Monthly Archives: August 2014

Montessori With Finnish Characteristics

Finland broke out on the education scene in 2010 after the controversial film Waiting for Superman (wiki) publicized that country’s surprising strength in international rankings with an education system founded on equity, serious teacher preparation, and a striking absence of testing. From the Finnish National Board of Education, helpfully provided in English:

The main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education. The structure of the education system reflects these principles. The system is highly permeable, that is, there are no dead-ends preventing progression to higher levels of education.

The focus in education is on learning rather than testing. There are no national tests for pupils in basic education in Finland. Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum.

Other elements include critical support for early childhood education, formal education beginning at 7, a homogenous culture, and centralized control in a small country. (Finland has a population of 5.4 million, about the size of Minnesota.)

The New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Smithsonian, among many others, took notice, and Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg’s 2012 book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn about Educational Change in Finland? covered the system in detail.

And Finland is still hot, although they have slipped in the rankings.

Now Sahlberg has a post picked up by Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss: Five U.S. innovations that helped Finland’s schools improve but that American reformers now ignore.  (With a follow-up comment from Howard Gardner!) The essence: Finland’s system is driven by innovations researched in the U.S. but not adopted here. And what are the innovations? Some of them sound strangely familiar…

It’s a long piece—read the whole thing here. Edited, highlighted, and annotated:

Finland’s Innovations in Education

1. John Dewey’s Philosophy of Education

[I]n an ideal classroom, pupils speak more than the teacher. … It is understandable that the pragmatic, child-centered educational thinking of John Dewey has been widely accepted among Finnish educators. … Many Finnish schools have adopted Dewey’s view of education for democracy by enhancing students’ access to decision-making regarding their own lives and studying in school.

Dewey (father of progressive, constructivist education) has a bad name in Montessori because his follower W. H. Kilpatrick publicly slighted her work in 1915, but at a one hundred year remove, they have a great deal in common. She merits 20 sensitive, detailed, mostly positive pages in his 1915 book Schools of Tomorrow. But that’s another post.

2. Cooperative Learning

Unlike in most other countries, cooperative learning has become a pedagogical approach that is widely practiced throughout Finnish education system. … The 1994 National Curriculum included a requirement that all schools design their own curricula in a way that would enhance teaching and learning according to constructivist educational ideas.

3. Multiple Intelligences

This part leans heavily on Martin Gardner’s work, but take out the jargon and here’s what’s left:

[S]chool reform in Finland included another idea …: development of the whole child. The overall goal of schooling in Finland was to support the child’s holistic development and growth … schools have a balanced program, blending academic subjects with art, music, crafts, and physical education. This framework moreover mandated that all schools provide students with sufficient time for their self-directive activities.

4. Alternative Classroom Assessments

Without frequent standardized and census-based testing, the Finnish education system relies on local monitoring and teacher-made student assessments. A child-centered, interaction-rich whole-child approach in the national curriculum requires that different student assessment models are used in schools. Furthermore, primary school pupils don’t get any grades in their assessments before they are in fifth grade.

5. Peer Coaching

Peer coaching—that is, a confidential process through which teachers work together to reflect on current practices, expand, improve, and learn new skills, exchange ideas, conduct classroom research and solve problems together in school

This doesn’t really have anything to do with Montessori. But, it sure sounds like a good idea!

There’s been a lot about what we can’t learn from the Finns, and how their small, homogenous, welfare-state system isn’t relevant to our situation. But what if there were already a well-developed model, available here, that was founded on the same principles…what would that look like?