What is hidden curriculum in teaching?

It’s common knowledge that teachers have the official, written curriculum to give us for instance guidelines about topics meant to teach. However, that’s not the only thing influencing teaching. So called hidden curriculum is a side-product of teaching and means all the things that are taught and learned (usually) unintentionally.
Hidden curriculums could even displace the official curriculum and pupils could learn totally different things than what was originally meant during teaching.
I’m not here to to argue whether the idea of hidden curriculum is real or not, good or bad, but rather to broaden the understanding concerning teaching.

Hidden curriculum doesn’t exist in any written form as each teacher and pupil have their own underlying motives which affect the whole learning experience. Additionally, rules and norms which are taken for granted in schools could be a result of hidden curriculum.

It’s said that by researching the concept of hidden curriculum we gain information about the reality of schools that transcends the most obvious forms of teaching. That’s because there’s a lot of aspects in schools which both teachers and pupils are unaware of, yet ones that should be taken into account. 

One of these aspects is the seemingly apparent individualism, personalism and freedom which school teaching is supposed to enforce, based on the curriculum. Effectively those ideals could mean all the things outside the official curriculum are shut out and each pupil’s social actions are evaluated without taking class, gender, ethnical identity or wealth background into consideration.

Another idea behind hidden curriculum is to remove the misconcept that schools somehow are failing to achieve official goals and that the failure would be due to school system or practiced pedagogy. It could be considered that the mission of school institution isn’t to produce critically-minded and creative human beings or to equally develop each pupil, but rather to guide and force pupils in to the power structures and division of labor which are found in the society. This is called social reproduction in which new generations are socialised in to the society. In any case the success of school system could easily be compared to this agenda.

Closely connected to the idea of hidden curriculum is meta learning. Meta learning refers to the concept that in schools pupils learn to characterize themselves and their skills compared to others and the demands of the school system. Therefore, pupils learn to predict their future identity, place in the society and at the same time learn the limits of their capabilities already in school.

The theory related to hidden curriculum goes not without criticism. Some have argued the theoretical base of hidden curriculums is too rational. It’s also seen as common practice and natural that to protect integrity each school has their own agendas which are derived from multiple sources.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Teacher’s survival strategies

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Lately I’ve been reading this book concerning sosiology of education, since it’s the first mandatory book of teacher studies. It has many fascinating topics, including a chapter about teacher’s survival strategies.

First introduced by Peter Woods in 1979, teacher’s survival strategies involve ways for a teacher to make teaching more pleasant — in other words to cope with the reality of schools. These strategies incorporate a dual nature, meaning that they form through teacher’s professional role as an advocator of state’s interests but also by personal ideals, which are based on teacher’s own history and experience as a pupil. The aforementioned clash of profiles results in teacher’s survival strategies.

Let’s check out some of them.

Socialisation means that a teacher tries to evoke certain ideals for ‘good pupils’. In practice a teacher shapes pupils to meet her/his ideals, which consist of e.g. proper behaviour and language.

Then there’s domination, meaning that a teacher may use varied degrees of power over the classroom. Domination is described as an easy survival method, due to the fact that pupils are subjected to teacher’s control both being underaged (and therefore under guardianship with limited rights) and due to their institutional position as pupils.

Teacher may also utilize trading, i.e. a teacher might get pupils to promise to remain quiet for certain period of time by promising they can see a movie in the classroom.

Fraternization means that a teacher could seek to come in good terms with pupils through e.g. similar humor. And young teachers might try crossing generations by utilising cultural identification, e.g. using references from popular culture.

Exiting means that a teacher could completely exit situations which involve conflicts or difficult problems. Teachers could for instance ignore identifying learning disabilities.

Routines and rituals are used for instance to ensure peaceful classes. A school could be traditionally seen as peaceful and that’s then used as an argument for demanding peacefulness from pupils.

Professional therapy means that a teacher could see teaching first and foremost as a therapeutic activity. It’s then enough seeing pupils working on something appearing busy and enthusiastic and to think that the therapeutic, pupil-centric teaching is that way being realised.

Morale boosting occurs when a teacher justifies the importance of teaching, for instance after a bad day. This could happen along with discussions and professional humor shared in the senior common room with other teachers as well as by seeking their approval for methods used in teaching.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Sales and teaching — an unorthodox approach

It’s not often you read about teaching and sales in the same sentence. Before I started studying to become a subject teacher I actually did relatively lot of sales work. The more I study teaching, the more I consider sales attitude being applicable in teaching and giving a teacher synergy to achieve more. Granted, it’s an unorthodox approach. In any case one needs to inspect teaching from multiple angles.
Let’s begin by listing a few important aspects related to sales:

  • Research
  • Marketing
  • Optimisation
  • Goal-attainment

I see researching and understanding the educational needs of pupils extremely important. Same applies to sales and customers as well. In sales you might have (or might be planning) a commodity or service for which you need to find customers. That’s how some begin a market research. Whereas in teaching you have a subject to teach and could be thinking: Who needs this information and why? That’s why it’s crucial that the curriculum is developed based on feedback from pupils, research, trends and practical experience — these are the basic components of teaching’s ‘market research’.

