Literacy Skills for a New World

As an answer to this month question To what extent do you believe the literacy skills required for a new world will be more or less the same as they were before, I think the answer would be that we need to make sure the number of literate people will keep growing because literacy is a key to a good life and prosperity and education in general, is a way especially for girls out of poverty. But, we will also need to acquire new literacy skills because our societies are constantly changing.

We can think of literacy as the ability to read and write or as the understanding of something. Literacy is also a way to measure population’s level of education.

Literacy rates have grown dramatically during the past couple of centuries. From 1820s to today the overall literacy rate has grown from 12% to 83%. An important consequence of the global education expansion is a reduction in education inequality across the globe. More than 4 out of 5 people are now able to read. Young generations are better educated than ever before. Through teacher training especially in the poorer countries we can grow this number even more.

However, new literacies are needed due to the changes in our societies. In many countries, for example in Finland the day-to-day life has become more digital. How do the elderly manage in societies where one should pay your bills, check your medical records, sign contracts etc. online? This requires new kind of understanding of the literacy skill, computing.

In today’s world news can reach millions of people in a matter of seconds. An important literacy skill is the ability to understand what can/cannot be true, the possibility of fake news and the way people can be influenced by them.

Social media also requires new kind of literacy. As an English teacher I showed my ESL students (12-13 yrs) a list of abbreviations and acronyms generally used in text messaging and surprisingly they knew most of them!

The important question is how to engage the young people in the exciting world of books? Books can teach them, move them, give them new perspectives, and help shape them. Books can influence the way they think. And the most powerful ones can change their lives forever. They should find their Tom Sawyers, Harry Potters, Little Princes and their Margaret Atwoods, John Orwells and even Stephen Hawkins’. But how! Take them to libraries, read out loud for them, give them audio books (they’re attached to their earplugs anyway!) and read yourself, show example. And help those who have trouble learning the amazing skill of literacy!

(Interestingly, I’m writing this on board a plane that has a picture of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, the Finnish national poet, on its tail!)

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education  http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB,  above is principal Marjo Rantanen  answer to question of June: Literacy Skills for a New World.

 

Taking Climate Change Seriously. What are Your Best Tips for Teaching about Climate Change in your Classroom?

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers/ CMRubinWorld.com/Global Search for Education http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB here is how Marjo Rantanen, principal of Kartanonranta school in Finland, writes about this month’s question: Taking climate change seriously. What are your best tips for teaching about climate change in your classroom?

Our dear Planet keeps giving us so much! Are we treating it with the gratitude it deserves? Every teacher in every classroom should a knowledge his and her obligation to make every student aware of their possibilities in keeping our planet clean, safe and well also for the future generations.

Tip #1 Know your curriculum

What are the values in the core curriculum? Do they support sustainable development and eco-social education? The leading idea of eco-social education is to create the kind of life where ecological, financial, social and cultural aspects are valued and the understanding of seriousness of climate change is acknowledged. Is the effort for sustainable way of life written in the curriculum? Luckily, in the National Core Curriculum in Finland these are all found. The curriculum is a good basis but it is what happens in the classroom what makes the difference.

Tip #2 The Importance of Social Studies and Math

Knowing how this planet works is essential in knowing how polluting and cutting down the rain forests for example are affecting it. Some of our students made a case study of the life-cycle of a plastic bag. They made a survey among the students asking how many times a single plastic shopping bag is used? They studied which countries use the most plastic bags and why. They learned how to draw diagrams, they studied what they are made of and how. They learned presentation skills and they raised a lot of awareness among the other students. All that and more out of one little plastic bag!

Tip #3 What does your classroom look like?

Does your classroom have recycling bins for paper, cardboard and general waste? Does the teachers’ lounge? Where does the waste go to after it’s collected? Whose job is it to empty the recycling bins? What kind of tasks do your students have in the classroom?  Is it possible to take your students on a field trip to a recycling centre? Simple questions but the affect on climate change does start from simple things. Are there “Climate Change Agents” in your class or school who can promote these ideas within the class/school? Is all the photo coping essential?

