training, it were provided useful tools to prevent,
to engage and to contrast homophobic bullying at school. Specifically,
the information and the deconstruction of gender stereotypes in the
class were considered eective prevention interventions; while, a
model of integrated behavior, “punitive–relational”, was considered
the best ways to manage conflict situations based on gender and sexual
. Results and Conclusions
The experience carried out with the future teachers and here de-
scribed emphasized the fundamental role of sharing knowledge and
experiences about the themes connected to homophobic violence.
In fact, during the training several themes were examined in depth
starting from the requests of the same students. Them, in fact, often
A short training to help future teachers 
expressed the desire to deepen some topics of the training. These
requests expresses the lack actually existing in teachers’ educational
paths about these themes. They reflected, for example, about the
diculty of dealing with the issue of homosexuality in classroom; the
diculty of having and of keeping a relationship with the families of
their students; the diculty of managing a situation of homophobic
bullying in classroom; the diculty of introducing the themes of
discrimination and homophobia in classroom and comparing with
the subjects they teach.
All these requests shows the hard and long walk the educative
agency have to travel to guarantee the institution of a “Culture of
dierences” in the School.
Starting from these reflection other deepened training has been
programmed for teachers and future teachers on the themes of ho-
mophobia and homophobic bullying.
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Reflexivity in Higher Education
ISBN 978-88-548-7014-7
DOI 10.4399/97888548701472
pag. 17–25 (may 2014)
The role of english proficiency level
Personal and aective factors in predicting language preparatory
school students’ academic success
G A, OY G
This study investigated the role of demographic factors, English proficiency level,
personal and aective factors in predicting English language preparatory school
students’ academic success. Participants of the study were  English language
preparatory school students ( pre–intermediate level,  intermediate level
and  upper–intermediate level students) from a public university in Turkey. The
demographic information form, College Learning Eectiveness Inventory and
Aective Characteristics Questionnaire were used as data collection instruments.
Multiple regression was utilized to analyze data. The results indicated that  %
of the total variance was explained by the model. Among the predictor variables,
English proficiency level, classroom communication, stress and time press, and
English self–concept were found to be significantly related to language achieve-
ment. The findings showed that students who had high English proficiency level,
better communication skills within the class, high English self–concept and felt
more stressful achieved higher scores in English Proficiency Exam.
Keywords: Academic success, personal factors, aective factors, eective learning
. Introduction
The issue of student success has taken the attention of many re-
searchers throughout the years. Traditional approaches put impor-
tance to instructors’ skills, content of the program and institutional
characteristics for student success. However, trends in later years have
changed the perspective from passive learners to active learners in the
process (Hutley, ) and underlined the multiple factors that impact
college student success. For example, pre–college experiences (mainly
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
academic preparation, family background and college readiness); stu-
dent engagement (study habits, time on task, peer involvement, first
year experience and campus environment); post–college outcomes
(grades and employment) (Kuh et al., ).
During college years, the first year is defined as crucial transition
period for giving a start to university experience (Kuh, ). This
transition year deserves to be considered as the crucial point due to
including cultural, academic, social and personal changes (Johnston,
). While a successful first year experience leads to satisfaction and
better performance through university years; dissatisfied, disappointed
and confused students are found to experience high levels of stress
and low achievement (Johnston, , p. VII).
Studies that investigate first year student success put high impor-
tance to demographic characteristics such as age, gender, place of
residence and background knowledge (Creemers & Kyriakides, ).
According to Kim et al. (), the literature representing student
success can be summed up under the three sets of variables. First of
all, previous achievement in high school could be used as a predic-
tor of student success in college (Wolfe & Johnson, ). Secondly,
circumstances variables like demographics or socio–economic status
influence student success and cannot be changed easily by the stu-
dents. Thirdly, factors that are under the control of the individuals
like behaviors, attitudes, values and self–perceptions form personal
variables (Forsyth & Schlenker, ). When the achievement test
scores and previous high school success cannot explain the whole
concept of success after having been searched during a long history,
researchers come to the conclusion that there are other academic,
social, environmental and personal factors (Pascarella & Terenzini,
Among personal variables, academic self–ecacy refers to students’
competence in succeeding academic tasks like exams and homework
(Schunk, ); time utilization is defined as « the ability to eectively
organize your time and responsibilities in order to get most out of
your day» (Combs, , p. ). Besides the attention spent for time
management, how a student organizes the tasks, concentrates and
pays attention to study influences the success (Pauk & Owens, ).
Colleges are places of not only education but also social activities. Stu-
dents who take the advantage of participating in college activities feel
The role of english proficiency level 
more engaged in college life (Pascarella & Terenzini, ). Moreover,
student achievement also depends on students’ satisfaction about the
college they attend. Students who are emotionally satisfied with the
college show high rates of attending and achievement (Pascarella &
Terenzini, ). Moreover, student–faculty relationship, which is a
significant factor related to achievement, has a progressive eect when
the teacher shows interest in students’ achievement (Kuh et al., ).
The development in humanistic theories has directed the attention
towards learners’ feelings, thoughts and emotions in student success.
The importance of aective factors has emphasized in second lan-
guage learning together with other fields (Krashen, ). According
to language learning theories, basic skills and structure of the language
are the first requirements of learning on the surface. However, the
underground side hides that aective factors, which refers to learners’
responses to learning situation like attitudes, motivation to learn, anx-
iety and self–perceptions (Atba¸s, , p.) have a significant impact
on learning (Bown & White, ). Among other aective variables,
attitude and motivation, anxiety and self–confidence are considered
notable factors for language learning (Krashen, ). In a college
environment where first year students are learning a foreign language,
student success depends on various kinds of personal and aective
factors. The aim of this study is to find the role of English proficiency
level, personal and aective factors predicting language preparatory
school students’ academic success.