Next you begin to think methods to present the subject. Or in sales you would initiate marketing phase. Teacher, at some level, needs marketing skills if we’re ever to convince pupils that the topics brought up are relevant. But it’s not about just pushing teacher’s important ideas one-way. Neither is ‘good’ sales about pushing. As time goes by you develop a sort of game-sense (in Finnish we call it ‘pelisilmä’) that helps in recognising the right tone of voice, authority and expertise needed to get the message clearly understood.

Additionally, both teaching and sales need constant optimisation. For instance time is scarce and resources limited so we have to manage with those assets we have and make the best out of them. Through optimisation we’ll discover what works and what doesn’t. It’s sometimes frustrating but in the end very educational.
Both sales and teaching involve a lot of human encounters so you need to adapt quickly to various changing circumstances. Every interaction is different and gives one an unique opportunity to learn from others as well and to develop awareness of diverse behaviour models.

Finally, in sales and teaching ultimately results matter. I don’t consider good grades or high test results the end result we should help pupils to blindly achieve per se (neither do I ignore their value). Attitudes that help to prepare pupils with life-long cognitive capabilities to always learn more and adapt to ever-changing world are perhaps the most relevant general skills we can teach everyone.

Comments and ideas welcome!

Inclusive teaching strategies

In the previous post I discussed briefly about equality in teaching and how social exclusion could be prevented in schools. In order to expand the topic I decided
to present ideas concerning inclusive teaching methods, because improving them could help to activate pupils more profoundly and make learning altogether more enjoyable an experience. I started thinking this topic after recently watching a video about ‘how to activate pupils more’. A subject teacher described his inclusive teaching method simply by saying that to activate pupils during lessons he states them what is mandated in the curriculum and asks them how could the goals set in the curriculum be achieved. That way, in theory, teaching meets the demand of the pupils’ better while at the same time fits in to the curriculum.

Furthermore, it must be noted that inclusive teaching shouldn’t be about the teacher transferring as many responsibilities as possible to the pupils, but rather about teachers really trying to understand pupils’ educational needs and make improvements based on their feedback. Although a teacher should always be the fair authority in the classroom, whose expertise can be relied upon.

Let’s investigate inclusive teaching methods, which in my opinion consist of:

  • Possibility to influence what is taught
    (e.g. history of modern technology or history of video games)
  • Possibility to influence teaching methods
    (e.g. group work or a school play depicting a historical epoch)
  • Possibility to influence school surroundings and rules
    (e.g. what’s the preferred time for a lunch)
  • Possibility to give feedback
    (e.g. a short questionnaire in the beginning/end of the course
    or feedback at the end of each lesson, which then affects consecutive lessons
    )

Firstly, possiblity to influence what is taught is pivotal if the modern school system is to be flexible and meet the constantly changing interests of the people and the world outside schools. It’s easy to teach the same things year after year, but by doing so we would do a huge disservice to the people. It’s clear that the effectual curriculum with its time limits should be followed, but there is also room for fresh ideas from the pupils. Subject teaching needs to be relevant, interesting and beneficial.

Secondly, possibility to influence teaching methods opens new ways for interaction.
I recently heard from a friend that one teacher has a system in which pupils earn collectibles (points) through ‘good behavior’ and once enough collectibles have been earned the pupils can decide a school trip destination from a selection. In my mind, this method teaches not only strategical thinking, goal-orientation but also about choices.

Thirdly, possibility to influence school surroundings and rules is connected to everyday things happening in the school environment. Timetables concerning lunch and recess or necessary school yard equipment — everyone has their own preference and not all is realizable or even practical. But concessions should be made if the wishes are reasonable and the rules for instance outdated. Therefore, a teacher should also be aware of trends and evaluate them.

Fourthly, possibility to give feedback both openly and anonymously enables active participation in common affairs. Feedback is often mentioned but still much overlooked. Some teachers don’t really care about the feedback due to thinking they know better, whereas some understandably just want to survive another work day in school. Yet, feedback could give us insights what works, what doesn’t and why.

Finally, these methods should be optional and none should feel they’re being forced to participate. Though everyone should be introduced to the advantages of participation. 

Please comment, subscribe and share your ideas about inclusive teaching.

How to prevent social exclusion in schools?

In Finland you sometimes hear someone saying that our modern school system first and foremost serves the educational needs of girls. And boys are somehow treated worse. It’s then explained that because the school system is better tailored for girls, boys get frustrated with school and underperform. Whatever the case may be, in general girls seem to be performing better in school than boys (according to University of Helsinki’s study, only in Finnish). In the study it’s concluded that girls in average have a more positive attitude towards learning.

