Facilitator’s Guide: CLS as a Best Practice in Student-Directed, Globally-Minded Classrooms, Hanson-Peters
Cooperative Learning Strategies as a Best Practice in Student-Directed, Globally-Minded Classrooms
A Professional Development Framework for K-12 Educators
Table of Contents
This professional development framework is intended to be used with K-12 American educators who want to explore the Finnish education system, reflect on cooperative learning strategies and our teaching own practices, and consider what we do to foster global-mindedness in our classrooms. It is the culmination of my work in Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program from January-May 2016. The program allows American educators to design a research project, relevant to our own teaching and interests, to be executed in one of over a dozen countries over the course of three to six months. The program is administered by the Institute of International Education, Washington, DC and Fulbright Finland, Helsinki. It is funded by Fulbright Finland and the United States Department of State.
Last summer I met some teachers who had lived in Finland last year as part of the same program. “Don’t compare Finland to America,” one said. “Whatever you do, do not compare Finland to the U.S.” the other echoed.
How could I not? I wondered. My point of reference is America. I am a Colorado teacher who is the sister of a New Jersey teacher, daughter of a retired New Jersey public school nurse, cousin of one Pennsylvania teacher, and friend to teachers in two dozen states, not to mention the colleagues with whom I work who hail from over 20 states and the teachers I met studying and traveling in summer programs over the last decade (and, thanks to social media can keep in touch with). I am an American teacher.
I did not come to Finland because I am disappointed in my school or dislike my job. In fact, many things I have seen in Finnish classrooms are things colleagues at my own school have been doing for years: project-based learning, integrated humanities courses (a relatively new phenomenon in Finland), lots of collaborative learning opportunities. Moreover, some of the things I hear Finnish teachers say about their own jobs (“I have a lot of autonomy” or “The principal trusts me”) are sentiments that I feel in my own position at home. On the most basic, elementary level, I came to Finland because I wanted to see if the reality of Finnish schools lived up to the hype portrayed in the American media. Of course I am going to compare. But, lest we forget, comparing merely means looking at similarities and differences. It is competition, after all, that indicates a winner and loser will emerge, not comparison.
As a Fulbright scholar, I spent four-and-a-half months conducting research in Finnish schools with teachers and students attempting to learn more about cooperative learning strategies (CLS), global-mindedness, and the nation’s schools in general. I was based in the Teacher Education department at the University of Jyväskylä, the preeminent institution for teacher education candidates in Finland. I visited schools, interviewed lots of teachers and students, conducted surveys, and tried to live the Finnish lifestyle for awhile. I was required to design and execute an Inquiry Project as part of my time here. This guide gives a meticulous overview of my project and background for you, as a facilitator, to implement the professional development framework in your own school district.
The sessions in this professional development framework are best used together and in sequence but, of course, are designed to be stand-alone modules if that better suits the needs of the users. Suggested timeframes for each session are approximations. In my own district, 90 minutes for a professional development practice is standard practice but sessions can be shortened or expanded accordingly depending on your own cohort and its needs and schedules. Likewise, in my own district, I would offer this course over one semester (fall or spring) meeting about every two weeks. I make a basic (and possibly flawed) assumption that these sessions can be facilitated in a space that has an internet connection, a projector with sound, and tables for participants, at the very least. Ideally, additional computers will be available or participants will have their own devices. If not, facilitators and cohorts will have to be more creative in deciding how to proceed. All materials here can be copied and distributed for work with educators. Finally, some basic office supplies including sticky notes, index cards, paper, and envelopes are good to have on hand if facilitator intends to follow sessions as presented here.
Beyond the content, many of the structures, protocols, and activities are based on things I do in my own classroom, with my own students, in hopes of providing participants with ideas about how to mix up their students, get students talking, or do a close read of texts with students. The ideas I use are tried-and-true, not invented by me, but I include them and mention them here because of the years of success I have had with such practices.
It is highly recommended that the facilitator of the sessions use the following pages of the Facilitator’s Guide as preparation and reference, as well as the resources provided in the accompanying links and the various appendices.