. Method
The purpose of this study was to find the role of English language
learning aective factors and personal factors over language prepara-
tory school students’ academic success. A demographic data form (ID
number, gender, age, English proficiency level at DBE and student’s
residence type), College Learning Eectiveness Inventory–CLEI (de-
veloped and revised by Newton, Kim, Wilcox, Beemer and Downey
in ) with  items and subscales: Academic self–ecacy, orga-
nization and attention to study, stress and time press, involvement in
college activity, emotional satisfaction and class communication) and
Aective Characteristics Questionnaire–ACQ (developed by Atbs to
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
measure the aective factors influencing English language learning
in ) with  items and subscales: Eort to learn English, inter-
est in English, value attached to English, English self–concept and
speaking anxiety in English) were administered to  Department of
Basic English students. Among  preparatory students,  partici-
pants were randomly selected by stratified random sampling method
and  students responded with a return rate of . %. Among
participants,  (.%) of respondents were pre–intermediate level
students, followed by  (.%) intermediate level and  (.%)
upper–intermediate level student and  ( %) of them are female
and  ( %) of them are male. Moreover, the mean age of the
participants was . with a standard deviation of . and their ages
ranged between  and . Furthermore, .% of the participants
are staying at METU dormitories while .% of them are staying
outside the campus. Descriptive statistics and hierarchical regression
analysis were executed to analyze the data.
. Results
The results of the hierarchical regression analysis indicated that demo-
graphic variables were not found as significant predictors in the first
) =
,p > .
. In the second step, when
English proficiency level of students were entered into the model, the
results were found to be significant by explaining  % of the total vari-
) = 
,p < .
. Adding personal vari-
ables in the third step increased the accountability by % with a sig-
nificant value,
) = 
,p < .
. Finally, in the last
step, aective variables were entered and the model was significant by
explaining % of the variance,
) =
,p < .
The regression model was significant as shown in the Table and
overall  % of the variance of the scores can be accounted for the
combination of predictors.
The role of english proficiency level 
Table .Results of the Hierarchical Regression Predicting Academic Success
Predictors B SE b T p
Model  .
Gender . . . .
METU Dormitory vs Family . . . . .
METU Dormitory vs Other .
 
Model  .
Pre–Intermediate vs Intermediate
. .
Pre–Intermediate vs Upper–Intermediate
 
Model  .
Academic Self–Ecacy .
. .
Organization and Attention to Study .
. .
Stress and Time Press . . .
Involvement in College Activities .
. .
Emotional Satisfaction . . . . .
Class Communication . . .
Model  .
Eort to Learn English . . . . .
Interest in English .
. .
Value Attached to English .
. .
English Self–Concept . . .
English Speaking Anxiety .
. .
*Note: Dependent Variable=English Proficiency Exam. p < .
Among the significant predictors, English proficiency level of
students, pre—-intermediate vs. intermediate (
,p < .
and pre–intermediate vs. upper intermediate (
,p < .
appeared to make the strongest contribution to the prediction of
students’ academic success. It was followed by English self–concept
,p < .
), stress and time press (
,p < .
) and class
communication (
,p < .
). However, gender, type of resi-
dence, involvement in college activities, emotional satisfaction, inter-
est in English, eort to learn English, value attached to English and
speaking anxiety were not significant predictors in the model.
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
. Discussion
According to results, for the strongest predictor of students’ aca-
demic success, the upper–intermediate class students achieved the
highest scores, intermediate class students achieved less than upper–
intermediate, prognosticatively; pre–intermediate class students got
the lowest proficiency exam scores. Even though students in lower
proficiency classes received extended hours of training in English
language, the language proficiency gap between groups still existed
in the proficiency exam. Therefore, the present findings confirmed
earlier studies (Krashen, ) indicating that there was a significant
relationship between proficiency level, or prior knowledge in target
language and academic success.
The class communication was found to be positively associated
with academic success. This finding was consistent with the literature
indicating that students who were open to communication and felt
relax had higher grades (Pascarella & Terenzini, ). The study
revealed surprising results in terms of stress and time press. Although
the literature argued intensely the negative eect of stress over student
academic success (Alzaeem, Sulaiman & Wasif Gillani, ), the find-
ings of this study indicated the benefit of some stress for motivation
and performance (Cahir & Moris, ). Another surprising result was
the nonsignificant relationship between academic self–ecacy and
academic success which might be due to the fact that the participants
of the present study were English language preparatory students and
their academic self–ecacy might be based on only English language;
closely related to this prediction, their English self– concept was a
significant predictor of in the academic success present study, which
was a consisted result with the literature (Dörnyei, ).
Furthermore, the results showed that predicting students’ aca-
demic success was not associated with organization and attention
to study. Involvement in college activities was not also found to be
related to academic success. Aitken () concluded that the impact
of involvement in college activities might start after the first year be-
cause language preparatory school students might not know all the
possibilities or how to be a part of those activities at campus. Contrary
to the literature (Pascarella & Terenzini, ), emotional satisfaction
did not come out as a predictor of academic success which might be
The role of english proficiency level 
explained by the Umbach and Wawrzynski’s () suggestion that
students might tend to search for support not from faculty but from
other sources.
Results showed that only English self–concept predicted academic
success but not the other variables of motivation and attitudes towards
English and speaking anxiety. The more students had higher self–
concept regarding learning English, the more they achieved (Dörnyei,
). The reason for non–significant relationship between motiva-
tion and success might be that the literature emphasizes the positive
association of willing to learn a foreign language and academic suc-
cess (Noels et al., ), but learning English is a compulsory for the
students in language preparatory school. Academic success of prepara-
tory students was not associated with speaking anxiety unlike the
literature (Krashen, ) because English Proficiency Exam does not
include speaking part.
. Conclusion
The findings showed that students’ English proficiency level, com-
munication skills, English self–concept and stress level are stronger
predictors of achievement among English language preparatory school
students. The findings of the study might oer some suggestions for
further research. First of all, future studies could be conducted with
students from other universities at all language proficiency levels. An-
other suggestion for future research might be including some other
factors to the model such as adjustment to the university, autonomy,
commitment to the university and study habits among personal vari-
ables; and language study and learning skills, native language skills,
prior exposure to language or reading anxiety among aective vari-
ables can be added in order to find the predictors of unexplained
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Reflexivity in Higher Education
ISBN 978-88-548-7014-7
DOI 10.4399/97888548701473
pag. 27–34 (may 2014)
Qualitative and quantitative evaluation
of an english language peer tutoring program
for low achieving students
G A, OY G
The purpose of the current qualitative study was to present the evaluation of
a peer tutoring program at METU which aimed at giving academic support to
the low achieving English language preparatory school students (tutees) with the
help of junior students (tutors) in the Department of Foreign Language Education
(FLE). The sample of the study consists of  tutors and  tutees. Semi–structured
interviews were used to collect data. Moreover, an evaluation form is filled out
by tutors and tutees to have triangulation. To analyze quantitative data descriptive
statistics were used and for the qualitative data, inductive coding was conducted on
focused group interviews.