Additionally, one could argue that the school system’s ‘mistreat’ of boys is one of factors leading to their exclusion from the society in the longer run. One is considered to be socially excluded when you’re neither working, training, studying — or basically doing things, which are seen as productive in the society (while being both physically and mentally able). Also an acronym, NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) is commonly used in this context.

Furthermore, according to Eurostat’s publication released on August 2016, the share of socially excluded young people in Finland aged from 20-24 was 15.7 %, up from 11.6 % in 2006. Finland scores unfavorably high among Nordic countries with having the biggest share of socially excluded people (Denmark and Sweden closest both at 9.3 %). Overall, social exclusion seems to be increasing in Europe. Financial crises have surely had an impact, but there could be other factors involved as well. In Italy it increased from 21.6 % in 2006 to 31.1 % in 2016 and respectively from 10.6 % to 15.0 % in United Kingdom. In total, during 10 years it has grown in 18 of 28 EU member states. And based on the study made by OECD, higher share of socially excluded are in fact boys/men in Finland.

However it’s not only limited to boys. Whether it’s based for instance on gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and so on, social exclusion appears to be an expanding phenomena and one place to look for reasons is the school system. Let’s investigate how ‘ideal’ equality should be pursued in teaching.

First of all, we should acknowledge that people are different in many unique ways. Some are more talented than others. But everyone should be able to learn and a teacher should encourage everyone. Yet during teaching we shouldn’t specifically favor anyone and at least we should not show it. Pupils should still receive praises and blame accordingly, but there’s a thin red line between praising and favoring as there is with blaming and discounting. I recently read a newspaper article in which pupils were interviewed about their school life and one person was saying how their teacher favors someone, underrates others and how bad it made the particular person feel. People are now and then quick to draw conclusions and some young people might perceive favoring in different ways — perhaps be more sensitive about it. Teachers who aren’t aware of this might verbally or nonverbally show their favoritism and at the same time discourage others. Encouragement is always extremely important, but the key is how often and in which ways should it appear.

Secondly, social exclusion might be a by-product of pupils not feeling they can influence teaching and school surroundings. In my opinion, the basic dilemmas in schools are a) pupils don’t care enough about the subjects taught and don’t feel the relevancy and b) pupils don’t feel they have enough influence what is taught and how. I argue that these dilemmas are also, as time goes by, affecting the development of social exclusion. It’s easier to feel you’re an outsider when you don’t care or when nobody cares about you. That’s why we need to give pupils more influence in schools as well as create possibilities for giving feedback that actually has an impact. I’ll inspect inclusive teaching methods in the next post.

Of course the problem isn’t solvable solely in schools. Naturally families and friends also affect in varying degrees to a person’s growth. But ideally when schools, families and friends work in parallel, social exclusion could be prevented.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of this topic. Please share, if you have more ideas about preventing social exclusion or anything else concerning teaching.

Pedagogical Studies — Path to Teacherhood

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Faculty of Education’s main building is called ‘Educarium’. This is where most of the theory concerning teaching will be taught in the University of Turku.

Pedagogical Studies in Finland last one academic year (60 credits) and grant one the right to teach from secondary school to University of Applied Sciences.
But what exactly do these studies include?

For instance in the University of Turku pedagogical studies include sosiology, psychology, pedagogy, knowledge from the teaching subject (e.g. social studies), educational legislation and four teaching internship periods. Teaching methods consist of expert lectures, independent studying, group work, observing school lessons, practising teaching and writing a short thesis.
Detailed course descriptions can be found in Finnish here. Since the course details exist only in Finnish I thought it might be useful to list them in English as well.

Let’s go through the courses one by one, starting from the basic studies:

  • Sociology of Education (4 credits)
    -History of education
    -Basic concepts of sociology
    -Education and learning as a cultural phenomena
    -Possibilities of education and growth
    -General knowledge of methods used in educational sociology
    and how to apply those in practice
  • Educational psychology (4 credits)
    -Interactive nature of a person’s growth and learning
    -Biological, psychological, social and cultural aspects of growth and learning
    -Different development phases
  • Principles of subject teaching (3 credits)
    -Orientation for subject teaching
    -Introduction to various curriculums
    -Inspecting teaching material critically
    -Basic principles of planning a lesson
    -Ethical principles of teaching and studying
  • Basics of school administration and legislation (2 credits)
    -Principles of school administration and legislation in various school levels
  • Internship in a school, part 1 (5 credits)
    -Familiarization with school environment and different learning groups
    -Inspecting group management
    -Reflecting one’s own school background and cultural factors to teaching
    -Inspecting curriculums
    -Information technology in teaching
    -Includes 6 hours of teaching
  • Principles of learning and reviewing teaching (3 credits)
    -Basic concepts of teaching, learning and reviewing
    -Interactive approaches to teaching
    -Supporting pupils’ learning
  • Educational theory (4 credits)
    -Basics of educational theory
    -Classical questions of educational theory and common research topics

