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William Doyle recently returned from a Fulbright year in Finland, and he spent his year studying education. His own child attended a Finnish school.
He wrote about some of the lessons he learned in this article that appeared in the Hechinger Report.
Here is the big takeaway:
If you want results, try doing the opposite of what American “education reformers” think we should do in classrooms.
Instead of control, competition, stress, standardized testing, screen-based schools and loosened teacher qualifications, try warmth, collaboration, and highly professionalized, teacher-led encouragement and assessment.
When American reformers refer to “personalized learning,” they mean that every child should have his/her own laptop. Finnish teachers use the concept of “personalized learning,” but they mean person-to-person learning:
While the school has the latest technology, there isn’t a tablet or smartphone in sight, just a smart board and a teacher’s desktop.
Screens can only deliver simulations of personalized learning, this is the real thing, pushed to the absolute limit.
Instead of walking in lines, remaining silent, blowing a bubble instead of speaking, and maintaining perfect order, as our reformers prefer:
Children are allowed to slouch, wiggle and giggle from time to time if they want to, since that’s what children are biologically engineered to do, in Finland, America, Asia and everywhere else.
Teachers in Finland have the freedom to teach and are encouraged to innovate:
Here, as in any other Finnish school, teachers are not strait-jacketed by bureaucrats, scripts or excessive regulations, but have the freedom to innovate and experiment as teams of trusted professionals….
Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is. Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the “metrics” that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.
But is there something about Finland that makes it inappropriate as a point of comparison? Does it succeed because of a homogeneous population? Doyle says no:
There are also those who would argue that this kind of approach wouldn’t work in America’s inner city schools, which instead need “no excuses,” boot-camp drilling-and-discipline, relentless standardized test prep, Stakhanovian workloads and stress-and-fear-based “rigor.”
But what if the opposite is true?
What if many of Finland’s educational practices are not cultural quirks or non-replicable national idiosyncrasies — but are instead bare-minimum global best practices that all our children urgently need, especially those children in high-poverty schools?