Key words: peer tutoring, academic support, low achieving students
. Introduction
In college education, dierent interventions are designed for low
achieving students because student success is the most desired out-
come of college. With the changed perspective about learning, stu-
dents take an active part in and outside the classroom activities. Grow-
ing number of empirical studies also emphasize that student inter-
action like studying cooperatively or with peers to increase success
(Howard & Smith–Goodwin, ; Hsiung, ). In the literature,
peer tutoring is defined as the process in which one student helps
the other student/s learn a concept or practice a skill (Thomas, ).
Peer tutoring has been applied in many areas such as college learn-
ing, medicine, physical education and language (Power et al., ).
Regardless of the age, duration or the place of study, peer tutoring is
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
found to deepen academic achievement. Students are also found to
favor studying with tutors (Howard & Smith–Goodwin, ).
Peer tutoring is a valuable process because studying with peers
gives many opportunities to members as they are actively in the
process (Comfort, ). When a student tutors the other one, both
groups benefit from the experience. Research shows that tutoring
process leads to increase in academic skills, interpersonal, social and
team skills, and classroom behaviors of tutees. In addition, it pro-
vides chance of receiving immediate feedback and leads to academic
achievement (Fuchs et al., ; Hsiung, ) of tutees. Furthermore,
the literature points that peer tutoring is a process in which students
can enhance their skills in a number of dierent areas like reading,
writing, physical education, etc. (Dufrene et al., ). Similarly, a
meta–analysis based on academic benefits of peer tutoring reveals
that students participating in peer tutoring interventions achieve more
than non–participating students (Bowman–Perrott et al., ).
On the other hand, tutoring is beneficial for tutors because the
process increase their self–esteem, positive attitude towards subject
matter and college, experience in the field, professional development
and satisfaction, improvement in interpersonal and social skills and
giving feedback (Kennedy et al., ; Howard & Smith–Goodwin,
, Menesses & Gresham, ).
As peer tutoring can be a way to increase success, Middle East
Technical University, Learning and Student Development Oce has
designed a peer tutoring program called “Let’s Learn Together (LLT)”.
In the program, low achieving English language preparatory school
students were matched with junior students enrolled in “Commu-
nity Service Course” in English Language Teaching (ELT) program
in FLE Department. The aim of the program was to enhance the
academic achievement of preparatory students (tutees) by developing
their English language skills and also to contribute to professional
development of ELT students (tutors) by creating the opportunity to
use their field knowledge into practice and improve their teaching
The purpose of this case study is to evaluate the “Let’s Learn To-
gether (LLT)” tutoring program which integrates the community
service course with an English language learning environment. The
findings provide beneficial information regarding strengths and weak-
Evaluation of an english language peer tutoring program 
nesses of the program and suggestions for the further improvement.
The results also provide valuable information to the future peer tutor-
ing programs designed to improve student success in English language
. Methodology
“Let’s Learn Together—-LLT” Academic Support Program has been
developed and implemented by Middle East Technical University,
Learning and Student Development Oce in each semester since
. Within the scope of the program, tutors were volunteer stu-
dents attending “Community Service Course” in Department of FLE
and tutees were volunteer preparatory students who were in need
of academic support in English language. All tutees were beginner
level students in preparatory school and students who had the low-
est grades and voluntary to take academic support were chosen to
be included in the program. At the beginning of the semester, an
announcement was done for both groups of students and volunteer
students were asked to participate in. The coordination was ensured
by the researchers working at Learning and Student Development
Oce at METU. Before the program had started, tutors were pro-
vided one hour of training about the program that included the aims,
process, the role and responsibilities of the tutors.
All tutors and tutees were matched to study the whole semester
as two tutees per tutor. The program lasted  weeks. A specific day
and a classroom were assigned to the each pair; peer tutor and tutee
worked together for two hours in assigned classroom in preparatory
school each week. There was not a curriculum to be followed by
tutors, each tutor designed weekly study program according to the
academic needs of the tutees.
More specifically, tutees found the opportunity to get academic
support about lack of practice and grammar knowledge, to develop
reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, to participate actively in
learning and to receive immediate feedback about their studies. On the
other side, tutors got support from the instructor of the community
service course and the instructor came together with tutors once
in a month to get feedback about the program and provided help
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
about teaching English. During the program, the principal investigator
visited one pair each week and took the attendance of tutors and
tutees during the whole process. Tutors were also asked to inform the
researcher about the tutees who did not attend the lessons regularly.
The sample of the current study includes  FLE students and 
preparatory students. After the completion of the program, two data
collection phases were followed for the evaluation purposes. During
the quantitative phase, program evaluation survey was used to collect
data. Among participants,  FLE and  of DBE students responded
to the evaluation surveys. The tutor survey composed of items
regarding gains and overall satisfaction about the program. The tutee
survey had items regarding gains, the evaluation of the design of the
program and overall satisfaction.
The second qualitative phase included semi–structured focus group
interviews. Among the program participants,  FLE students (among
tutors) and  preparatory students (among tutees) volunteered to
participate to the focus group interviews and tutors answered  open
ended questions regarding their experiences, gains, diculties or chal-
lenges of the program. Tutors within groups of five came together to
share their experiences. On the other hand, tutees also came together
within groups of five to share their experiences, improvements and dif-
ficulties via answering  open ended questions. The interviews lasted
nearly an hour and overall six dierent interviews were conducted
with tutors and tutees separately.
. Results
The results of the quantitative analysis indicated that both tutors (Table
) and tutees (Table ) had moderately high level of complacence for
the program. When the means of each item were calculated, it was
seen that both tutors and tutees placed a high value on their overall
satisfaction with the program (M=.,SD=.;M=.,SD=.)
on a —-point Likert type scale, respectively. Table showed that
tutors found this program useful and worth conducting in following
years. Tutors decreased their anxiety level by improving their teaching
skills as a future teacher. The high mean scores indicated that tutors
experienced how to teach low achieving students. Similarly, tutees
Evaluation of an english language peer tutoring program 
mentioned that overall the program was helpful and increased their
success. All of the tutees were satisfied with the number of exercises
that they had the chance to practice English language. Moreover,
tutees indicated that the program was designed according to their
needs (M=.,SD=.).