This guide first provides an overview of my Inquiry Project and why it began, my research process and its results, and comments on each of the seven sessions in the course. Resource lists for each session appear in two places-- in the Facilitator’s Guide and embedded in each session-- and are a combination of preparation resources for the facilitator and resources that participants will actually need, read, watch, etc.
All comments and opinions expressed in this professional development framework are my own and do not represent the opinions of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program, the United States Department of State, the Institute of International Education, Fulbright Finland or any other entities or individuals.
Please email me with any suggestions or questions at email@example.com. Any feedback to make it better is appreciated. We are all in this together.
May 7, 2016
Introduction to Inquiry Project
Whether we teach in the United States, Finland, Botswana, or New Zealand, we are faced with increasing decisions about how to best get students to collaborate, problem-solve, and develop independence for school, work, and life in general. We are challenged to create opportunities for students to explore phenomena and practice solving global dilemmas both in the context of traditional classrooms and the laboratory of society today. Gone are the days when a society, however small, could perpetuate a completely isolated existence. Some of the most remote cultures on earth can participate, virtually, in the larger global context. Humans need the skills to collaborate and negotiate, near and far. Teachers have a responsibility, now more than ever, to model global thinking and hone collaboration skills in students. Schools have a responsibility to create the conditions for such learning to happen.
Finland has long been hailed as a sterling example of what a country could look like when it comes to successful schools. Ever since the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) first administered the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test to students around the globe in 2000, the Finns have been thrust into the international spotlight because of their education system. Hordes of visitors from around the globe have descended on Finland in the last decade to examine, extrapolate, and perhaps even export the supposed magic that happens in the classrooms throughout the country. The magic might not be so magical, but rather, a logical result of a nation’s political will, investment in teachers, and fundamental values of trust, responsibility, and equity. Any cursory investigation into Finnish schools will unearth the intentional decisions the nation made to establish equity in schools, implement a free lunch program, include regular recess breaks, encourage the autonomy of teachers, maintain a high regard for the teaching profession in society, foster independence in students, and offer a high-stakes matriculation exam. A national decision to better the common good via sound educational practices was embraced.
Finnish society tends to trust its children and does things to foster the independence of those children. Since children are not required to begin compulsory schooling until age seven there is a lot more time for unstructured play and exploration in the natural world. Children are trusted to practice collaboration and negotiation through time outside and skirmishes with friends and peers. Adolescents are trusted to make big decisions about their own lives and educational pathways. The trust placed on kids from a very young age allows them to try and fail. It allows them to develop autonomy. It enables them to trust others.
Conversely, in American society policymakers bemoan the fact that students lack problem-solving capabilities, are too reliant on teachers and parents, and that many lack the elusive trait of grit that enable their Finnish counterparts to find academic and social success. The blame tends to fall on the schools and the educators themselves. But, the problems with many American students are not the result of what teachers or parents are or aren’t doing, but rather a more fearful society that hinders our youth from developing the wherewithal to make any choices for themselves let alone ones that might dictate their individual future or, perhaps, the future of the global society.
From the very birth of a child, American parents are inundated with constant, conflicting information about what they should or shouldn’t be doing in order to nurture a healthy baby. Hold that baby too much and he’ll never be independent; hold that baby too little and she’ll never form a secure attachment. What parents reap from mixed messages like these is an underlying fear that what they are doing is never going to be good enough and that their children are not going to be successful later.
Many American daycare centers now espouse the doctrine that they must be providing some kind of formal education for their toddlers instead of merely allowing the kids to play and explore. When Finnish five-year-olds are hopping logs and climbing on playgrounds, most American five-year-olds begin kindergarten where they must learn to read and write for fear that, if they don’t, they will fall behind their global peers.
Such fears intertwined with the rising and crushing cost of college debt. It is no longer likely that an average American middle class family can afford to put one child, let alone more, through college. Thus, even from toddlerhood, many parents are compelled to offer their child every single perceived advantage, every chance that might increase the odds of that child later getting either an academic or athletic scholarship or both, to help defray the costs of college and long-term worry of paying back the loans and interest.
