Finland Schools Convey This Important Message to Learners

By Kristen Swanson

Finland SchoolsLast week, I was invited to participate on Edutopia’s live panel with teachers, leaders, and students from Finland. The individuals on the panel were some of the most thoughtful thinkers I have ever encountered. (I was especially impressed by the students!) Knowing that I could only ask one question, I carefully posed the following to the panel when it was my turn to speak:

What is the most important information that a learner receives
about his/her learning?

Maria, a high school senior from Finland, shared that the most important information about her learning came from one-on-one conversations with the teacher. Maria believed that solving problems was the most important part of her learning, and the teacher was a guide to her as she persevered through those problems.

She also noted that it was important for her to make mistakes without guilt or fear, as mistakes often led her to personal growth.

Learners and leaders in Finland are seekers.

Valuing Education and Growth

Teachers, students, and leaders are on a constant mission to improve their personal performance in light of their personal goals. To quote one of the Finnish school leaders, “We are talking about learning, not PISA scores.” Schools and the local community value education and growth.

Realistically, it’s foolish to believe that merely recreating Finnish practices in our schools will result in unbridled success. However, I did generate several important ways we can improve our practice in the US.

Practical Tips for Giving Students Better Information About Their Learning

  1. Pit kids against themselves, not each other. Instead of using class-wide charts or goals, have students set their own goals. Praise students’ effort and note when they’ve exceeded past performances. This helps students to acquire a growth mindset that fuels the learning process. Check out this formative assessment tracker I created for a recent inquiry-based unit I taught.
  2. Explicitly tell students that mistakes are a part of learning. Students shouldn’t feel shame or embarrassment when they get something wrong. In many cases, we need to teach this to students explicitly. If you teach elementary school, check out The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein as a resource to help with this.
  3. Make time for one-on-one conversations with students about their progress. Classrooms are busy places, and sometimes it is hard to get one-on-one time with every student. However, such personalized feedback can really accelerate student achievement. Try using guided reading groups, center activities, or a writer’s workshop model to free up some time to meet with students about their work. It is well worth the investment!

As you work with learners this week, consider how you can prioritize competence, not competition. I think you’ll be pleased by the results!

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