Here’s a quick look into the school, where I currently work as a subject teacher. It’s been rather hectic lately, that’s why the lack of new blog posts.
In Finland’s system of basic education and high school grading is in general carried out numerically from 4 (disqualified) to 10 (excellent). Although most elementary schools give grading as verbal evaluation until certain age. Still, most students start receiving numerical grades latest from the end of elementary school around the age of 12 onwards. Vocational schools give grades from 1 (worst) to 3 (excellent) and universities apply grading from 1 (worst) to 5 (excellent).
Grades hold great power on the students, even as far as in terms of identity building. Actually in Finland there’s a gender-specific concept of ‘ten girl‘ (kympin tyttö) suggesting females are better students as well as the highest grade 10 is an ideal norm everyone should pursue. Grades are therefore a means to categorize students to ‘bad’ and ‘good’ ones. Consequently, some students start pursuing after the highest grades with mixed motives. That begs the question have grades become an end itself and has actual learning become secondary?
Another dilemma with the paradigm of grading systems lies with their motivational aspect. They’re constructed upon the idea of external motivation since grading is enforced through curriculum, which students usually have minimal impact on. My ongoing concern with the current grading system is due to students not caring for school not aiming for better grades either. Are there ways of motivating students more evenly?
Perhaps there is. Lately I have been reading a book about ipsative assesment (Latin: ipse, “of the self”) by Gwyneth Hughes ‘Ipsative Assessment – Motivation through Marking Progress‘. It’s an inclusive and individual assesment method originating on internal motivation, in which students set the evaluation criteria themselves. That can be a learning goal, numerical grade or whatever one prefers. Also one’s performance isn’t compared to others – only on their own (setting it apart from the basic self-evaluation). I’m not proposing the current grading system to be scrapped per se, but instead complementing it with advanced and individual grading mechanisms. Sure, implementing them takes time and effort from the teacher/educational staff, yet may yield in better learning results.
Additionally, one could wonder perhaps the root cause isn’t grades itself but the way they are applied by teachers. Ideal scenario is that teachers review students’ performance through tests, essays, portfolios and so forth. And based on those curriculum-set criteria they evaluate each student individually. Problems arise however when:
1) Students don’t know exactly how they are evaluated
e.g. how a grade is formed and how to improve it?
2) Teachers assign grades arbitrarily
e.g. is there a pedagogical reason for a student to gain a higher grade? Is someone favoured?
To conclude, there’s much work to be done in creating truly transparent and motivating evaluation mechanisms 😉
Last year I introduced ‘the most modern school in Finland‘. However, the variety of schools is broad so it might be interesting to check out another kind of a school –
one I deem to represent more generic school environment in Finland. Let’s go!
According to a survey conducted by the Finnish Board of Education (2011) there’s a weak discussion culture related to political and social issues in Finnish schools. In fact the aforementioned has called for the society as a whole to provide prerequisites for building an identity that allows positive encounters, interaction and democracy between people. Even according to teachers, student opportunites to participate and have their say at school should be improved (Eränpalo & Karhuvirta, 2012). Students of all age should be able to form and voice their opinions safely in a school environment – what better legitimate forum to foster argumentation there is than schools? In my opinion a more open discussion forum also advocates inclusion, something that every teacher should ultimately strive for.
Another study made by International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (2009) suggests that young Finns have exceptionally good level of civics‘ knowledge internationally. Worth noting here is that young Finns actually evaluate their skills to be significantly worse than young people in many other countries. Low self-esteem or lack of self-knowledge perhaps? In any case while young Finns seemed to have proper level of civics’ knowledge in international comparison they weren’t interested in politics and participation (though similar results were also found in Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Slovenia).
Finland is relatively open-minded and a democratic society.
But are teachers unable (or unwilling) to evoke discussion inside a classroom?
And why brilliant civics’ information levels don’t equate to higher participation rates?
Couple of aspects come into mind. Let’s inspect them.
- Finnish tradition has been consensus and authority driven.
Individual opinions have been secondary.
- Albeit discussion culture was vivid during the 60s and 70s especially among leftists, political activism seems to have dried out (in comparison). Did extreme level of political participation translate to saturated political thinking?
- It’s ‘easier’ to teach when you avoid conflicts and different opinions. It’s a case example of teacher’s survival strategies.
