Friday, 10 December 2010

finland versus us where do we rank

Finland versus the US - Where do we rank?

Finn students, according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), are the best readers in the world. Some interesting details regarding this academic survey: it includes 40 industrialized countries, the surveyed schools are similar in organization, and socioeconomic status, unlike the other countries’ students, doesn’t seem to hold Finland students back! Top down, promoting literacy is a priority and includes campaign and public service participation from libraries, newspaper and periodical associations, and Finland’s public broadcasting company.
This piece also included a brief insert, “Case Study: A Reader-Friendly School,” written by Helena Linna, Reading Curriculum Developer and Instructor of Ymmersta School in Espoo, Finland. Linna provided readers with an inspiring taste of instructional strategy. Teachers at Ymmersta School strive to foster a love of books within students and create motivated readers through self-expressive activities that combine discussion and collaboration. Activities include pair-work reading, literature circles, reading portfolios, and coupling reading with writing. A very interesting practice of Ymmersta School is that they name areas of their school after places in stories such as Hundred Acre Wood, Rivendell, and Diagon Alley (from Winnie-the-Pooh, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter). This brief article only lists a few of the many motivating techniques this Finn school employs.

My first thought was to take a look at where the United States scored. In 2003, we scored 19th out of 40. In 2006, the United States’ scores were not reported due to an error in the instructions. The next report is available in December 2010.
Something that kept creeping into my mind is the randomness and variety of initiatives that our nation’s education system seems to be overwhelmed with. In the five years I have been in the school setting, I have heard “assess this using this, assess that using that, look at all these different numbers and figure out what each number means for each student, then individualize this and differentiate that for each of your 98 high school language arts students.” And I know great teachers can do this!! And I admit that it is IMPORTANT! That was always my intention; however, realistically, at the end of the night and after hours of grading papers, I was lacking the tools I needed to do this efficiently. But it seems we could never really narrow down to focus on one thing, and we never had sufficient supports for implementing within any one given area. This may sound infantile and na├»ve but it would be refreshing to simplify and make reading fun again. 
Another concept that is tickling my brain is the fact that “Finland does not administer any national reading comprehension tests during the nine years of basic education, nor are their national tests in other subjects.” Their entire concept of testing is something I have never heard of. They take a sample, ten percent of a given age group, and then base their analysis over that representation. The results are not public and nor are they used for comparison purposes; they are shared with the individual schools to improve teaching and learning. The national board then develops teacher-training programs based on their findings. The authors claim that much of the success is attributed to a push for reading across all levels and platforms of society. As well, teachers across every subject are focused on content-area reading, and all use motivating reading strategies to draw students in.
This article is a lot to take in because this system is nothing like ours. What does this mean for us as a nation… so ingrained in the results of tests; comparing schools, teachers, and students; and holding districts by their toes if too many students are below a given percentile… maybe we’ve got it all wrong?
Take a look at Can US Learn Ed Reform from Finland?, a blog post by The 21st Century Principal - J. Robinson for more information and reflection on Finland's academic success. 

This post is in response to - 
A Land of Readers by Irmeli Halinen, Pirjo Sinko, and Reijo Laukkanen
Halinen, Irmeli; Sinko, Pirjo; Laukkenen, Reijo. (2005). A Land of Readers. Educational Leadership. October, 2005. Vol.63, No.2, pp.72-76.

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