Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Teach Like Finland: Chapter 1 Introduction

I’m sitting on the shore of Lake Bemidji in beautiful Bemidji, Minnesota on this lovely summer day.  We come here every summer so we can be with my husband who teaches a graduate course on the campus of BSU and so my daughter and son can learn a language at Concordia Language Villages summer camp.  It’s evening and I’m surrounded by the smell of campfire, the soft cool breeze, waves lapping the edge of the beach and my kids building and creating on the beach. I feel happy, peaceful and stress-free. 
I view summer as the time when I recharge my batteries for the upcoming school year.  Each school year I view as a marathon and, as a runner, I know you have to have strength, endurance and some speed to eventually cross the finish line.  So I teach hard for 9 months and relax hard for 3 months.  But . . . why can’t I infuse that happy, peaceful feeling into the school year?  I know I need to but I don’t know how. Thank goodness Timothy Walker is going to show me how.
So as I happily and peacefully sit here, I should let you know that I’m sitting at a picnic table, on my laptop.  I’m the only one with any piece of technology nearby, which I quickly notice. . .and inherently feel guilty.  But the devil on my other shoulder quickly chimes in to say that I’m working at a leisurely pace in a very relaxed environment so I can and should keep working. 
The introduction to chapter 1 is about how Walker quickly notices, after he starts teaching at a local Finnish elementary school, that there are several 15 minute breaks throughout the day during which: his students spend happily playing outside, his colleagues spend happily eating, chatting and looking at magazines in the teacher’s lounge and he spends rapidly prepping for more teaching.  This makes him also feel inherently guilty.
At first he fights it but, seeing the attention of his students fade, he doesn't prolong instruction but stops and provides the required and needed break.  He instantly sees the benefit of the concept: more attentive learners after a break -v.s- cramming more learning into students who aren't holding on to it before a break.
One of his colleagues makes a good point when telling him that he's not a human doing, he's a human being.  This is contrary to the American ideology of "a teacher's worth is quantified by his/her productivity."  So he has to learn to embrace the Finnish teaching approach of: slower, softer, focus on well-being and give up the American approach of: faster, harder, focus on success if he wants to succeed in Finland.
So Walker's first strategy is to try and set aside time, every 45 minutes or so (depending on how your students are functioning) for some kind of break.  In Finland it's simple free play inside or outside.  But he suggests 'choice time' in American classrooms and believes there are three important qualities this time should possess: it should have a high degree of enjoyment, independence and novelty.  And he believes that the teacher should talk with their students about his/her purposeful attempt to help them learn better by having breaks during the day.  Encouraging students to provide feedback on these breaks promotes ownership and can provide some great insight.

I think I'm going to take a break now and go play with my kids on the beach!
Next up: Learn on the Move

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