Over the elementary years, fear continues to guide myriad decisions of American parents and educators. Children are rarely afforded the opportunity to play unsupervised because they might get hurt or lost or into trouble or abducted or shot. Such fears, whether rational or not, impel American parents to seek organized activities for their children to join. At early ages American children are signed up for organized team sports or music lessons or art classes or martial arts or all of the above. If children are dropped off at chaperoned activities then the notion is that their well-being is protected. At school, teachers are expected to facilitate clubs so that students can both become more well-rounded and also have a safe place to be.
But what about later? What about the long-term effects of an over-scheduled routine in which there is no room for play? Increasingly, the result is a constant level of stress and stifling that is detrimental to health and well-being in the long-term. If children are unable to play independently and solve dilemmas on their own without adult interference then they are not going to become resilient successful young adults capable of making weighty academic, career, and even global decisions later.
Finnish teens, on the other hand, have years of practice with low-stakes decision-making and autonomy thus the choice of lukio or vocational school is a choice that they are seemingly ready to make. There does not seem to be the pervasive fear that the teen is not mature enough to make such an important decision and that one misstep will cause her to ruin the rest of her life. Moreover, they have practice with collaborative assignments in school that allow them to practice dialogue, divide responsibility, and complete tasks.
Beginning in August 2016 implementation of curriculum reforms created by the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) will begin in schools throughout the country. The revised national curriculum for pre-primary and basic education (grades 1-9) was completed at the end of 2014 and, since then, educators at the local level have been figuring out what the changes mean for their own schools, courses, and teaching. While not eliminating traditional subject areas, there is a more intense focus on interdisciplinary courses and projects, as well as the intentional cultivation of participation and collaboration skills as a foundation for life in a more global society. Despite the varied, individual curricular paths of students in Finnish upper secondary schools, it is believed that students ought to engage in collaboration and tasks aimed at increasing the likelihood of a global outlook for all. Thus, both an emphasis on cooperative learning strategies (CLS) and global-mindedness are key to a successful implementation of the new curricula.
Inquiry Project Goals
The purpose of my inquiry project research was to explore why and how teachers in upper secondary schools (lukios) use cooperative learning strategies (CLS), investigate how students perceive the use of such strategies, and explore how both teachers and students view the concept of global-mindedness. My research objectives included observing how teachers use CLS and how they cultivate global-mindedness, observing how students engaged in such tasks, assessing both student and teacher perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of CLS, and asking both students and teachers what it means to be “globally-minded” or “think globally.” I expected to discover that CLS is frequently used with varying degrees of success (both teacher-perceived and student-perceived) and that teachers are still working toward utilizing CLS as an intentional strategy to meet FNBE’s goal of creating intercultural, global citizens.
Rationale for Inquiry Project
While, theoretically, teachers use CLS as a way for students to work collectively to solve a complex problem, practically speaking, it is hard to cultivate the conditions for students to authentically engage in the “sink or swim together” mindset that is needed for true collective success to occur. In my own teaching practice, I struggle with the successful implementation of CLS: one kid takes over and does all the work; or students lose focus and talk about prom; or they don’t have the skills to hold each other accountable; or they race through things that need a lot of time. Also, when I worked as an administrator and observed 40 of my colleagues teach during a two-year period, many shared similar details about their own attempts to use CLS. When I read a 2014 blog by Pasi Sahlberg in which he argued that CLS, pedagogically, were an American innovation that were no longer used in American classrooms, I knew I wanted to gather information to gauge to what extent Finnish teachers were really using CLS in upper secondary schools. Additionally, I was personally curious about how Finns, both teachers and students, saw themselves in a global context and how intentionally teachers were being about fostering global-mindedness in their classrooms. Moreover, the FNBE included a specific emphasis on intercultural and collaborative skills in its recently reformed Basic Education curricula for grades 1-9.