Table .The program evaluation of tutors
n M SD
My anxiety level decreased while teaching  . 
I could teach according to dierent students’ level  . 
I could communicate with a student whose age was closer to me 
I practiced how to give feedback to a student 
In general, program helped me improve my teaching skills 
Program was useful for me in general  . 
I think this program should continue in the following years  . 
Table .The program evaluation of tutees
n M SD
The time of study was enough per week  . 
There were given enough exercises during the program  . 
The program was appropriate for my needs  . 
This program influenced my success in a positive way  . 
This program was helpful in general  . 
The qualitative data analysis was carried out by inductive coding to
analyze focus group interview data. After the code list was prepared
based on the codes, the codes were categorized and themes were
identified in relation to codes. Interview results indicated that positive
experiences, negative experiences, benefits of tutees, quality of the
program and the role in the program constituted the five themes
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
based on the experiences from the peer tutoring program. Positive
experiences were identified as the first theme and tutors reported posi-
tive feelings such as enthusiastic, self–confident, respected, excited and
lucky; relationship experiences such as establishing the relationship,
being less hard on students and staying close to students on the side
of tutors and asking questions in a friendly atmosphere on the side of
tutees; chances to practice for the first time in their undergraduate
level such as experiencing being a teacher in the classroom and how
to teach to low achieving students, adjusting the language level and
understanding students’ point of view.
On the other hand, tutors also stated some negative experiences
in terms of feeling anxious and tired; and diculties that they have
experienced in the program such as coping with delays and attendance
problem: One tutor stated that « It could be dicult to arrange two
hours to study after delays ». Tutees also reported some diculties
such as being tired after the class.
Tutees also revealed some benefits of the program such as im-
provement in their English skills by critical thinking, reviewing the
grammar topics, speaking, reading, and listening skills, reinforcing
themselves and getting feedback via exercises. Having the chance to
ask questions and practice more in a friendly interactive environment
gave them the opportunity to improve themselves. The tutees men-
tioned some of the good qualities of the program such as its being
student–centered, each tutor’s having only two tutees, studying two
hours in a week and a silent study environment. Tutors considered
this program as very supportive and stated that it reflects the care of
university for its students. One tutor stated that « It is just like METU
is caring for its students ».
Finally, tutors specified their roles within this program as helping,
guiding and motivating low achieving students by checking, control-
ling and giving suggestions. On the other hand, tutees stated their
roles as getting help from students not teachers, which led them to ask
questions without hesitations. Using dierent data analyses was help-
ful to ensure trustworthiness of the study. Therefore, triangulation
and peer debriefing were utilized to increase trustworthiness.
Evaluation of an english language peer tutoring program 
. Discussion
The results indicated that LLT peer tutoring program was beneficial
for both tutors and tutees despite some diculties such as delays,
not attending the session and diculty in arranging make up classes.
Tutors and tutees were checked regularly during the program. How-
ever, tutors mentioned that sometimes it could be dicult to motivate
low achieving students to study more especially when they got low
marks in their courses. Low achieving students in both quantitative
and qualitative evaluation stated the benefits of studying with a tutor
on their English language proficiency by. In focused group inter-
views, preparatory students’ responses were in accordance with the
advantages mentioned in the literature like feeling free while asking
questions (Kennedy et al., ), developing academic, interpersonal
and social skills (Fuchs et al., ; Hsiung, ). Therefore, it could
be concluded the program was successful in reaching program out-
comes. Overall, both tutors and tutees suggested the program to be
continued in following semesters.
. Conclusion
The results were in accordance with the literature as both groups
of students have found the process valuable and successful. Tutees
mentioned that with the help of the program, they improved their
language learning skills in a friendly atmosphere. Additionally, tutors
stated that they practiced how to teach and establish relationship with
students. However, the study has some limitations. First, not all of
the students filled the evaluation form and focused group interviews
were conducted with small number of students. Thus, in the future
studies, the ways to motivate participants to attend qualitative program
evaluation or focus group interviews could be taken into account.
Furthermore, it is recommended that in future studies, individual
interviews could be conducted with volunteer tutors and tutees to
assess the program.
 Gökçen Aydin, Oya Yerin Güneri
B–P L., D H., V K., W L., G C. &
P R., Academic benefits of peer tutoring: A meta–analysis review of single–case
research, “School Psychology Review”, ,, ().
C P., The eect of peer tutoring on academic achievement during practical assess-
ments in applied sports science students, “Innovations in Education and Teaching
International”, (), —-, ().
D B.A., R C.D., O D.J., Z–M K., MNM.R. &
H D.R., Peer tutoring for reading fluency as a feasible and eective alternative in
response to intervention systems, “Journal of Behavioral Education”, ,,
(), doi: ./s.
F L.S., F D., P N.B., H C. L. & K K., Acquisition
and transfer eects of classwide peer–assisted learning strategies in mathematics for
students with varying learning histories, “School Psychology Review”, ,,
H L.A., & S–G E.A., Student–to–student mentoring for retention:
both groups benefit, “Athletic Therapy Today”, (), , ().
H C.M., Identification of dysfunctional cooperative learning teams based on stu-
dents’ academic achievement, “Journal of Engineering Education”, (), ,
K R.S., H P., & O’F S., Implementing peer tutoring in a graduate
medical education programme, “Clinical Teacher”, ,, ().
M K.F., & G F.M., Relative ecacy of reciprocal and nonreciprocal peer
tutoring for students at–risk for academic failure, “School Psychology Quarterly”,
(), , ().
P R.K., M B.B., P A., & V A., Building bridges: A practi-
cal guide to developing and implementing a subject– specific peer–to–peer academic
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Reflexivity in Higher Education
ISBN 978-88-548-7014-7
DOI 10.4399/97888548701474
pag. 35–43 (may 2014)
Experiential workshops to involve students
in reflecting about violence
Based on gender and sexual orientation
A L A
This work describes an experience promoted by the “Anti–Discrimination and
Culture of Dierences Service” of “SInAPSi” Centre of Athenaeum, of University
Federico II of Naples. This experience has been organized with the aim of involve
university students in reflecting about themes connected with violence and dis-
crimination based on gender and sexual orientation.