- Behaviouristic teaching methods have their place, but perhaps there’s still too much memorising facts instead of practising actual skills in Finnish schools?
- Finnish civics’ education focuses on formal political sphere (high level of policy-making) whereas young people are interested also in the unofficial and down-to-earth ways of influence. We should find ways to bridge the former and the latter.
Having reached halfway of subject teacher studies in Finland it’s time to compile my experiences of the autumn semester. Spoiler: It’s been magnificent!
In the beginning…
I was expecting a hectic season, but never realized how much the studies actually entail. I have had to divide my resources quite a bit. Stress levels have been high from time to time.
I was nervous whether I’d remember students’ names (in Finland we call students by their first names), but that process went like a breeze in the end.
I’ve been most surprised with…
How much time it takes to craft a proper lesson. But as time goes by, it’ll get quicker.
Troubles tablets cause. I seriously doubt their practicality in profound learning.
The fact that however ‘modern’ Finnish school system might be, there’s quite a lot structural conservatism.
I have developed most in…
Becoming increasingly aware and sensitive. And in fact, I find theory related to teaching fascinating. Perhaps one day I’ll teach teacher students as well?
Expanding my selection of teaching methods.
Fostering creativity and reforms.
How well and quickly students learn. Sometimes I feel my instruction for an assignment could have been better, but students surprise me with their skills and adaptability.
Immeadiate reactions one gets from the students. And I actually prefer direct feedback.
The constant need for improvization. Lesson plans always change somehow.
How well theory gets connected to actual teaching. And teacher studies include lots of interning!
Freedom on how to teach.
We should have more…
Instructions on how to deal with challenging students and about teacher’s duty of secrecy.
I look forward to…
Teaching in English as well as about the history of international relations. I need more challenge 😉
Today Finland celebrates its centenary. I thought it appropriate to look into some important Finnish basic education reforms made in the course of the past 100 years.
- 1921 was the year when the law for compulsory education came into effect. Previously there had been a four-year ‘Volkschule’, an elementary school variant that didn’t realize equally in the countryside and cities. Some went into school, but many didn’t. But after 1921 each municipality was enforced to found and maintain a ‘Volkschule’, which expanded to a 6-year school. Therefore, basic education started gaining more ground and become available for wider section of people.
- 1948 school meals started becoming universal in the sense that every pupil would receive one school meal free during each school day. However, it took a couple decades until free meal was reality in every school level. Yet, Finland was actually the first country in the world to serve free school meals.
- 1956 was when free dental service expanded to cover most of the pupils (universal on 1972).
- 1971 school week changed from 6 days to 5. No more Saturdays spent in the school.
- 1972 was the year when first primary schools (peruskoulu in Finnish) were introduced in Finland, starting from Lapland and reaching Helsinki region in 1977. Primary schools made basic education essentially equal and further extended basic education: from then it lasted 9 years. Dividing into 6 years of elementary school in which class teachers give most of the teaching. And 3 years of upper level, where subject teachers give all the teaching. Mainly the same primary school institution exists today as well.
- 1974 teacher training had previously been in the hands of ‘teacher seminars’ (sort of boarding schools), but now teacher training was transferred to universities that still train all the teachers.
- 1985 first national basic education curriculum was released. In a sense it was a governmental instrument to guide teaching, but its purpose wasn’t to be identically transformed into a universal curriculum. Rather each municipality was meant to take cues from the national curriculum and based on it draft their own curriculum. From 1985 onwards new national basic education curriculums have been released every 10 years, the latest being from 2014.
Happy independence day Finland!
Perhaps one of the most differentiating factor that makes Finnish school system unique, is the way of allowing teachers autonomy and pedagogical freedom (also called as didactical freedom).
It means that teachers in Finland possess a wide liberty to design and carry out school lessons. While the curriculum gives instructions on what and how to teach various topics, it doesn’t mandate time limits that for instance a civics teacher should give 2-hour lessons about European Union for high school students. Instead it’s taught as much as seen necessary by the teacher, in the appropriate course naturally.
A teacher may also choose what kind of textbook/ebook one uses and which teaching methods are applied with a certain class. That’s mainly because what works with some, might not work with others. Since each pupil is an individual and their development phases delicate as well as diverse, it’s best to tailor the teaching to suit different needs.
