Why Finland Succeeds

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palisadesk
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by palisadesk » Fri Dec 21, 2012 8:41 pm

Rod Everson wrote:What strikes me about the Finnish situation is that the apparent straightforward nature of the Finnish language very likely leads educators to teach the phonics of the language without giving it a second thought. That is, if most words can be dependably decoded, they why on earth wouldn't you teach them the phonics code? Ergo, we get young precocious readers prior to school entry age.



From what I've read and heard about Finland's educational practice, there is little to no emphasis on teaching children to read before they go to school. Parents are encouraged to read to and with their children, and this is a widespread practice, but formal home teaching is (according to Sahlberg and others) an anomaly. While formal schooling is not begun until age 7, most Finnish children attend daycare and preschools where there is a rich, informal learning environment that builds background knowledge, language skills and introduces (but does not demand) some foundation literacy/numeracy skills. So while families rarely "teach" children to read (and homework is not a feature of Finnish schooling), early years education offers opportunities for children to learn some of the basics, and the fact that many TV shows are subtitled surely adds incentive above and beyond the high esteem given to reading in the culture. From what I can learn of their preschools, there is some resemblance to Montessori education where children can work through reading skills via structured activities that explicitly teach phonics and decoding if they demonstrate the ability and interest; Montessori preschool graduates around here are often reasonably proficient readers (for their age) when they enter Grade 1.

In their first year of formal schooling at age 7, Finnish children are taught a fairly systematic, code-based approach with primers and workbooks. However, special modified readers are needed, because the Finnish language has many VERY long words ( as many as 20+ letters, very polysyllabic) which would tax the working memory of many small children to sound out and blend. The readers used early on have the words broken into separate syllables so the syllables can be decoded individually, then combined to form a word. This very feature of Finnish -- the word length and number of syllables -- would make it difficult for many young children to read independently at ages 4 or 5, when English-speaking countries introduce formal reading instruction.

However, when they DO start learning to read, most progress quickly, and additional support is provided right away to those who struggle (they have "dyslexia" in Finland, apparently, and similar phonological difficulties in some students to what we have reported in English and other languages). Fully half of all students in Finland receive special education support before they leave school, but they do not need to be labeled or classified to receive this. Some classrooms have two or even THREE teachers assigned so that those who need assistance can work with a teacher and continue to progress! Class sizes are small and teachers often stay with the same class for two or three years.

That students in Finland start formal reading and written language instruction later but make rapid progress should not surprise anyone; our students also start formal instruction later than the U.S. or U.K. but rapidly catch up. That does not mean, of course, that other countries need to copy Finland (or Ontario) in this particular respect. Student success is a product of a number of interacting factors, and it is impossible to separate out a specific one and say that "this" is the reason.

What we should take away from the Finnish example is the commitment at all levels to making students successful, and the incremental and co-ordinated way in which the country moved from its former mediocrity to the higher standard it exemplifies today. Finland developed and implemented its system changes over a 20-30 year period and did so with a lot of consultation and active involvement at all levels. Alas, we in North America at least (and perhaps in the UK -- I can't say) are all too susceptible to "quick fix" solutions that often cause as many problems as they solve. Attempts to "copy" FInland without the reflection and planning that characterized its success are probably doomed to produce insignificant benefit.


I had the pleasure of hearing Sahlberg speak last year; much of what he had to say was new and surprising to me, but I highly recommend his book, which is not one of nostrums but a thoughtful look at how one society revamped its schools to meet its own objectives. Unfortunately in our case, widespread public consensus on the goals and processes of schooling might be much harder to achieve than in Finland.

Susan S.

kenm
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by kenm » Fri Dec 21, 2012 9:23 pm

Susan Godsland wrote:N.B. synthetic phonics practitioners do not recommend trying to teach babies and toddlers to read. The rule of thumb for 'reading readiness' is when a child can speak in whole sentences and participate in everyday conversation.
How is this argument made? It strikes me that speech requires both an understanding that language is a means of communication and coordinated control of a large number of muscles in the mouth and chest. A child whose progress in the first has advanced to understanding simple sentences can take some steps towards learning to read before being able to speak a recognisable word, a fortiori a sentence.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by JIM CURRAN » Fri Dec 21, 2012 9:33 pm

Palisadesk said: "Alas, we in North America at least (and perhaps in the UK -- I can't say) are all too susceptible to "quick fix" solutions that often cause as many problems as they solve. Attempts to "copy" FInland without the reflection and planning that characterized its success are probably doomed to produce insignificant benefit."

