A little bit of Finland in Massachusetts

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My daughter attends an elementary school where she calls her Teachers by their first name, including the Principal. She does not get grades and she does not have tests; except for a few quizzes.  She also gets very little homework.  The school culture is less formal and desks are arranged in groups rather than in rows. Many people are surprised when I tell them she attends a public school. They expect this type of culture from a private school.  When we moved to our town we knew that we would have a choice of elementary schools and the elementary school we chose happens to be very unique.  Some of the other elementary schools in the town have the traditional style desks in a row and one elementary school has looping, which means they have the same teacher for two years in a row. (This was our second choice of schools in our district).

There is not much of a difference among the elementary schools MCAS scores except that some elementary schools may test higher on math than reading, but for the most part they are fairly even with a small standard deviation.  Did it matter which school my daughter went to in our district? If we chose the more traditional style classroom would she have scored lower or higher on her MCAS scores? I now strongly believe her love of learning would have been quite different if she attended one of the traditional elementary schools.  My feeling is that if my daughter was tested on a regular basis she would have been turned off to learning. She is a perfectionist, and if she was graded and tested and she did not score perfect on every test, she would of shut down.  Of the few quizzes she had, she placed a heavy emphasis on making sure she got a 100%. When she didn’t, it was a long evening at home. Imagine if she was tested regularly?  Fortunately, we picked the right school, otherwise, we would have been spending a significant amount of time with the school counselor.

Finland is getting a significant amount of attention because they have some of the highest test scores in the world and many educators are very interested and active in researching their schools education system and trying to find out how they are having this success.  The Finland school system has some similar characteristics as my daughters school. Students in  Finland call teachers by their first name; they don’t get tested until they go to high school, the culture is less formal, and they are encouraged to “discover” how to solve problems in creative, innovative ways.  They also stay with the same teacher for many years.

Finland’s primary focus seems to be to encourage and cultivates the joy of learning.  Isn’t this what we want to teach our children, to be life long learners? I am intrigued and want to learn more about this, but it certainly raises my concern over how much of an emphasis we put on testing. I am worried that we are neglecting to teach our children the confidence to solve problems on their own, that creativity does not have any barriers, and learning is not always something that is measured, tested and given a grade.

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