Normalizing Struggle

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers / / Global Search for Education, 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,


Digital Citizenship

I am honored to be named   in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / / Global Search for Education 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.

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 / / Global Search for Education 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.


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.


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 / / Global Search for Education 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.


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


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.