I agree Susan.

Rod Everson
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by Rod Everson » Sun Dec 23, 2012 6:00 pm




From what I've read and heard about Finland's educational practice, there is little to no emphasis on teaching children to read before they go to school. Parents are encouraged to read to and with their children, and this is a widespread practice, but formal home teaching is (according to Sahlberg and others) an anomaly. While formal schooling is not begun until age 7, most Finnish children attend daycare and preschools where there is a rich, informal learning environment that builds background knowledge, language skills and introduces (but does not demand) some foundation literacy/numeracy skills.
Susan S.
Perhaps, and yet according to the original article, the majority of 7-year-old Finnish children enter schools able to read.

My point was that where the phonics code in a particular language is very straightforward, then parents, grandparents, and other adults interacting with a young child who is learning to read will naturally point out the obvious phonics structure of that language. This requires no "formal home teaching," but, rather, would be informally passed from adult to child just as most other information is relayed from adults to children in any culture (Sit up, don't pick your nose, say thanks when someone gives you something, say please when you ask for it, etc.)

In English, 99% of adults are incapable of passing on sensible phonics information beyond simple one-to-one letter/sound relationships like "t" is the /t/ sound, and they will mess up approximately 1/3 of these by failing to point out, or not understanding how to point out, that a single letter can represent more than one sound. As a result, children learning to read English remain hopelessly confused about the phonics structure of English, although the majority will figure out enough about the structure to become competent readers eventually.

Again, in my opinion, the reason the Reading Wars are destined to continue ad infinitum is that phonics instruction, even exceptionally concise, consistent, and accurate phonics instruction, is not readily absorbed, or if absorbed, not readily applied, by the visually-challenged child. Furthermore, those visually-challenged children number far more than 1-2% of young children, more like 10-15%, and it is a fact that such children will "appear" to struggle less with initial whole-word instruction than with phonics instruction. So long as we refuse to acknowledge that 10-15%, or downgrade it to 1-2%, the advocates of initial phonics instruction will continue to be proven wrong with a large enough contingent of students that they will not be able to retain the credibility needed to enable the implementation of "concise, consistent, and accurate phonics instruction" across an entire nation. And until that is accomplished, English reading instruction, whether provided by teachers or well-meaning parents, will continue to be a mish-mash, and the Reading Wars will continue.

Is there a solution, if the situation is as I see it? I believe there is, but that solution requires phonics advocates to recognize the vision problem and to abandon the position that 98% of all children (all but that diminutive 1-2%) will learn to read with a good phonics program. In fact, until that position is abandoned the present situation will persist, in which phonics advocates cannot even agree amongst themselves which methods of phonics instruction are most effective (because that pesky 10-15% will struggle regardless of the method.)

I called the head of a Spalding School in Arizona a couple of years ago, a school where each and every teacher was not only trained in the Spalding Method, but was actually hired based upon their familiarity with the method, and where the administration ensured that all teachers were adhering to the method. The principal in charge of the school commented that there will always be those who just don't "get it" and need more that just Spalding. Unfortunately, when I brought up vision issues, my comments generated no recognition of the problem. Until that changes, no specific phonics method will ever be deemed sufficient.

chew8
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 23, 2012 6:29 pm

Rod:

Did the head of that Spalding school say what percentage of his/her pupils didn't 'get it'?

Would you expect the incidence of vision issues in Finland to be similar to that in English-speaking countries?

Jenny C.

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by JIM CURRAN » Sun Dec 23, 2012 7:37 pm

A bit off subject but as far as I am aware individuals in Finland who wish to obtain a marriage license must pass a literacy test.

Heather F
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by Heather F » Sun Dec 23, 2012 9:09 pm

JIM CURRAN wrote:A bit off subject but as far as I am aware individuals in Finland who wish to obtain a marriage license must pass a literacy test.
Gosh, I wonder how hard the literacy test is.
I have read and mentioned previously that Finnish five year olds are already 6 months ahead of their British counterparts in maths. So whatever is going on 'informally' must be significant.

Rod Everson
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by Rod Everson » Tue Dec 25, 2012 4:18 am

chew8 wrote:Rod:

Did the head of that Spalding school say what percentage of his/her pupils didn't 'get it'?