Tip #4 Look for collaborators

In Finland our students get a free lunch every day. And yes, it’s a hot meal served in school restaurants, eaten with the supervision of teachers who at the same time, teach them polite ways to eat and conduct decent conversation. Do the students appreciate this free meal? Apparently not enough. Over one million portions of food goes to waste daily in schools in Helsinki area, only! There must be ways to tackle this! Of course the producers are minimazing the excess by trying to make just about the right amount of food each day. The teachers are constantly explaining why you shouldn’t throw any food to waste. One company who makes the school lunches has even developed a program which collects the excess food and delivers it to those in need; homeless or those in greatest need in our society. Look for someone outside school to work with!

Tip #5 Take part in (inter)national programs

You can also take part in larger programs like we did. Our two year Erasmus+ programm called Innovative and Entrepreneurial Solutions to Climate Change challenged our students to look at political programs tackling climate change in three different countries (Finland, Scotland, Germany). The students innovated and produced their own products which were then evaluated in the “Dragon’s Den” in their country and finally presented to a possible producer. Many of the products tried to find alternative solutions to power supply. See the picture below!

Tip #6 Lead by example

You can start big or small. Your students can bring their own water bottles to school. You can stop using plastic plates or cups in the cafeteria. You can show initiative in the teachers’ lounge by setting up recycling bins. You can start by showing example.

How Are You Promoting Well-being, Health and Happiness in Your Classrooms?

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education  http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB, this is my answer to this month’s question: How are you promoting well-being, health and happiness in your classroom?

We as educators need to look at the whole education system.  That is the inside of the school and its mechanisms as well as the relationships between the people. We can make small changes with class projects but permanent changes in students’ well-being requires more structural changes. Some think schools are similar around the world, but my experience is that there can be huge differences!

Well-being Through Structures

Well-being, health and happiness can and must be promoted on many levels in the school.

First we should look the school building.  In the early 60s and even later school buildings looked like hospitals. They looked like rectangular prisms with long corridors with similar classroom on both sides. Students moved from one class to another, sometimes without any breaks.

Today we understand better the importance of environments for learning and also how important the breaks between the lessons are. Good school buildings today have modern architecture, with open areas where students can gather together, work in smaller studying places around the building such as the library.  Even in the classrooms one can have different areas for different learning situations.

In Finland our new curriculum added extra hours for sports based on education research. If you move around enough you can also concentrate better and learn more easily. Also the breaks between lessons are important. The younger the pupils the more we have focused on activities outside in the schoolyard.

Well-being Through Services

It is obvious that every child should be provided with free transportation, free lunch and free books during their studying years. In our curriculum you can read about children’s rights to have these services. Students have the right to get personal support e.g. for learning problems.  They can stay in the school nursery during the school day if needed.  In every school we have a special professional group of adults: a psychologist, principal, social worker, class teacher and sometimes the youth police. Their jobs are to do preventive work such as running anti-bullying programs. They deal with issues that class administrators are unable to handle. When issues arise with student the parents and the student take part in the meeting.

Well-being Through Democracy

School is for students and today in Finland students can take part in the decision making process.  When we were developing the new curriculum parents and students were involved in the school planning. Students have their own group “oppilaskunta”, the frat, which shares ideas and carries out activities that create a good community for all. Students in this group get training from the Finnish Red Cross.

Well-being Through Teaching and Learning

Even if all of the above is working well, the student to teacher, teacher to teacher relationships are most important. We are talking about the spirit of the school.  That’s about how students and teachers respect each other, build trust and promote student freedom. The principal of the school has a huge role and every single teacher in their classroom in terms of how they support and develop the atmosphere of the school.

In the beginning of the 7thschool year, I asked students to draw on paper what their feelings and expectations were for the mathematics lessons. I got pictures in which pupils drew themselves sitting alone by the desk, they were all in rows and the teacher was a big figure in front of the blackboard and teaching. There were also pictures, where pupils used dark colors to illustrate “signs of sweating” and anxiety towards mathematics. Those pictures proved to me that I had to make changes in math content, activities and communication and my methods of teaching.