Pedagogical freedom also tells us that in Finland teacher’s expertize is quite trusted. After all, every qualified teacher from elementary school onwards holds a Master’s degree. No need for extra surveillance and strict mandates on how teaching is to be carried out (that’s left for the parents ;)).
Teaching is seen as a complex set of interactions. Improvization, lightning fast reflexes and adaptation to new circumstances are absolutely needed in teacher’s profession. That’s why pedagogical freedom gives room to manouver in ever-changing times…
I’ve been developing an idea concerning everyday life decision-making, to be executed in a form of a simulation during a series of consecutive school lessons. In general the dilemmas with simulations are, in my experience, that they offer a venue first and foremost for enthusiasts. For instance I’ve been a part of couple European parliament simulations in which we dealt with vast issues like youth unemployment and democratic deficit. Moreover, the simulations were thematically linked to an intergovernmental organisation that might feel distant to young pupils.
That’s why I’ve been thinking about a simulation that would be more ‘down to earth’ and better connected with the pupils’ everyday life. The grand idea behind this kind of simulation is that instead of teaching (or preaching) about the importance of various democratic approaches and voting in general level, we would offer pupils a chance to gather experience firsthand how decision-making could work — though a pragmatic case example.
How often you see a teacher asking what would the pupils like to be taught about? Teachers might teach the importance of certain ‘democracy’, but how much of that you see realized inside a class room? Teaching is still unneccessarily fixed on formal politics where individual’s opportunities to influence are quite limited. Therefore, through simulation we would be empowering individuals so that they might realize they have a say and an actual effect how things play out.
This particular simulation would aim to 1) create greater inclusion, 2) focus on practical issues, 3) improve empathy,
4) develop negotiation and argument skills.
Everyday life decision-making
- Concentrates on practical issues, for instance deciding about something related to school or its surroundings
- Something to ponder about: Could pupils design a lesson? How much freedom should pupils have?
- The simulation starts from selecting an everyday topic
(if it would impossible to choose, teacher could help to choose a topic)
- Lesson continues with selecting roles: each individual/pair etc. would either represent an interest group (empathy practice) or just be themselves (argument practice)
- Then everyone would prepare arguments based on the choice made during the previous phase and gather material to help to form an opinion
- We would discuss, debate, agree/disagree and perhaps ultimately reach a compromise on the agenda
Finally, I still argue that schools should do much more to improve inclusive teaching. Too many pupils feel left out e.g. when a teacher designs lessons. If we never include pupils in teaching why should they care to participate later on?
The Teacher Training School located in Turku has over 1000 pupils as well as teachers and staff around 140. Further, around 170 subject teacher students intern there yearly. What’s more, this school in particular is rather international since one can hear around 40 languages there.
Both Finnish and English are official teaching languages as pupils may eventually graduate with an International Baccalaureate degree. Due to its diversity with people and school levels, the school offers great experience for a subject teacher student. But without further ado, let’s take a look on the school.
Comments and thoughts welcome 🙂
Since early 2017 we have had a teacher’s oath called ‘Comenius’ Oath’ in Finland. Among the first to take the oath was actually Hanan al Hroub, who was awarded with Global Teacher Prize in 2016. Comenius’ Oath is named after Education Philosopher Johan Comenius who lived in the 17th century in Europe. Similarly than medical doctors’ Hippocratic Oath, this oath in question gives ethical guidelines on how to act in teacher’s profession. By no means is it mandatory to take nor is it a requirement in teacher’s work. Everyone is free to choose.
But let’s check out the oath:
‘As a teacher I am engaged in educating the next generation, which is one of the most important human tasks. My aim in this will be to renew and pass on the existing reserve of human knowledge, culture and skills.
I undertake to act with justice and fairness in all that I do and to promote the development of my pupils and students, so that each individual may grow up as a complete human being in accordance with his or her aptitudes and talents.
I will also strive to assist parents, guardians and others responsible for working with children and young people in their educational functions.
I will not reveal information that is communicated to me confidentially, and I will respect the privacy of children and young people. I will also protect their physical and psychological inviolability. I will endeavour to shield the children and young people in my care from political and economic exploitation and defend the rights of every individual to develop his or her own religious and political convictions.
I will make continuous efforts to maintain and develop my professional skills, committing myself to the common goals of my profession and to the support of my colleagues in their work. I will act in the best interests of the community at large and strive to strengthen the esteem in which the teaching profession is held.’
What do you think about the oath?