The resources that informed my project are many and varied. For the four years prior to my arrival, I was following Finland and its education system in some way shape or form in my personal life and also adding investigative research tasks to units in the Sociology, Psychology, and Current Issues classes that I teach at my public high school in Colorado. The first time I ever heard about Finland’s unusual academic success was in the book Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. Sax asserted that the American kindergarten of today was more akin to the first grade classroom of the late 1970s and offered Finland as an alternative, a place where kids do not begin formal schooling until age seven and, instead, spend their early years playing outside and exploring nature. Here in Finland, the main focus of my academic research involved reading the work authored by many of the professors I met at the university as well as delving more deeply into the current curriculum reforms established by the Finnish National Board of Education at the end of 2014. Everything I used, past and present, is compiled in an annotated bibliography in Appendix B and a list of additional influential books in Appendix C.
In addition to the creation of the annotated bibliography, my research included a combination of both quantitative and qualitative methods:
As I began my research, Matti Rautiainen, at the University of Jyväskylä, cautioned me on two points. First, he surmised that Finnish teachers might define “cooperative learning strategies” differently than I did: he explained that in Finland a lot of teachers did not necessarily make a distinction between having students work in groups and designing tasks premised on a “sink or swim together” philosophy. Second, he said, “There is no research data [on how teachers use groups in classrooms]… in every school there is someone who uses collaboration but also many are traditional and teacher-centered.” My findings are testament to Rautiainen’s caveats.
Early on, I realized that some of the terminology I was using needed to be explained more readily than I had initially anticipated. For example, many Finnish teachers did not talk about “global-mindedness” or “global thinking” but instead used the phrase “intercultural awareness.” Additionally, when I used the phrase “cooperative learning strategies” many teachers asked for clarification and the distinctions between group work and true cooperative learning tasks. CLS differ from mere group work in that there is some component of the task or assignment that serves as a reminder that the success of the group hinges on the necessary input from each individual, thus the “sink or swim together” mentality. In true cooperative learning tasks, the premise is that no one will succeed unless everyone succeeds. An early realization was that most teachers with whom I talked referred to any type of group work as CLS. It was constantly difficult to discern the nuances in what they meant. So, ways in which I refined my project early on involved investigating which synonymous terminology both teachers and students used to think about cooperative tasks, global issues, and global-mindedness. Some of the synonymous terminology that surfaced in the early conversations with teachers and professors included: cooperation, collaboration, group work, teamwork, team tasks, global thinking, intercultural attitudes, global outlook, and global perspective. Essentially though, over the course of my research I was no longer able to distinguish the differences: teachers used CLS to talk about any kind of group work and any mention of “global-mindedness” became synonymous with all of the terms mentioned above.
Cooperative Learning Strategies in the context of FNBE reforms
The vast majority of teachers with whom I spoke seem to define “cooperative learning strategies” as any situation in which students discuss something (informally or formally) or work together on a task or assessment. Accordingly, in nearly all of my classroom observations students are working and discussing cooperatively on a regular basis. Most of the teachers intend to continue such strategies as the implementation of the FNBE reforms happens over the next few years. The FNBE reforms hinge not so much on radical changes in content but, rather, on a more intentional effort to include collaboration and discussion tasks as well as multiple ways to assess and evaluate students. So for many Finnish teachers who already build collaboration and discussion into their regular lesson planning not much is likely to change. The Finnish version of CLS are poised to remain an instructional pillar for many educators already using such practices.
“I try to make students talk as much as possible and I stay in the background and get around coaching,” said Marjo Oikarenen, an English and Finnish teacher in Schildtin Lukio Viitaniemi, Jyväskylä.
Likewise, Hanna Bjorkman, Head of International Relations for the Education Department in Helsinki noted that students have become increasingly active in communicating with teachers in recent years and that the curricular reforms emphasize collaborative classroom practices. Matti Rautiainen, a researcher in the University of Jyväskylä teacher education program, highlighted that maybe the FNBE reforms are not so shocking to teachers because “in the last 20 years there is more emphasis on discussion in Finnish classrooms.”