After three years I asked the same students to draw a picture again of a math lesson. In these pictures I could see them working and talking together, smiling and expressing positive comments and including memories from several different learning situations.

Being a math teacher I can talk about the importance of how the subject is taught and how important the teacher’s relationship with is with her students. Every teacher should have some knowledge of attachment theory. It is important to be a caring teacher.  The mathematics teacher plays a key role in the quality of the student’s relationship with mathematics.

I believe that if we pay attention to the importance of our relationships with our students and make Math curriculum more meaningful, we as math teachers could make a huge change in students well-being all over the world.

 

Normalizing Struggle

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education  http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB, this is my answer to this month’s question: “Normalizing Struggle”

Who talks in the classroom?

How many questions do students ask in a lesson? Some research says that zero-point-two. Further to this, most of the questions seem to be answered in less than one second. Most being yes-no answers. Teachers talk for 90% of the lesson!

In PISA (2016), students were asked about the frequency with which their teachers use student-oriented or teacher-directed strategies in their lessons. Findings indicate that today, teacher-directed practices are used widely. Across OECD countries, eight out of ten students reported that their teachers tell them what they have to learn in every lesson, and seven out of ten students have teachers who ask questions in every lesson to check that students understand what they’re learning.

It seems that we have still lot to do, not difficult changes, so that students learn to notice that success is a chance for everyone.

Photo: Maarit Rossi

Who cares about small mistakes?

How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them?  The math lesson at school needs to be a very safe place to make also mistakes. At the best mistakes outcome discussions about different ways of thinking and the students learn to listen to each other. It’s a good experience to see that by making mistakes you sometimes learn even more than just using the traditional ways of working. If the mistakes are dealt with constructive ways, they can strengthen and encourage the students to try new approaches also later on. PISA (2016) showed that the students’ positive attitude towards mathematics and the trust to their own capability is connected with their ability to solve problems.

What can happen without practice?

Last spring you could read from the online-news that the field in Beach Volley SM-tournament will have 300 kg of sand. What? Yes, you read it right. After half an hour the text was changed. The field would get 300 000 kg of sand. Also this spring we read about Trump’s budget failure – 2 trillion’s mistake!

Mistakes made in the classroom are splendid grounds for pedagogical conversations. The mistakes that come up in media are totally another issue. They cause displeasure and shame for those who have made them – they might even involve difficulties at work. Sense of proportion and experience in dealing with large numbers would have helped to avoid this trouble.

Uncertainty area for teacher or for student?

We need to change lot of Math lessons teaching methods. So it is then more question of going to the uncertainty area of the teacher. Usually teacher is in front of the classroom, showing how to work with the new concept and students repeat similar ones in similar way. What if students are active and have possibility to test their ideas and do their mistakes as part of learning process.

Here one example. If you combine estimation and rounding you will get a good learning entirety. You can do it for example like this: Bring to the classroom different amounts of different objects, like paper clips, nails, macaroni, beans, cord etc. Then put the objects on different numbered desks, let the students circulate and estimate the amounts without touching the objects. They make marks on their estimation tables and round the amounts to tens, hundreds and thousands. All the members in the group have to come to a similar understanding about the estimated amounts. When they have checked all the desks every group gets one amount of objects to count. Now they have a situation where they have to negotiate to find a sensible way of doing that.

Photo: Maarit Rossi

This is a very simple way to create a situation where students have to practice co-operation, negotiation skills and how to find a good strategy. After then the groups write down the exact amounts and the other groups practice rounding again. Very often the students notice that the estimated numbers are often too small. They also notice that the estimated rounding and the rounding of the exact amount can give them the same result.

*OECD (2016), Ten Questions for Mathematics Teachers … and how PISA can help answer them, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264265387-en.

 

Digital Citizenship

I am honored to be named   in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB. The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2017. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “ Digital citizenship”,

My October blog writer is Kirsti Savikko, my sister, Headteacher in Kähäri school,Turku, Finland.

