I Have One Word.......Finland!

No, I am not making a trip to Finland, nor have I recently traveled to Finland.
The one word answer of "Finland" was in response to my husband asking me what I thought would help "fix", "improve", "make better", (pick your favorite), the education system in our local town.

The subject of school improvement has been on the radar for years and years now. It seems that a lot of people, apparently, feel like the education system in the United States is "broken", "poor", " not as good as other countries around the world" (once again pick your favorite).

I, for one, and this is just my opinion, find basically three things wrong with the school system in my town and in districts around the country and they are as follows:
1. Standardized testing
2. Standardized testing
3. Wait for it, Standardized testing.

I recently read Teach Like Finland , written by Timothy D. Walker, an American educator who spent two years teaching in Finland. The subtitle of the book is 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms.  Now that really got my attention!

The first chapter of the book discusses primarily the well being of children and teachers in the classroom. In Finland, every 45 minutes of work is followed by a 15 minute "brain break". These usually occur outdoors, in all kinds of weather (eek). This is not one 15 minute break daily, this is a 15 minute break every hour.  It has been found that everyone is ready to get back to "work" after these breaks and that more is accomplished throughout the day by both students and teachers.

This chapter also discusses the idea of learning on the move, giving children time to recharge after school hours ( no back breaking amounts of home work are given), and simplifying the space ( I almost cried when I read that one). I previously wrote a post on that very subject entitled "Just How Cute Does the Classroom Need To Be?"  He also writes about getting into the wild by creating a learning space outdoors and keeping the peace in the classroom by working with very little background noise and stress.

The other chapters in the book covered the topics of belonging, autonomy, mastery and mind-set.

While the author spoke highly of his Finnish co-workers, he also expressed much empathy for American teachers. The amount of stress that teachers are under is not healthy for them nor the children in their care. And he believes, as I do, that the majority of that stress is caused by, you guessed it, the pressures of standardized testing.

I want to insert a note here: Evaluation of student learning is an essential part of the process and I don't advocate eliminating criteria referenced testing or other means of evaluating student's progress. Students in Finland are evaluated and tested as needed. But the emphasis on "standardized" testing has, in my opinion, gotten to a critical point in American schools and the use of them should be re-evaluated.

I recommend this book for teachers, parents, and administrators.
Following the author's advice and implementing the practises written about, would provide positive  benefits for teachers and students and might just lead to  the discovery that "fixing" the education system is not all that complicated after all.

That's it for now.
Check back later!


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