One component of the reform process included the “As a Global Citizen in Finland” project which aimed to identify what competences a global citizen would need. The project informed the FNBE’s work as 15 comprehensive and upper secondary schools participated and teamed with over 100 international contacts and partner schools. As part of the project, Mikko Hartikainen asserts that “the foundation of intercultural competence consists of attitudes, values, sensitivity and the capability to learn open interaction with others and to learn through collaboration” (85). He calls for all stakeholders in a school, both students and teachers, to “critically assess cultural conceptions” even when it means “to jump outside our comfort zone and to process even unpleasant criticism constructively” (89). That takes a certain level of trust. Moreover, global citizens need to be able to interact with one another and collaborate, particularly in such a conflict-ridden society as posited by Arja Virta in “Global Citizen’s Civic Competence” (102). If schools, in Finland and beyond, are truly committed to creating global citizens then it is logical for teachers to make a more intentional effort to use CLS in classrooms as one means of fostering these global competences.
Frequency of CLS
According to data from the surveys, the frequency of cooperative learning tasks in classrooms is high. 62% of teachers said they used such tasks always (10.3%) or usually (51.7%) while 71% of students said they participated in such tasks always (10.1%) or usually (60.9%). In both surveys the respondents who said sometimes was also similar: 31% for teachers and 27.6% for students. Students reported that they most often worked with other students in language classes (both mother tongue and foreign language) with the humanities following closely behind. Really though, all types of courses included CLS with mathematics and the arts being the courses in which it happened the least.
Advantages and Disadvantages of CLS
Teachers primarily use CLS to allow students to practice social skills (69%) and practice collaboration for the future (79.3%). Interestingly, only 24% believe that “students learn more in teams” but nonetheless, frequently give students the opportunity to work in teams. Benefits of CLS as reported by teachers include that students have fun (69%), CLS better prepare them for the future (58.6%), and CLS increase their focus (51.7%).
Teachers identified specific concerns about the problems of CLS in their courses. “Some of the students are working, some of them are chilling,” said a female arts teacher from Vantaa. A male math & science teacher from Kuopio concurred: “ Sometimes there are students who do not contribute equally.” The data undeniably supports such sentiments: 76.9% of teachers reported that students struggled to share responsibility with CLS tasks. Over a quarter (26.9%) reported that students have a hard time completing their work with others and 19% said students in groups “are less focused.”
Cooperative learning strategies, not surprisingly, are generally popular with students. The vast majority of students in focus group interviews reported that they like working in groups and believed they often learned more when they worked in groups. Reasons cited were that difficult tasks are typically easier to do with others, they enjoy hearing the opinions of classmates, and such tasks are fun. Nearly a quarter of students surveyed (24.3%) said that a benefit of working with peers is that “it is fun” while 18.7% said they “complete their work more easily,” and 15.7% “learn more.” Other benefits reported were “enjoy sharing responsibility” (14.5%) and being “more focused” (12.4%). Only 6.9% reported “being more prepared for the future” as a benefit.
“It’s good to meet new people and get some new contexts,” said Iida, a first-year female.
Aleksi, a first-year male, replied, “It’s a little bit of change from normal studying, you get to know new people, and it’s fun.”
Onni, a first-year male, added that “It’s fun of course and you get…. multiple opinions so it’s not only your opinion and you can learn new things every time you do it.”
Jesse, a first-year male, mused that “you need teamwork later in jobs” echoing a common forward-thinking refrain of many: they believe there is a connection between working in groups now and their lives in the future. Henri, a first-year male, said, “it teaches you to prepare for those situations and to be able to work with everyone.”
Limitations of working in cooperative groups were also acknowledged by the students. Some identified the fact that not all tasks are suited to a group setting as noted by Henri who shared that his frustration with the structure stems from the fact that some of his teachers seem to overuse it: “It feels like a waste of time… if [a teacher] just asks us a small question and we have to discuss in groups.”
Essi, a first-year female, said “Sometimes it is good to hear others’ opinions… but sometimes it is better to study alone.”
Frustrations were typically amplified if a group member did not contribute or pull his weight: “It’s annoying,” said Sonia, a second-year female.