Cyberbullying, Privacy and Safety – learn, connect, create and collaborate –

How do we help instill a sense of global citizenship of civic mindedness and respect on the internet? What are some of the best strategies you have seen in practice in your school communities?

“Should mobiles be behind locked doors during the school day?”

“France is going to deny mobiles during lessons in schools!”

“To deny the mobiles is a way to the wrong direction.”

“The disadvantages of students’ mobile use was measured – equals two weeks absence!”

These are the headlines I read from the newspaper couple of days ago. This conversation has been dwelling many years in the media – in Finland and in many other European countries. Opinions are many – as many as there are researches of the mobile’s benefits or disadvantages.  And it doesn’t make it easier that the results are often in contradiction.

The media barometer in 2011 tells that only a small part of children learn media skills in schools. The basic skills are learned at home, from friends or by themselves. But this is only the beginning – in schools we have to take the catch and deepen and extend these various skills. And most of all guide the ethic and moral skills to the right direction. Cyberbullying is a huge problem – I believe every school fights against it in many ways. The Board of Education published a guide book of how to use mobiles in schools – to make the rules easier and equal in different schools (only available in Finnish and Swedish).

Last spring we had a competition Monipuolisesti Mobiililla – Multifaceded with the Mobile (free translation). All schools were challenged to invent good ways to use mobile in education. http://www.oph.fi/ajankohtaista/verkkouutiset/101/0/monipuolisesti_mobiililla_-tietopaketti_kouluille

In Finland we are concerned about the moral use of the mobile and also about the radiation from the mobiles. Many schools have a MobilePark – where the students put their mobiles during the lessons, voluntarily. In France they are going to collect the mobiles in a locked box and the WiFi is closed– when not in education use. France is very strict that the WiFi is closed in Kindergartens and Pre-schools. In Finland we are not following France’s example but because there is so little proof of mobiles’ or base stations’ health harms we think it’s wise to limit the use – just in case.

Our new curriculum encourages students to use their own devices. You can use the mobile during lessons with the teacher’s permission and by the ways agreed by parents. Students can even use them during brakes – though I think most of the younger students prefer to play and run – but if mobiles are used to bully or they cause other distractions schools have to react. And the teacher can take the mobile.

So not a simple task for schools to first of all 1) teach digital skills to various students – because the skills belong to everyone. The skills develop constantly and they are today’s citizenship skills. And 2) teach ethical use of mobiles.

But as our late well-respected president Mauno Koivisto said: “If you don’t know what’s going to happen. Let’s assume it will go well.”

How Do We Better Engender a Healthy, Happy, and Productive School Environment where both Teachers and Students can Flourish?

I was honored to be named in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB. The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2016. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?“

If you step in a school building anywhere on earth you will soon after a small observation perceive the atmosphere in the school. You can take notice what kind of an environment the school offers – both in physical and in mental sense.

Observe how students and teachers confront. Is it friendly and respectful – both sides? How do they address each other? And how’s the interaction between teachers? How do teachers talk about students’ affairs? Do they discuss professional items and what do they discuss about? How do students communicate with each other?

Observe how the school building is used as a learning environment. The architecture of old schools strongly imply of an old conception of learning. The classrooms are on both sides of a long corridor, the teacher is giving information in the front and the students are passively listening. How this building has been made better for students and teachers of today? Many schools have succeeded in creating cosy spots for students to spend their breaks or to do team works in smaller groups. There are indoor plants in the classroom. The desks and chairs are regrouped in a different way. The desks don’t stand in rows but they are forming different size of learning places. Instead of chairs there could be cushions. Even the colorful curtains bring a joyful and cosy atmosphere. If you can see students’ art on the classroom and corridor walls – it tells you that their work is appreciated. The architecture of new school buildings around the world is nowadays different – the students are seen as active learners in their own learning situations. The new school buildings have spacious open places, libraries and places to work and use ICT.

