Visit in Sweden 11. – 15.12.2017
Posted by: Minna Kirsi-Lahti, Rita Keskitalo, Kati Ahlqvist, Heli Meriläinen
This SWOT-analyses is based on our observations and the many discussions we had with both teachers and students in the schools we visited. At some point we might have got the wrong impression and we would appreciate if you gave your comments in the end and corrected the parts in which we were mistaken.
We were impressed with the co-teaching system at Bruksskolan. The classes were relatively small, and having two teachers working there simultaneously was a great asset. The system was also very flexible, i.e. the teachers could divide the class in two, and plan their methods etc. according to the needs of the students in each group. Giving the aims of the lesson explicitly at the beginning provided the classes with a clear structure.
At the secondary school we visited, the classes were organised so that every class was divided into two groups in most subjects. The actual teaching groups could well have only 14-16 students each. This made the teaching effective since the teacher had the time and resources to help every student individually.
We also admired the professional take the school assistants had to their work. They actively sought out students who needed help and stayed at their side during the classes. There was a high number of immigrant students in the classes and the assistants and good learning materials paved their way into the Swedish school system. The number of immigrant students and the way they were helped contributed to the multicultural atmosphere in the classrooms. We got a genuine feeling of equality. We also witnessed some incidents where a student was not behaving appropriately, but these cases were handled calmly and without extra drama. Overall, the students behaved politely and gave a very positive impression of themselves. The relationship between the students and the teachers seemed to be warm and open.
In addition, we found the first teacher-system we were told about an excellent idea. The system of professional development through reading, discussion, trying out different methods and evaluating the experiences was impressive. The Swedish teachers really seemed to be interested in improving their work!
Finally, we would like to mention the school lunches that were versatile, healthy and delicious.
Although our impression was, on the whole, a very positive one, there were some weaknesses as well. Some of them had to do with the physical surroundings in the schools we visited. Especially in Stora Vallaskolan, the classrooms weren’t exactly cosy. In some classrooms at both schools, the students were sitting alone just facing the teacher (although there might have been a sound pedagogical reason for this). Overall, there didn’t seem to be many opportunities to stand up and move during the lessons.
We also paid attention to the lack of technology used in the schools we visited, for example the students weren’t allowed to use their own devices in class. This might render achieving the so called 21st century skills more challenging.
On the human resources side, we found the lack of special needs teachers and a school secretary a drawback. The secondary school was also lacking qualified teachers in some subjects. We were told that this is an even bigger problem in some other parts of Sweden. Especially in the big cities, there are also problems with too big classes.
We found the Swedish system also had some opportunities for further development. For example, the learning environments could be modified to be better suited for different learning themes, e.g. in music or art.
During the breaks, especially the long ones in the middle of the day, students could be involved in organising different activities (cf. school on the move: www.liikkuvakoulu.fi/English). In addition, the lessons could benefit from a more active approach: students could move more freely in the classroom for example when they need to get handouts, glue or other equipment. We have also noticed satisfactory results in a more active way of learning and teaching; especially students with special needs benefit from all kind of action in the lessons. They sometimes need to get the energy out in order to learn and concentrate better.
There could also be more co-operative learning in small groups since there were enough professionals and room available for this. There were also students who were more advanced than the others, they could act as ‘peer teachers’. Overall, the means of differentiation could be further developed. There were a lot of techniques that we could see being used already, such as the use of assistants, folding screens etc., but perhaps more could be done in terms of the content and methods (or possibly is done already, but we didn’t get the chance to see it).
As much as we admired the co-teaching system in Bruksskolan, there might be an inherent problem there as long as the teachers themselves can’t decide who their co-teacher pair is. In most cases cooperation is undoubtedly fruitful, but what about when it is not a match made in heaven? We also feared that the skilful, more advanced students might suffer with the classes where teaching is organised in terms of the weakest students. This might lead to boredom and underachievement.
In other parts of Sweden there are perhaps different threats: are some schools with lots of immigrant students and big classes becoming something parents are starting to avoid? The ranking lists, and perhaps the national exams, published about schools may contribute to this school shopping phenomenon.
6 things we would like to have in our schools too
Professional school assistants
Feeling of equality in multicultural classrooms
Delicious school lunch
Finally, we would like to thank all the teachers, the principals, and the assistants at Bruksskolan and Stora Vallaskolan for welcoming us so warmheartedly. Especially Linda, Inger, Erina, Malin, Annelie, Bettina and Lars never grew tired of answering our questions and taking care of us. We learned so much during the week, tusen tack alla!