Sarteri, a first-year male, concurred: “It’s annoying because you don’t want to be mean.”
Interestingly, almost half of the students (49.5%) reported that they are “less focused.” About a quarter (26%) reported that they disliked sharing responsibility.
Also, several reported social anxieties that emerge when working with students that they do not know well:
Overall, students had a wide range of reactions about CLS. Many students told me that they would rather work on their own because learning is their own responsibility and they don’t want to have to worry about the learning of others. Many told me that they like it because they get to relax and it is more fun than if their teachers lecture. Several students mentioned a shift in society and asserted that the younger generation is much more extroverted than the older generations so, they believe, it is not surprising that their teachers use team tasks more. And time and again, I heard comments about being part of a “global world,” “global society” or “intercultural community” in which people have to figure out how to work together.
Building social skills via CLS
Initially Rautiainen posited that perhaps my American definition of cooperative learning strategies was different from that of my Finnish counterparts. He told me, “Cooperative learning strategies are used more to socialize our pupils for the new world… Schools aim is to help people to be more social… [and] that is still the basis for cooperative learning strategies.” In contrast, many American teachers use CLS to offer students more difficult projects in which they can rely on their peers for support. Additionally, many teachers in the U.S. discuss the additional classroom management benefits that, when done well, CLS can produce.
But, like Rautiainen had indicated, among Finnish teachers, one of the major reasons for using CLS is to allow students to practice their social skills. 68% of respondents reported that teaching social skills was a motivation to use CLS. Accordingly, in every focus group, students consistently mentioned social skills as both a reason for and positive outcome of working with peers. The identified social skills included listening, sharing their own opinions, being exposed to divergent viewpoints, presenting ideas in front of an audience, being polite, and practicing non-native language; incidentally, these are the same types of skills that were identified when students were asked about what kinds of skills they would need to be more globally-minded in their thinking for today’s world.
Accordingly, it seems that most teachers use CLS as a way to let students practice social skills, relax a little bit, and discuss concepts in a less formal manner. Teachers repeatedly talk of trusting students overall and specific to this research, trusting students to work together on team tasks and not have to worry about discipline problems. The cooperative learning tasks I observe here in Finland are usually low-stakes tasks aimed to socialize students for a changing world. The tasks are typically characterized by a lot of student choice, whether choice of topic, choice of teammates, or choice of product, weaving in some practical life skill or current events situation. Many of the textbooks, written by teachers, have group activities built into each lesson in the book giving students frequent opportunities to collaborate. One of school’s aims is to help young people become more social and these tasks are designed to give students practice in doing just that.
Likewise, in the research about what it means to be “globally-minded,” both teachers and students had consistently similar responses. Most mentioned looking outward and being able to examine multiple perspectives when it comes to global issues. The majority mentioned trying to understand others’ ideas and practicing empathy. Language, communication, and listening were identified as skills that would help foster global-mindedness in both sets of subjects.
Surprisingly, however, there was a bit of a disconnect between how the students interviewed in focus groups perceived their teachers’ attempts at fostering global-mindedness in classes and how their teachers perceived their own attempts to foster global-mindedness during class. Most students in focus groups attested that the only times teachers ever did things to cultivate global thinking was during history or social studies courses and, even then, it was not the norm, whereas many teachers in a wide variety of subject areas reported that injecting global-mindedness into their courses was something they strived to do on a regular basis. Student survey respondents, however, were more likely to mention that their teachers encouraged thinking about global issues and often used current events, news items, and real-life scenarios to foster such thinking in their classrooms, regardless of subject content.
Finally, both teachers and students believed there is great value in using cooperative learning strategies as a means to foster global-mindedness and better prepare young Finns for their role in the global society of the future. Such sentiments are encouraging given that the Finnish National Board of Education is now requiring that both collaboration and intercultural awareness be central to the new curricula.
