kitchen table math, the sequel: Scandinavian Excellence in Elementary Education: Is It Project-Based Learning and Teacher Autonomy, or Other Factors?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Scandinavian Excellence in Elementary Education: Is It Project-Based Learning and Teacher Autonomy, or Other Factors?

How do the Scandinavian educational systems differ from the US? A group of educators went on a fact-finding tour.

A delegation led by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently toured Scandinavia in search of answers for how students in that region of the world were able to score so high on a recent international test of math and science skills. They found that educators in Finland, Sweden, and Denmark all cited autonomy, project-based learning, and nationwide broadband internet access as keys to their success.

What the CoSN delegation didn’t find in those nations were competitive grading, standardized testing, and top-down accountability—all staples of the American education system.

[snip]

Kati Tuurala,[snip] credits Finland’s success to its major reforms of the 1970s, which included an emphasis on primary education for everyone in the country. “That’s the reason for our present-day success,” Tuurala said.

In all three countries, students start formal schooling at age seven after participating in extensive early-childhood and preschool programs focused on self-reflection and social behavior, rather than academic content. By focusing on self-reflection, students learn to become responsible for their own education, delegates said.


Barbara Stein, manager of external partnerships and advocacy for the National Education Association, said Scandinavian countries “encourage philosophical thought at a very young age. … Grading doesn’t happen until the high-school level, because they believe grading takes the fun out of learning. They want to inspire continuous learning.”

“My teacher” and “the teacher” are terms of respect, not only when used by the students, but also by the school leader or headmaster. The teacher is most often viewed as a mentor, someone who has both knowledge and wisdom to impart and plays a key role in preparing students for adulthood.

In Finland, for instance, teaching is one of the most highly venerated professions in the country—and only one in eight applicants to teacher-education programs are accepted. All teachers there have a master’s degree.


Go read the whole thing and come back and discuss.

http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=52770&page=1


I'm thinking that the teacher preparation, and the social learning (social cognition) curriculum for ages 4-7 has a lot to do with students' achievement.

4 comments:

Independent George said...

I also couldn't help but notice no mention of whether there is a racial achievement gap in the Scandanavian countries (which is explicitly the reason NCLB was passed in the first place). They make mention of the social egalitarianism there, without mentioning the many problems they've had assimilating their immigrant underclass. Educating rich, white children has never been any more a problem in America than it is in Norway. The more perinent question is, are their methods better at teaching North African immigrants than ours are at teaching Mexican immigrants & African-Americans?

I remember a few years ago, there was a video of a Japanese classroom circulating which constructivists used as an example of how the Japanese success was based on discovery learning (I think there's a link on the old KTM site). The problem was, once you actually watched the video, what you actually saw a lot of systemic, explicit instruction. This article spends a lot of time talking about the Scandanavian model without ever taking us inside a classroom. There doesn't seem to be any specifics of what the actual school day was like, what lessons were taught, and, especially, how much of a role is played by the parents. The article notes that the early grades don't focus on academics, yet students are scoring well on academic tests; they have to be learning them from somewhere, right?

Amy P said...

This jumped out at me:

"In Finland, for instance, teaching is one of the most highly venerated professions in the country—and only one in eight applicants to teacher-education programs are accepted. All teachers there have a master’s degree."

There was also an interesting line about technology being less visible in Scandinavian classrooms, and being mostly for the teacher.

I definitely agree with the criticism that the article (which is pretty long) doesn't take you into the classrooms, doesn't give you an idea of the academic subjects covered, or the sort of schedule that kids experience. Reading this article, you have no idea what they are studying or when they introduce material at various levels of difficulty. What do they do about math? Do they have German-style heavy duty tracking? Etc.

Basically, what you have in this article is US ed people looking into a mirror and seeing themselves. I'd love to see the equivalent article written by Chinese, Russian, or German education specialists visiting Finland. You can bet both pinkies that they would see very different things.

Also, I believe there are indigenous Finnish minorities. I wonder how they do in school?

Catherine Johnson said...

oh gosh - I've been finishing my book - haven't seen this.

I'll have to post some of the protests sent around by people who know the system...

Catherine Johnson said...

PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children's mathematical skills