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Photo: Maarit Rossi

Observe what kind of social activity the students are having during the day. How often and how long are the breaks? Do they have places to spend their breaks in? What activities do they have? The worst scenario is that there are no breaks at all between the lessons and the students just enter the next lesson after the other. The best scenario is that the students have satisfactory long breaks during which they can fill their social needs and talk with each other. Otherwise they will do it anyway – by disturbing the lessons.

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Photo: Maarit Rossi

Ask if the teachers are offered in-service training. When has the teacher been there last and what was the subject? Do the teachers have personal in-service training for teachers? The world around us is changing rapidly and the schools must adapt in new situations from exploiting technology to develop students’ skills for future jobs!

Observe students dietary habits and exercise during the day. According to research energy and physical training assist learning. This means that the students must have a school lunch during the day and a possible snack if the school day is long. As its best the students are provided with a free, healthy and a nutritious meal during the day. This happens for example in schools in Finland. The food is made by professional kitchen staff, who plans the meals according to the latest nutritious knowledge and serves them in cosy lunch rooms.

Finland is known as one of the best education country. The base for success needs basic blocks as: good atmosphere between teachers and students, healthy school lunches, enough breaks during the day and good working conditions. Another interesting subject to observe, that how much the students’ and teachers’ achievements are followed in schools? Do teachers prepare their students for tests or for learning?

How Do We Do a Better Job of Cultivating Young Readers?

I was honored to be named in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB. The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2016. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “How do we do a better job of cultivating young readers? “

 – here is my response:

Reading could be modern

”The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” noted philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the early 1900s. When there are no words, there is no understanding. Through language we control our lives. A man without words does not solve math problems, explicate his existence, let alone feelings.

People learn new words by reading. Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s news article (3rd of March, 2016) revealed astonishing figures: teens who read books knew up to 70,000 words and teens who didn’t read knew 15,000 words. The article tells the literacy and interest of reading of Finnish children and young people. The message is grim; At the age of junior high school, girls’ reading skills are clearly above the boys’ skills. The PISA study confirms this. Up to one fifth of the fifteen year-old boys are weak readers.

But then the tricky question. How to make young people read? First they need at least one good reading experience, or if they don’t yet have it, they need good tips for good books.

Pia can even make the boys to read

In Finland the libraries support strongly the teaching of literature. Jaana Lindfors, the teacher of mother language and literature, says that Pia Rahikainen is the pearl of Kirkkonummi library. Rahikainen brings the books so alive that the students get an compulsive urge to read them. Giving tips or as we say book talk, can tell a teacher a lot about her students.

kirjavinkkaus1

Photo: Maarit Rossi

The story in the book can be tough but it’s always fiction. Fiction can be a foundation for conversations of painful subjects because it puts you aside of the reality. By talking about Harry Potter you can talk about yourself. A good book talker – tipper – also finds out her listeners’ backgrounds. If somebody is afraid the strategy is different than the one among the “heavy” readers. The main goal is to get a good reading experience whether it’s the first or the hundredth time. Lindfors remembers one boy who after a good tip grabbed his lap full of books Pia had recommended. His mother wondered how it was possible to get an athletic boy to read so much.

The reading idols – come out!

When using the idols those who have succeeded in sports or in music are traditionally in the front row. They don’t need spokesmen. The literature needs. The need is acute because there are surveys that one fifth of 9th graders  boys can’t fill their job application. Mikko Toiviainen, working in the book- and music branch, is worried because the lack of words in the boys’ world means that their world is quite narrow. His campaign #evenboysread is seeking for reading, street-credibility role

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Photo: Jaana Lindfors

models. Toiviainen knows that reading affects straight to your ability to think, to your capacity for empathy and to your development in social skills. The campaign has reached many Finnish celebrities. The main target is that reading would become as sexy as mending the mopeds.

Thanks to Jaana Lindfors and Pia Rahikainen that I was invited to follow the 7th graders book talk. It’s great that the school and the library together seek means to keep the Finnish literacy on the top of the world.