Educational paths of University courses appears, even now, far away from the
possibility of discuss these fundamental themes: students appears devoid of funda-
mental instruments to engage future working situations of discrimination.
For this reason, the training realized with the students appears a fundamental leg
of their educational journey.
Starting from these reflections, the objective of this work is to analyze the ex-
perience carried out with the students and to reflect about it, with the aim of
understanding if experiential workshops about these themes can be an important
moment of their trainings. In addition has also been important to verify if the
workshops methodology can be a valid instrument to prevent various kind of
discrimination in Higher Education.
To reach the proposed aims, each workshops has been observed from a non–
participant observer, who had the task of observing, describing and drawing up
protocols about the experience. Questionnaires and observations carried out from
the experience has been analyzed through the use of qualitative methodologies.
Keywords: Experiential workshops, discriminations, campus climate, Higher Edu-
 Anna Lisa Amodeo
. Introduction
Italian University courses appears, even now, far away from the themes
connected to violence based on gender and sexual orientation. Many
University students, in fact, are frequently lacking of the instruments
to engage future working situations of discrimination about these
In addition, various scientific studies and researches (for example
D’Augelli, ; Ellis, ; Getz & Kirkley, ; Rankin, ) shows
how University appears places of discriminations, characterized by an
homophobic climate.
Even though the term Homophobia is actually common used, it
appears not simple to describe the main characteristics of this phe-
nomenon. The reason is that talking about homophobia means refer
to many factors; not only psychological, but also social dimensions.
In fact, individual homophobic beliefs are socially supported by col-
lective stereotypes and discriminatory conducts are legitimate with
common prejudices (Garzillo, Racioppi, Stanziano, ). The psychol-
ogist G. Weinberg introduced in  the term in his book “Society
and the Healthy Homosexual”, to demonstrate that the intolerance
against homosexuality can be considered a real mental illness.
J. Drescher () shows how Weinberg built a clinic syndrome as well
as a theorist of XXth century created an illness called homosexuality.
In this way, Weinberg individuated dierent origins of homophobia:
religious motivation, secret fear of a personal homosexuality, removed
envy for sexual freedom and threat to established values.
Such etiological theorization represented a psychodynamic balance
toward psychoanalytical theories of yore (Drescher, ).
So, according to original intent of the author, homophobia should
be considered between “classic phobias”; but at the same time Wein-
berg underlined its aggressive payload and also its inclination to con-
vert itself in violence, qualifying it as an “atypical” phobia.
The contribute of Weinberg obtained a stronger impact on the
debate about homosexuality, and his original theorizations has been
extended from many academics. In particular, has been necessary
. In  homosexuality was deleted from “Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental
Illnesses (DSM)” published by American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Experiential workshops to involve students in reflecting about violence 
to operate some transformations of original concept, because of the
Greek sux “phobia” indicates, correctly but also reductively, some
negative physical and psychological reactions on homosexuality, and
also some hostile thinks and behaviors. For this reason, “homophobia”
is not a satisfactory term, because its emphasis on individual causes
(Lingiardi, ).
In fact, during the years, the concept has been enriched by a socio–
cultural connotation. For example, W. Blumenfeld () recognizes
four levels of homophobia:
personal (it regards the prejudices of individual against homo-
interpersonal (when individual prejudices becomes conducts);
institutional (it refers to discriminatory policies acted by vari-
ous institutions, such as government, companies, religious and
professional organizations);
social (stereotypes and prejudices against homosexuals acted
between their social exclusion).
It appears clear that homophobic people, like racists, xenophobic
and misogynists refers to a codified system of believes they need to
defend from the threat of dangerous subjects.
So homophobia can show itself in dierent ways: like Pietrantoni
() says, «it can be practiced, ignored, tolerated and opposed. Don’t
call it homophobia is expression of homophobia ».
The reflection about the presence of homophobia in our society
stimulated dierent studies about the diusion of this phenomenon
in various kind of organizations and, in particular, in Universities.
University might be described as a place dedicated to the free and
respectful exchange of ideas and in which discrimination and violence
are not tolerated. Unfortunately, many studies about college climate
reveals a widespread anti–gay prejudice in University. In particular,
Rankin () demonstrates that homosexual and bisexual students
experience an hostile campus climate. In another study about homo-
sexual and bisexual students experience at Yale University, % of
them reports threats of physical violence, % reports two or more
incidents of verbal assault, and % feels that future harassment is
fairly or very likely to occur (D’Augelli, ).
 Anna Lisa Amodeo
More recent research of Rankin () reports that % of LGB un-
dergraduate and graduate students rates their campus as homophobic,
and % of LGB students reports concealing their sexual orientation
or gender identity to avoid discrimination. In addition, it has been also
documented that lesbian and gay students experience significant neg-
ative consequences from being exposed to violence and harassment
on campus (D’Augelli & Rose, ; NGLTF Policy Institute,).
These studies show that homophobia on University campus is still
a significant problem and therefore universities are not perceived nor
experienced by LGBT students as ‘safe spaces’ in which to be open
about sexual orientation/gender identity. So, it appears necessary to
improve the campus climate and to promote a greater inclusion of
lesbians and gay men in the college community.
Prejudice and discrimination against lesbian and gay students is
often intensified by a lack of knowledge and understanding between
heterosexuals and the LGB community. An American research shows
that experiences aimed to raise campus awareness about homophobia
and to educate the University community on lesbian and gay culture
and history contribute to a positive change in campus climate toward
lesbians and gay men (Getz & Kirkley, ). In particular, interactive
presentations focused on areas such as gender stereotypes and expe-
riential workshops on sexual orientation and other diversity issues
provide all students the opportunity to reflect, to understand about
this themes and, also, to recognize their own prejudice.
Finally, experiential workshops allow to college students to learn
an expertise, about this themes, to engage in their future working
Starting from this reflection, the “Anti–Discrimination and Cul-
ture of Dierences” Service of “SInAPSi” Centre of Athenaeum, of
University Federico II of Naples, started an experience to introduce
these themes in Higher Education, with the aim to provide students
theoretical and methodological knowledge.
. Objectives
This work is aimed to analyze the experience carried out with the
students, to verify if the workshops methodology can be a valid instru-
Experiential workshops to involve students in reflecting about violence 
ment to prevent various kind of discrimination in Higher Education
and to provide students with valid instruments to engage future work-
ing situations.