Next we’ll go through the advanced courses:

  • Subject teacher’s development (6 credits)
    -Inspecting more in depth various learning environments and the use of information technology in teaching
    -Evaluation of teaching methods
    -Lesson planning
  • Supporting students’ learning and well-being (2 credits)
    -Identifying common learning disabilities
    -Teaching methods that identify individual learning needs
    -Supporting learning and interaction
  • Subject teacher in a work environment and society (4 credits)
    -Teacher’s ethics
    -Active citizenship, human rights and democracy
    -About safe working environment
    -Planning cross-curricular subject teaching
  • Internship in a school, part 2 (5 credits)
    -Planning, carrying out a lesson and reflecting upon it
    -Making use of information technology in teaching
    -Creating a safe learning environment
    -Includes 20 hours of teaching
  • Internship in a school, part 3 (6 credits)
    -Improving school subject knowledge (e.g. math)
    -Planning a teaching period based on a curriculum
    -Improving group management skills
    -Inspecting electronic applications for school tests
    -Teaching people from various cultures
    -Thoughts about one’s own teaching style
    -Includes 20 hours of teaching
  • Internship in a school, part 4 (4 credits)
    -Improving communication and social skills
    -Acknowledging teachers’ impact on society
    -Inspecting cooperation between schools and the society
    -Awareness of constant need of teaching evolution
    -Includes 16 hours of teaching
  • Developing subject teaching and research (3 credits)
    -General information about subject research (e.g. biology)
    -Information searching skills
    -Analysing research material
  • Seminar (5 credits)
    -Planning and carrying out a short thesis
    -Presenting the thesis and reviewing other students’ theses
    -Researching teacherhood

I conclude by acknowledging that this post might have been a bit boring, but during next posts I shall go through important themes in teaching and will investigate how the Finnish education system could be improved. Stay tuned.

And please, any comments and questions are very welcome!

How to become a subject teacher in Finland?

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University of Turku’s slogan is ‘free people’s gift to free science’. The university was founded with the help of over 22 000 donors in 1920, a few years after Finland’s independence in 1917.

Hello world! In order to become a subject teacher in Finland one needs to take an entrance exam, which commonly is a two-phased interview. You can take the entrance exam after you have become a student in an university and studied at least 50 credits or even after you have finished your studies. Further, every subject teacher in Finland has a Master’s Degree (or should have these days). Eventually, a subject teacher will be granted the competence to teach one or more subjects in various school levels, from primary school until University of Applied Sciences. University teaching has its own set of studies, in which one needs to apply separately.

Each university has their own process for the entrance exams, which differ slightly. In the University of Helsinki for instance if the amount of applicants exceeds a particular subject’s quota by 1.5 times there is a advance screening phase. Applicants are then reviewed based on the amount of credits they have. Thus, only certain applicants are called in for the interview. On the other hand, in the University of Turku there exists no such phase. Eligible applicants are publicly announced (online and on notice board), even though they aren’t called in individually for the entrance exam.

One thing of note is that if you don’t study or haven’t studied the exact subject (e.g. history) you might still be eligible to apply. You just need a Certificate of Equivalency from a university which means that your studies equate the one you’re applying to. Also if you plan to teach in different school levels, such as in senior high school, you need to have at least two subjects to teach and at least 120 credits worth of studies in one subject.

International students may also apply. You need to have good skills in Finnish, be a student of a Finnish university and have a right to study a Master’s Degree (Master’s Degree Programmes excluded). One may wonder whether ‘good skills’ in Finnish should be necessary if you would teach English in senior high school. Perhaps the requirements will change in the future?

The actual interview consists of 2-3 educational experts who review each applicant first in a group and then individually. Criteria include motivation, interaction skills and developability. Both phases last about 10-15 minutes.

After a successful entrance exam one is admitted to study Pedagogical Studies, which grant you the right to teach. These studies last one academic year. I’ll discuss more about them in future posts! If you’ve got questions or comments, please share them.

*Update on 23rd of April, 2017*
After further research I discovered there is at least one English pedagogical study programme in Finland. It’s in the University of Helsinki and called STEP (Subject Teacher Study Programme in English). Requirements include that you must have ‘good skills’ in English, a Master’s Degree and completed at least 60 credits of basic and intermediate studies in subjects found below.
It gives one the right to become a subject teacher in comprehensive and upper-secondary schools / senior high schools in Finland.
You can become a subject teacher in the following:
English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Swedish (as the other domestic or foreign language), Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.
More info: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/studying/how-to-apply/non-degree-programmes-for-teacher-qualifications