HEPH FOUNDATION studies best practices of successful education. Finland, in particular, has become a source of valuable insights.
In Finland core curriculum places an emphasis on transversal competencies within instruction. What are transversal skills? They’re things like learning how to learn, cultural competence, interaction and self-expression. They focus on taking care of oneself and managing daily life, but also on competence with both technology and working life. There’s also an emphasis on building active skills students will need for the rest of their lives, such as entrepreneurship, participation, involvement and creating a sustainable future.
A changing society demands more and more transversal skills and competencies, so teachers in each subject promote them. When I was a teacher, I did this by assigning very open tasks for students, with the idea that there will probably be more than one right answer.
Each academic year, every school must have at least one clearly defined theme, project or course that combines the content of different subjects and deals with the selected theme from the perspective of several subjects. These are called multidisciplinary learning modules. Schools plan and implement the multidisciplinary learning modules, and the topics and duration may vary based on local needs and interests. Pupils participate in planning the modules, and teachers make sure that, throughout this process, students from varying grade levels work together.
Students are all individuals, so we can’t teach them all in the same way. Teachers have to differentiate their lessons, which means that there are usually at least five different levels of assignment in the same class at the same time.
It also means that every student has their own specific goals that are considered every year together with the teacher, pupil and parents. We make a point of having students from different backgrounds work together. As a teacher, I believe that there’s always something that you can learn from someone who is different than you.
Diversity in Students’ Assessment
Where American teachers have to deal with punitive high-stakes testing, the new Finnish curriculum emphasizes diversity in assessment methods as well as assessment that guides and promotes learning. Information on each student’s academic progress must be given to the student and guardians on a sufficiently frequent basis. Feedback is also given in ways other than reports or certificates. Self-assessment and peer assessment play an important role in evaluating and “learning to learn” skills.
In elementary schools, we don’t have templates for evaluation. We have assessment discussions with parents and students at least once a year, but many have the habit of having them twice. We set goals and discuss the learning process, and the evaluation is always based on the students’ strengths.
An Active Role for Students
The simple idea here is that teachers should talk less and let the student do more. Teachers facilitate teaching, while students set targets, reflect, and solve real-life problems. We also stimulate students’ curiosity by studying in environments outside of the classroom such as the schoolyard, the forest, a library, or even a shopping center.
All of these principles are key to Finnish education, but the most important thing is that our national system is dedicated to helping every student grow as a human being.