. Method
To reach the proposed aim, the “Anti–Discrimination and Culture of
Dierences” Service planned and provided to students two cycles of
experiential workshops focused on dierences issues.
In particular, each cycle consisted of three workshops, divided on
subject area: Humanistic area, directed to students of various Courses
of Studies relating to the humanistic and social sciences (for example:
Sociology, Psychology, Social Sciences, etc.); Legal area, directed to
students of Courses of Studies relating to the legal–social sciences (for
example: Law, Political Science, etc.); and General area, directed to
all the students of the University of Naples Federico II, interested in
these themes.
Each workshops has been divided into two sessions: a theoret-
ical moment and a practical one. The first one was characterized
by the explanation of some theoretical basic constructs: stereotypes
and prejudices; sexual identity and its four components (sex, gender,
gender role and sexual orientation); heterosexism; homophobia and
transphobia; feminist theories and queer culture, etc.
During the second moment students has been active protagonists
of dierent activities and role playing, such as:
some brainstorming on important word, like “discrimination”;
the “hot chair” activity: each student had to put himself in a po-
sition of active and participate listening towards an homosexual
boy with and his problems;
an activity where students personifying a group of social work-
ers were stimulated to suggest to a municipality assessor ideas
and projects to contrast homophobia;
the “circle of empathy” activity: the host personified an homo-
sexual boy turning to each student (as if he was a psycholo-
gist/social assistant), asking him to listen and to communicate;
a role playing about a working group that try to solve a discrim-
 Anna Lisa Amodeo
ination situation in a specific social context (school, association,
work, etc.);
reading and discussion of clinical cases an lows relevant this
At the end of each workshop, each student compiled a satisfaction
questionnaire. Each workshop has been also observed from a non–
participant observer, who had the task of observing, describing and
drawing up protocols about the experience. Questionnaires has been
analyzed through the use of qualitative–quantitative methodologies;
moreover, some significant phrases has been extracted from the ob-
servations to describe emotions, thoughts and considerations.
. Results and Conclusions
Starting from the theoretical references exposed before and the results
of the analysis it has been possible to make a conclusive reflection
about the experience carried out with the students.
It’s important to underline that about  students of various Courses
took part to the workshops. According to us, this is a first, important,
element: it was the first time, in fact, that an experience of this kind
was proposed to University students. As regards the satisfaction ques-
tionnaires, three parts were located: a first one connected to a general
satisfaction of the student, a second one exploring the most important
factors for a good experience, according to the same student, and a
third part about the opinion of each student about the experience and
the “Anti Discrimination” Service.
The results of these questionnaires shows that there is a general
contentment of our students about the workshops: the most part of
participants declared a clear satisfaction about the realized experience.
They feel welcomed and thank that the intervention has been valuable.
The only negative point appears the inconvenience of the location,
sometimes too small for the number of participant. Many more infor-
mation has been collected from the analysis of the third part of our
questionnaires, organized into seven opened questions. According to
the answer collected, the most part of our students were motivated
to participate from the desire to do a new experience and learn more
Experiential workshops to involve students in reflecting about violence 
about the themes; moreover, some of them where intrigued by the
not–theoretical methodology used, that is far away from the usual
University learning moments.
The expectations of the participants were confirmed, because they
declared that this experience gave them more knowledge of the
themes and also about themselves and their capabilities of hearing
and welcome.
Starting from the experience, some students suggested devices to
improve the workshops, such as the inclusion of direct evidences.
Moreover, despite the absence of direct discriminations lived in
the University context, the most part of the students armed the
importance of an Anti–Discrimination service inside the University,
and they also suggested a greater promulgation of it between all the
Other interesting causes for reflection came from the reports of
During the experience, in fact the students reflected together about
the themes; one of them said that it’s important to « starting from the
beginning, from a culture of dierences. .. . ) Knowing that many points
of view exists can brought to an exchange, evading a crash ».
According to the students, the experience has been important to
“take a challenge”, to understand the “diculty and the powerlessness
of the non–discrimination”, to increase the “willpower of welcome”.
So, the analysis realized shows that it’s very important to introduce
in Higher Education themes about sexual orientation and gender
identity. The introduction of this themes, in fact, contributes to the
construction of an inclusive and non–discriminatory climate in the
University, developing a well—-being spirit for all University students
and a culture of dierences in future working contests. Speaking of
which, some students said: « this experience make me grow up! »;
« thanks to this experience I gave sense to some things of everyday »;
« it has been a way to exchange ideas »; « ... I have understand many
things about homosexuality. . . I know I have prejudices, but I think
it’s the time they die»; « I’m happy, because I know that this isn’t the
end: I’m going at home with something to elaborate!».
Moreover, results shows that practical workshops are an excellent
method to train the students and to fight discriminations based on
gender and sexual orientation.
 Anna Lisa Amodeo
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Reflexivity in Higher Education
ISBN 978-88-548-7014-7
DOI 10.4399/97888548701475
pag. 45–58 (may 2014)
Higher education and lifelong learning
A research on “non traditional” students at university
A G
According to european recommendations and european educational policies, uni-
versities should be able to promote and support lifelong learning. On the other
hand universities are in many cases structured around an idea of a “typical” stu-
dent. Adult students who decided to re–enter higher education after (or during)
a work period and students with unusual learning careers are often “fish out of
water” with experiences, personal projects, identity needs that appear not to fit
the usual insitutional expectations. In line with international literature, there is
some evidence that these students have a higher risk of non–completion due to
dierent kinds of diculties related to their “a–typicality”. The challenge is to
integrate identities that are not only dierent but experienced as opposite (student
vs. worker, or adult, or parent...); the social feedback (generally negative) to the
learning choice; the way they dealt with previous experiences in education.
This contribution presents my Ph.D research based on auto/biographical work
with “non traditional students” in Bicocca University. The workshops involved
about  participants and were based on estethical, metaphorical and reflexive
The narrative materials produced during the workshops were analyzed through a
plurality of “sensitising concepts” able to enlighten in dierent ways the experi-
ence of lifelong learning in a university context. In students’ stories the relation
with knowledge go beyond a mere instrumental view: structural factors, social
ties, identity issues, imagination and desire are intertwined in complex ways.