Would you expect the incidence of vision issues in Finland to be similar to that in English-speaking countries?

Jenny C.
No, Jenny, she didn't, but I had the impression that she wasn't talking about children who were not expected to read, but rather that she did routinely run into kids that for some undetermined reason were not able to pick up the Spalding curriculum. I should have asked what portion of them, but didn't.

As for your second question, I would expect it to be similar unless they routinely supplement their winter diets with vitamin D3, as some northern latitude countries do. If they supplement, I would expect a much lower incidence. Interestingly, one country has significantly reduced the recommended level of supplementation over the decades, from 4000 IU per day in the winter, to only 400 IU, I believe. It might be Finland, but I'd have to check. During that time their incidence of juvenile diabetes has accelerated significantly, and if I'm right in suspecting a similar link to various developmental issues, the incidence of their vision issues would also now be approaching the levels we see in the U.S. (And, yes, I realize that this statement is coming "out of the blue," but it's something I think we will eventually find to be relevant.)

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by JIM CURRAN » Wed Dec 26, 2012 1:53 pm

Pasi Sahlberg , the author of “Finnish Lessons” asked a sample of Finnish teachers what things would make them want to quit teaching and the top two things were having inspectors sit in their classrooms and rate them and the use of standardized tests to rate their pupils.

geraldinecarter
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by geraldinecarter » Thu Dec 27, 2012 12:29 am

Ouch!

This was Andrew Adonis' review in 100 best books of 2012 in the New Statesman:
My book of the year is Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg (Teachers College Press, $34.95), an inspirational story of social progress that masquerades as a technical account of the Finnish education system. It includes data from Finnish social surveys showing that Finnish men view teaching as the most desirable profession for a spouse, ahead of nursing, medicine or architecture; and that among Finnish women only medical doctors and vets rate higher than teachers in what Sahlberg calls the “Finnish mating markets”. “This clearly documents both the high professional and social status teachers have attained in Finland,” he adds with dry wit. If only the same were true of England. We could make it so, with a collective will.

Class teacher autonomy would be wonderful but while educationalists etc. here continue to think that c.20% of children have within-child problems and a goodly number have within -family problems coupled with the fact that unambigous instruction in the alphabetic code is not a priority, what is possible?

elsiep
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by elsiep » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:45 am

Are you suggesting that children do not have within-child or within-family problems?

elsie

kenm
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by kenm » Thu Dec 27, 2012 12:01 pm

Andrew Adonis wrote:among Finnish women only medical doctors and vets rate higher than teachers in what Sahlberg calls the “Finnish mating markets”. “This clearly documents both the high professional and social status teachers have attained in Finland,” he adds with dry wit. If only the same were true of England. We could make it so, with a collective will.
Where do you start? At present in the UK, teaching is a job in which for many the stress outweighs the rewards, so there is not a long queue of high achievers from whom the education departments can recruit; and too many of the latter fail to make the best of their students, so that Government interference is an inevitable response to poor results in the schools.
Class teacher autonomy would be wonderful but while educationalists etc. here continue to think that c.20% of children have within-child problems and a goodly number have within -family problems coupled with the fact that unambigous instruction in the alphabetic code is not a priority, what is possible?
Categorisation of children as "with" or "without" problems is not a scientific measure, merely a convenient division into "those I can't teach in these circumstances" and "those I can". Moreover, what is a problem in one society may be a desirable behaviour trait in another.

I suspect that a difference between Finland and the UK of equal importance to the high quality of the teachers is the one quoted by Jim in the starting post of this thread: expert help and advice for new parents from birth to school entry. If Finnish children present fewer problems in school, this is a likely reason.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Why Finland Succeeds

Post by JIM CURRAN » Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:11 pm

UK in family breakdown 'epidemic'


The UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the Western world with just two thirds of children living with both parents, according to research by a global development organisation.

The UK comes only behind Belgium, Latvia and Estonia in the list of countries where both a child's father and mother live in the same household.

The analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that just 68.9 per cent of children live with both parents in the UK, well below the average of 84 per cent.

The figures have been described as symptomatic of an "appalling epidemic of family breakdown" by social justice campaigners.

The lowest percentage of all was in Latvia at 64.9 per cent, while the highest was in Finland where it stood at 95.2 per cent.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/ho ... 32992.html

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