Sunday, June 11, 2017

Out Finlanding Finland

     I attended a one-day conference recently about innovation in education--what that looks like in my state and what it could look like. It's taken me a while to process all I saw and heard--some inspiring, some not so much. But what stands out most to me is that teachers across my state are ready to rethink education and make some radical changes.
      One of the sessions/panels at this conference was titled "Out Finlanding Finland." It was a catchy title that stuck with me. As I listened to the panelists, a few stood out to me. One was a student who said she wasn't prepared for college because she didn't have enough of a background in project-based learning. Not that she wasn't skilled enough to write a five-paragraph essay or decode Shakespeare, but that she felt inadequate when asked to collaborate and create with others in her class. In college she was given real-world assignments that truly could impact whole cities. She encouraged educators to incorporate more projects, teaching the art of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication.  
  The most courageous proposal out there was from a superintendent of a smaller school district who is totally changing up how things are done at his school next year. I don't pretend to understand how it would all work, but I'm intrigued by it. His plan? He wants to eliminate grade levels all together. Instead of advancing a grade level, students would be advanced when mastery was achieved. Those who need extra help on a concept or two would stay and work on that concept. For a student who comprehends the needed material, he/she would move on.
     In addition, he'd like students to finish up required courses by sophomore year, so they can use their final two years to explore their passions, experience an internship, and go on job shadows. Why? So these students will actually be college ready, knowing with more certainty what they want to do and why.
     I think this concept works on numerous levels, although I don't know how the logistics of this set up will play out. This could be an ideal world for students at all levels. The bright students, who are usually bored in class, will find more challenges. Students who struggle in only certain areas will have extra attention in that area. And those who need more focused help, will receive it. Differentiation at its best.
     How will he accomplish this? I have no idea. It's going to be messy and confusing and probably even frustrating to some (many? all?)--educators, students, parents, support staff, administration. Messy, yes, but this guy is radically rethinking the way education is done in his district.
    There were a number of people from my district at this event and we're in the process of discussing the implications for our district from what we gleaned at this conference. But right now, my biggest take away is that my state could Out-Finland Finland.
     Not every school in the state needs to follow the lead of the school district that is ditching grade levels, but every school in the state should begin to radically rethink what we do and how we do it. I'm in the process of changing my syllabus...again. Hopefully, it will make all the difference.
    

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