The final step of the research was a co–operative inquiry with a team of re-
searcher/students that previously experienced the biographical workshops. The
co–operative inquiry interrogated the learning experiences of the participants
and resulted in a project addressed to the institution. This project is structured
around the concept of “learning identity” connected with the constraints and the
opportunities of the university environment.
Keywords: lifelong learning, university, non-traditional students, biographical
methods, transformative learning
 Andrea Galimberti
. Lifelong/lifewide learning and university: my research ques-
The challenges of lifelong and lifewide learning are posed to the whole
education system and particularly to university. Over time the aca-
demic world has changed its relation with society through the trans-
formation of its functions or missions (Scott, ). Nowadays the
university is facing more and more the diculty of committing itself
only to the “formal” knowledge, given the tendency towards the
informal and non–formal dimensions of learning that comes from
politics and the market. There are growing demands to develop in the
students “transversal skills” and life skills, besides the more common
specialized skills and knowledge related to the academic disciplines.
Moreover after the transformation from élite niches to “mass
higher education” institutions (Trow, ), universities are now fac-
ing a new challenge: the extension of the their population in a lifelong
direction. This step entails a particular attention for “mature aged”
students, a category that still remains outside from the “academic
tribes and territories” (Becker, ).
The question of my research project concerns those students en-
rolling at university after a “non–traditional” path, or with personal
backgrounds that do not consider the academic path as a “natural
In the specific literature I found a wide range of research stud-
ies concerning the so–called “non–traditional students”, defined as
« under–represented students in higher education and whose partic-
ipation is constrained by structural factors» (RAHNLE, ). This
category is so wide that it includes, for example, students whose fami-
lies of origin did not have any academic experience, students coming
from low–income families, adult students who work and students
with disabilities.
These students are considered at risk in terms of access, retention,
active participation, academic success, and social integration.
I focused in particular on the students whose family had not been
to university before (first generation entrants) and on adult students
that start their educational path during or after a working period.
In addition to the greater diculties they face in overcoming the
barriers to the access to higher education, these students also have
Higher education and lifelong learning 
to take on one more challenge: that of composing dierent worlds
and finding a synthesis that is satisfactory for their changing identity.
They have to connect their social networks with new links originated
by their inclusion in the academic world and they have to compose
their social roles (e.g., the role of parent or worker) with the role of
student. In these cases a situation of “floating” may occour. Floating
is « a deep feeling of being paralyzed by events or experiences that a
person cannot cope psychologically, emotionally and socially » (Bron,
); a dicult situation that, nevertheless, when recognised through
self–reflection, could trigger a process of learning. I was interested in
students’ coping strategies involved in the integration of these aspects
and in their learning strategies.
Dierent research studies in the field of adult education and of the
sociology of education show how adult students develop forms of
multilevel identity (Kasworm, ) inside universities. This identity
is on the one hand based on their individual biographies, motiva-
tions, present roles in life and expectations, and on the other hand
co–constructed in relation to the ethos and actions of university (also
depending on the type of university they enroll or the subject of study)
but also in relation to the influence of the institution perceived on
their own personal world:
This interest in integration led us in turn to explore what promotes or limits
the construction of a learner identity among non–traditional adult students.
Such an identity is itself part of the integration process which enables people
to become eective learners and which promotes or inhibits completion of
HE. (Field, Merril & West, :).
. Research method
Many of the research studies on “non traditional students” use the
biographical or autobiographical methods thanks to their attitude to
grasp the point of view of the participants. Usually the experiences of
the students are collected through one or more narrative interviews.
I considered useful and interesting to choose the autobiographical
methods, exactly because of their potentiality to give voice to the
insiders and to highlight a whole world of meanings.
 Andrea Galimberti
Biographical methods revealed useful to interrogate the research
objects, in fact:
biographies may cast a light on “resilience factors”, by focusing
the experience of those students who are non–traditional, and
nonetheless do not abandon; they could tell what they experi-
enced and how they managed to take the challenge of being
“invisible” for the university;
biographic narration is a way to oer space for students to
become more active; students at risk can better understand
their experience by telling it, becoming reflexive and active
in relation to it, finding new strategies for adaptation or for
claiming space. And maybe they can avoid drop out, but we
must also say that drop out is not necessarily a “problem” in
the biographic view (Quinn et al., ).
My epistemological background is based on systemic thinking and
constructivism. From these perspectives the auto/biographical work
follows some general premises:
“self–construction” as a systemic, conversational, and composi-
tional process;
multiple levels beyond the individual level of construction (the
“agent”): relationships and contexts, where individual actions
and meanings can be seen as eects of interactions;
stories and meanings are not only subjective. They are devel-
oped in a context with its own possibilities and constraints.
Dierent contexts create dierent narrations.
The term auto/biography, with the slash, seems to fit these ideas.
It was coined to draw attention to the complex interrelations of the
construction of one’s own life and that of another person (Merrill &
West, ).
I wanted to emphasize the pedagogical, relational and participatory
dimension of the narrative methods, and therefore I chose the form of
the autobiographical workshop. With this kind of methodology the
research project had a double value: while the workshop represented
a chance for reflection and potential learning for the participants (and
Higher education and lifelong learning 
for the conductors, who are themselves non–traditional students), its
outcome – in terms of stories – represented a corpus of data that is
suitable for analysis and interpretations.
. The research design: auto/biographical workshops and
co–operative inquiry
I articulated the research on two dierent contexts which produced
dierent kind of processes and results: the auto/biographical work-
shops and a co–operative inquiry.
A. Auto/biographical workshops: A Grundtvig LLP project
I structured the autobiographical work (Dominicè, ; West et
al., ) with “non–traditional students” within the Grundtvig LLP
project “European Biographies – Biographical approaches in Adult
Education” which started in July  and ended in July .
The general aim of the project was “to enrich and improve meth-
ods of biographical work with adults, and to make biographical ap-
proaches better known in European adult education institutions, as
a powerful integrative and experience–based pedagogical tools for
reaching and integrating socially marginalized persons into society”
(quoted from the brochure). Each partner institution
(from Austria,
Germany, Italy, Poland, and Turkey) realized pilot projects introduc-
ing new biographical approaches into their work. The results were
gathered in a common handbook and cd in English.
As a partner of the project, under the direction of prof. Laura
Formenti, the Bicocca University team chose to address non tradi-
tional students, who are defined in literature as under–represented,
and whose participation in higher education (HE) is constrained by
structural factors.