Analysis of findings
The overwhelming majority of teachers who contributed to my research project shared that the main reasons they use CLS in their classes are because such strategies allow students to practice social skills and students have fun. While there were exceptions in the research, most teachers used CLS to describe any time students worked together and not always on a task that required a “sink or swim together” mindset. There is a pervasive, laidback attitude among most of the Finnish teachers with whom I have met or observed in their teaching. Classrooms are calm and teachers assume that students will meet their expectations. In contrast, many teachers in the United States often design cooperative learning tasks as an additional means to foster classroom management, sort of an additional layer of structure as insurance to avoid any discipline problems. The idea is that if every student has a specific role and a specific task then everyone will be engaged and less inclined to be a distraction or raise a discipline concern. Most Finnish teachers were surprised when I shared this with them. Discipline issues are not a major source of concern or complaint in upper secondary schools. The teachers want to provide some opportunities for fun because the students get so stressed out in their preparation for the national matriculation exam so time engaged in cooperative groups are a good way to relax and share some responsibility for a larger task.
Additionally, teachers are able to use CLS in a less formal way in Finland because the overall stakes for teachers are lower. Students are expected to engage and learn but if they do not then the attitude is that it is their own fault. Students are expected to be responsible for their own learning and, ultimately, their own performance on the national matriculation exam. Teachers are not evaluated based on how students perform on the national exam (or any exam for that matter). The attitude that each student is responsible for her own academic fate almost removes any worry that teachers might have about a cooperative learning task not going well. Since there aren’t grade-related consequences overall in Finnish classrooms (there is no such thing as a grade point average or class rank) it, in effect, removes the need for teachers to plan CLS so meticulously and have any fear that it might not go well. To support this notion even further, in American classrooms some teachers shy away from CLS altogether because if the students do not do their parts then teachers end up reteaching the concept anyway and many feel that all of the planning that goes into CLS when it yields nothing for the students is a waste of time. For some the attitude is “if I have to reteach anyway then why bother with CLS in the first place?”
With regard to my project, it is by no means a surprise that some teachers use cooperative tasks a lot and some use them very little. It is not shocking that some students like it and others do not. The lessons here are why teachers in Finland choose to use such tasks (primarily for social reasons), how they execute their cooperative tasks (quite informally), and the levels of student engagement (consistently high and with relatively few distractions). Additionally, I reflect on how we might cultivate more autonomy and trust in students in my own school and how I might use cooperative tasks more as a way for kids to practice socializing than for giving them high-stakes assignments that they feel stressed to complete, whether alone or on a team.
When considering global-mindedness, Finns are very concerned about the world around them. Teachers and students alike mention Russia, Sweden, the European Union, China, and the United States. Currently, Finns are sodden with the reality that their economic situation is dire and the weight of that uncertainty. People are worried about finances, jobs and long-term security. The length of Russia's shadow gives pause to some Finns I've met but not all. Likewise, the increasing migrant and refugee population is a concern of many but not all. Finns are sharply aware that the policies of other governments can distinctly impact their own small, young nation. Thus, an emphasis on global-mindedness will serve them well as we move toward an ever more global and digitized future.
Correspondingly, many of these educators and policymakers are looking outward. There is constant talk about "exporting the Finnish education system" and using the Finnish model as an impetus for educational reforms in countries around the globe. Finnish leaders and educators are acutely aware of this moment in which the world wants to explain and imitate the Finnish miracle. In order for such ventures to be successful Finns must possess a working knowledge and basic understanding of the wide variety of cultures and nations who want to emulate Finland and are willing to go to great lengths to do so. Hence, cultivating global-mindedness intentionally in classrooms will only serve to benefit Finland overall and those nations that seek to follow its path.
Considerations and Resources for Facilitators: Sessions 1-7
Considerations for Session 1: Following Finland
Session 1 is intended to assess what participants know and want to know about the education system in Finland as well as provide a cursory overview of that system. The better prepared the facilitator is in terms of reviewing sources and resources ahead of time the better. Likely, participants will arrive with general impressions about Finnish schools as portrayed in the American media over the last decade, namely its high PISA scores, supposed homework-free schools, and recess-infused schedules. The purpose of Session 1 is to begin to explore the truths and myths of Finnish schools while, accordingly, considering our own education systems at the local, state, and national levels.