The basic idea was to gather learning stories from students who
appear not to fit the usual institutional expectations, for example adult
. The partner institutions were: Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca; le– Berlin
Institute for Lifelong Learning in Europe; Ibika Institute for Biographical and Cultural
Research (Goettingen, Germany); University of Innsbruck; eFKa Women’s Foundation
(Poland); Kusadasi Public Education Center (Turkey).
 Andrea Galimberti
students who decided to re–enter higher education after (or during) a
work period, or students who had changed faculties.
Aware of the danger of reducing people to the status of deficit
in relation to the university, the attention was focused on resources,
coping strategies, retention. Retention is not well defined and focused
in current studies (Longden, ); recent work in the UK (Yorke
& Longden, ) appears to favour a greater emphasis on student
“success” which is all together a wider and more positive focus.
The stories were gathered through narrative workshops articulated
in three meetings (three hours each), in small groups. As a matter of
fact the stories were not simply “gathered” but each participant was in
continuous dialogue with other participants and narrative proposals.
Auto/biographical workshops were designed and managed by a
team of “researchers/students”, who were invited to experiment
auto/biographical methods through personal exploration, to reflect
on their implications, specifically in terms of ethics.
The workshops, articulated in three meetings, three hours each
promoted writing and sharing, in small groups, personal narrations
that were meant to:
give voice to individual learning stories within the university;
highlight dierences and connections between the participants’
develop meaning and understanding through dialogue;
foster reflexive processes, and possibly deliberate actions.
The framework used to structure the dierent workshops was
represented by the spyral of knowledge proposed by Formenti (For-
menti ) that link together dierent dimensions of experience like
aestethic representation, reflection and action.
The workshop activities were structured in order to allow an ex-
ploration of students’ experiences from new perspectives. The di-
mension of “new” was gained through proposals based on cognitive
displacement (Munari & Fabbri ), aestethical experiences and
group debates.
Overall  students participated in the workshops. Their texts were
shared and, with the author’s consent, published online in a web-
site (, specifically
Higher education and lifelong learning 
created to make them visible to other students and members of the
B. Co–operative inquiry. A reflexive stance on the whole research process
I decided to engage some participants in order to reflect together upon
the experience at university, its representations, the theories developed
by the participants and the consequences on education, generating a
shared and participatory hermeneutic circle. I based this phase on the
co–operative inquiry paradigm:
Co–operative inquiry involves two or more people researching a topic
through their own experience of it, using a series of cycles in which they
move between this experience and reflecting together on it (Heron, :).
The co–operative inquiry is based on key features (Heron & Reason,
research is conducted with people rather than on people. All
the subjects are fully involved as co–researchers in all research
decisions both on content (what we research) and method (the
ways we use to explore it);
there is intentional interplay between reflection and making
sense on the one hand, and experience and action on the other;
the co–researchers engage themselves in the actions they have
agreed and observe and record the process and outcomes of
their own and each other’s action and experience;
the full range of human capacities and sensibilities is available
as an instrument of inquiry.
The group of co–researchers decided to explore learning identity
and university environment (with its possibilities and constraints)
drawing on personal life experience as well as on the experience devel-
oped through their participation to the project “Storie della Bicocca”.
In each meeting a topic was decided and interrogated through
questions able to trigger self–reflexive writings.
The following are some of the questions that drove the exploration.
When had I the feeling that university was eager to meet me?
 Andrea Galimberti
When did I feel that university was a place useful for me ?
When did the university allow me to dream?
When did I transform the university from an “unplace” to
my own place (did this happened at all)? How and what did I
feel/see (or I didn’t see/feel) before and after this transforma-
When did I feel recognized as an adult, with my own and proper
learning interests?
The co–operative inquiry produced as a result a new project based
on participant’s experiences and reflections. The project aims to cre-
ate workshops where students may explore and reflect upon their
learning project, developing connections between their life and uni-
versity experience. The project could become part a of the university
strategies to foster retention:
Pedagogic strategies that draw on relevant experiences, and relate them
to academic knowledge, are likely to enhance integration and promote
completion (Field, Merrill & West :).
. Analysis and main themes
What topics the students’ stories presented? Self descriptions, descrip-
tions of experiences at university and of learning processes were in
the foreground. I could identify the following common themes.
A. Structure and agency
Structure and agency are mutual influencing factors. Individual agency
is shaped by the constraints of structural factors (family culture, class,
gender etc), but, at the same time, the agent experiences these con-
straints in a subjective way, developing meanings and ways to act
them out in dierent ways.
The stories stressed both the importance of students’ background
(cultural economic, social capital) as well as how the possibility to
exploit the human and symbolic capital of the university in an active
Higher education and lifelong learning 
B. Social capital
Social capital is a multidisciplinary concept that represents all the
benefits coming from social connections. It is intertwined with life-
long learning: in general, social connections help to generate trust
between people and thereby foster the exchange of information and
ideas. There is, in general, a mutual beneficial relationship between
these two concepts, but it is not a simple one, depending, in fact,
on a range of other elements (Field, ). For example, when the
network producing social capital is based on very close and strong
links (bonding social capital), the space for reflexive learning seems to
Students stories show how « the interplay between networks and
learning is not simply part of the process by which skills and tech-
niques are shared, and information is passed around. It is also an active
part of the process of making sense of the world, by talking about feel-
ings in complex and apparently contradictory ways » (Field, :).
Universities can facilitate the formation of new networks promoting
learning both “real” and “imagined”, stimulating the sensemaking
Universities can facilitate the production of “imagined social capital” by open-
ing up the strange and the unfamiliar to be reframed and reused by students
in new symbolic networks. (...) Symbolic networks may be the networks
of those we know who are given a symbolic function, imagined networks
may be with those we don’t know personally, or who may not even exist, but
with whom we can imagine desired connections. These networks provide
resources of power and resistance and appear to be more useful for survival
than formalized support networks are (Quinn :).
C. Self and mutual recognition
Recognition become a fundamental issue when we start to consider
skills and learning as relational processes. Learning identities in trans-
formation implies the dimension of self and mutual recognition. The
students’ stories stress the importance of university as a “public space
of appearance” (Arendt, ). The necessity of being recognized
by others (students, professors, family, friends) in the new learning