In my own experience, I first began following Finland in spring 2011 when I was teaching Sociology. I had read Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax and was using excerpts to explore aspects of education. Personally, I had never heard of the PISA test or Finland’s school system but it was the spark that led me to pay more attention over the next five years as Finland was heralded by the international media as the epitome of all things educationally sound.
Resources for Session 1:
Considerations for Session 2: Diving Deeper into Finland’s Education System
Participants will delve deeper into the Finnish education system via a text-based seminar as guided by the National School Reform Faculty protocol. The essay, “The Societal Factors Contributing to Education and Schooling in Finland,” is from a book of essays on Finland’s schools called Miracle of Education: The principles and practices of teaching and learning in Finnish schools. The book is a densely detailed investigation and explanation of the entire Finnish system from PISA tests to curricular decisions to historical changes to socio-economic factors.
There are two alternatives to Session 2 that the facilitator may want to consider. First, a different essay from the book could be used, depending on the cohort’s needs and interests. I picked the one that I thought spanned the broadest view for those who know little about Finnish schools but provided specific details for those who already have a solid foundation of knowledge. Second, a jigsaw exploration of the entire book could be done, over time, in which participants read and report on one of the essays in the book so that everyone in the cohort would get a more comprehensive look at the entire system. Such a jigsaw would clearly take more time and different scheduling can be done at the discretion of the facilitator.
Resources for Session 2:
Considerations for Session 3: Views of American Educators
Session 3 offers participants the chance to consider how each education system, the Finnish and the American, might influence the other. A classic jigsaw structure is used to examine the blogs of several Fulbright scholars. The goal is to get various viewpoints and also provide a glimpse into what some teachers do as a part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program. Accordingly, this session includes an informational segment on the program so that cohort participants know how to apply to it in the future. Facilitator ought to spend some time exploring its website so information can be shared in an efficient manner. Additionally, this portion of the session might be a nice opportunity for participants to share other types of professional development programs and how to apply.
Resources for Session 3:
Considerations for Session 4: Defining “Cooperative Learning Strategies” in US & Finland
Participants will spend time defining and exploring their own ideas about “cooperative learning strategies” before considering how Finnish teachers and students think about CLS. Participants will have time to reflect on their own reasons for using CLS as well as successes and failures with such practices in their own classrooms. Basic differences in how Finnish teachers perceive and use CLS will be presented. While there were exceptions in the research, most teachers used CLS to describe any time students worked together and not always on a task that required a “sink or swim together” mindset. Participants will have the opportunity to examine and question some of the research gathered by the creator of this course.
Resources for Session 4:
Considerations for Session 5: Defining “Global-mindedness”
Session 5 provides participants time to explore definitions of “global-mindedness” and reflect on things they do in their own classrooms to foster such thinking. Synonyms for the term “global-mindedness” will be considered and evaluated. Participants will imagine their classrooms in an ideal scenario in which they are being true “globally-minded teachers” and will identify obstacles in the journey to becoming such teachers. The question of how to know if students are becoming more “globally-minded” will be explored.
Resources for Session 5:
Considerations for Session 6: Finnish perspectives on “Global-mindedness”
Participants will examine how Finnish educators and students define “global-mindedness.” They will consider an example of a project completed at a Finnish lower secondary school that was designed to foster global thinking in its participating students. They will examine a document that outlines the Finnish National Board of Education’s reforms and rationale for emphasizing global thinking in its new curriculum. Facilitator ought to consider that the piece (by Liisa Jääskeläinen, see below) is not visually appealing in the way it is presented but includes solid information about the curricular changes and emphasis on global thinking in the new curricula.
Resources for Session 6:
Considerations for Session 7: Finnish Line
The final session of this professional development series is intended to provide participants with an opportunity to synthesize the concepts explored in the six preceding sessions as well as develop one, concrete plan to immediately implement in their own classrooms.
Resources for Session 7: