Discussion turned next to the way Finnish teachers are prepared. Heidi Krzywacki provided an overview of the Finnish approach. Anu Laine of the University of Helsinki followed up with a close look at the role that practice teaching plays in the preparation of mathematics teachers at the University of Helsinki and then used two examples to illustrate how video is used as part of teacher supervision.
Krzywacki noted that, though there are some variations across teacher preparation institutions in Finland, teacher education is fairly consistent across the nation, particularly compared with the approach in the United States. Under the education system adopted in the 1970s (see Chapter 2), the government required that all teachers should have at least a master’s degree. However, there are some differences in the way primary school teachers (grades 1 through 6), who are usually qualified to teach all school subjects at primary school level, and subject matter teachers (grades 7 through 12) are prepared. Subject matter teachers are usually qualified to teach two subjects, typically the areas of their college major and minor, such as mathematics and physics. Preparation for both of these roles takes 5 years of university study: 3 years to earn a bachelor’s degree and 2 additional years to earn a master’s degree.
Primary teachers major in education (educational sciences or educa-
tional psychology), and multidisciplinary studies. Courses in teaching and learning particular school subjects, such as mathematics, biology, Finnish language, are required for becoming a qualified teacher at the primary level. There are some students each year in primary teacher education who minor in mathematics. This refers to their qualification as mathematics teachers at lower secondary school level. Primary teachers have mathematics in their compulsory minor in a multidisciplinary course, but it is elementary mathematics especially focusing on teaching and learning elementary school mathematics. For subject matter teachers (upper secondary level) the emphasis is reversed; they are required to major in mathematics and minor in education (pedagogical studies), and in practice, they also minor in another school subject. This qualifies them as teachers in those two subjects at lower and upper secondary levels.
The admissions requirements also vary somewhat for these two pathways, which are both rather competitive. The competition for the elementary education is very stiff, with a 7–8 percent acceptance rate; subject matter (high school) varies by content area, but was about 57 percent in mathematics in 2015. For example, she noted that applicants for the University of Helsinki program that prepares primary education teachers must take a two-phase entrance exam. All applicants (1,807 in 2015) take part in a test on literature that is common for all elementary teacher education units in Finland. Based on the results, 240 applicants were invited to the second phase, interviews, and 120 candidates were accepted in the program. There are also interviews for applicants who aim at becoming secondary school teachers.
The competitiveness of these programs illustrates the desirability of the teaching profession in Finland, which helps ensure that the strongest students become teachers, Krzywacki observed.
There are nine universities located around the country in Finland that provide teacher education. Students who hope to become subject matter teachers may also complete some of their pedagogical studies in other institutions, such as polytechnics (universities of applied sciences). There are also 11 teacher training schools that provide research-based guided training, teaching, and continuing education. Faculty members in these programs are responsible not only for teaching but also for supervising prospective teachers and providing in-service education for practicing teachers. These faculty mentors receive additional salary for overseeing individual students and play a key role in helping the student teachers integrate research and practice.
Research is highly valued in Finland’s education system and is emphasized at all institutions and for all types of teachers. Teachers who have earned doctoral degrees are expected to conduct their own research. Also, practicing teachers are expected to use their own and others’ research in their instruction. Prospective teachers not only learn about the research literature in their areas of study but also learn formal research skills as part of their master’s degree program. They complete a research-based master’s thesis, she noted, and are given many opportunities to practice argumentation, decision making, marshaling of evidence, and the use of inquiry to solve pedagogical problems.
Krzywacki described a few challenges that lie ahead for mathematics educators in Finland. Primary and secondary students’ interest in mathematics has been declining, and their skills have dipped as well. She also expressed concern that students seem not to enjoy school and are not highly motivated by their studies. College students are correspondingly less interested in studying mathematics.
Teaching practice is an important element of the preparation of primary teachers at the University of Helsinki, Laine explained. She used a graph (see Figure 4-1) to illustrate the components of the work students complete over the 5 years it takes to earn a master’s degree. The students earn 300 credits (or 180 for a bachelor’s degree), which cover the student’s disciplinary focus, other disciplines, and pedagogical studies, as Krzywacki explained. Twenty of the credits are earned through teaching practice, Laine explained, and these are completed in the first, third, and fifth years of the master’s program.
The practice experiences in the first and third years take place in university-sponsored teacher training schools under the guidance of professional mentors, many of whom are Ph.D.-level researchers. The final, advanced practice experience takes place in a network of field schools associated with the university—teachers in those schools are required to have taken a course in mentoring student teachers. The role of supervisor is very desirable and comes with a salary supplement, Laine noted, so there are many candidates for those roles. The student teachers work in pairs through most of these experiences and thus learn from their peers and their supervisors at both the university and the field school in which they are placed.
The primary objective for the practice experiences is to allow students to combine theory and practice. Laine explained that these experiences help students mature as teachers who “think pedagogically,” find their place in the profession, and become aware of their own “practical theories and views about educational matters.”
Videos of prospective educators teaching can help them improve their practice, Laine noted. One example of this is a European Union–funded project called ACTTEA (for action-oriented teacher knowledge, or act-tea), in which the university of Helsinki and other institutions collaborated.1 This program focuses on helping prospective teachers develop the capacity to learn effectively from their practical experiences. Reflective analysis does not come naturally—it can reinforce teachers’ existing beliefs, rather than challenge their assumptions (Mena-Marcos et al., 2009, 2013). “Your knowledge grows when you understand what happened and why. We always say that it’s important to reflect,” but it is not always easy to see what is most valuable. An effective mentor can pose questions that challenge learning teachers to gain more from reflection.
Participants in the ACTTEA project developed a procedure to guide prospective teachers in reflecting on a videotaped lesson (see Figure 4-2). In the exercise, student teachers watch a videotape of a lesson of their own teaching in which the focus is on their actions. The prospective teachers are asked to identify the two most important incidents in the lesson, one positive and one challenging, and reflect on those incidents either individually or with their peers and supervisors. They describe why these incidents were important and what they reveal, and then write responses to questions about how they might use the reflection in their own practice. It is much easier to analyze what they did in the lesson when they have the chance to watch it repeatedly, Laine observed.
Applying Video Taping at the University of Helsinki
Videotaping the lessons of prospective teachers is also an important part of the University of Helsinki program, Laine noted. At one time,
faculty supervisors could observe each pair of prospective teachers for a total of 3 hours, and spend 6 hours meeting with them to review their progress. Budget cuts at the university required the faculty to reduce the supervision to 1 hour per student, which would include any reflection on the discussion of the lesson. To compensate for this reduction, Laine and her colleagues looked to the ACTTEA example and developed a structure for supervising the prospective teachers using videotapes.
The structure begins with orientation for the prospective teachers, who then have clinical meetings during which they make plans for the lessons that will be videotaped, such as deciding how they might use manipulatives.2 After the first set of lessons is recorded, the prospective teachers meet in small groups. Then a second set of lessons is recorded, and the groups meet again. The discussions cover topics in mathematics instruction as well as motivating students, developing effective questions, using manipulatives, and communicating clearly.
Laine and her colleagues have used this approach for 2 years and have collected feedback. Prospective teachers reported that they found many benefits in the experience, including the opportunities to see their peers’ approaches to teaching the same lesson and have a different perspective on their own teaching. They have noted that they are well prepared for the videotaped lessons and learned from that experience. They also reported that the discussions were fast paced and helped them move beyond the single lesson to its implications for more general ideas about mathematics teaching.
The prospective teachers also described some challenges, Laine noted. Many said they found the experience “scary” and were nervous about seeing themselves on videotape. Some worried that the videos did not show entire lessons, so some of the aspects of the teaching may have been lost. Some also noted that, because the camera does not film the pupils, their reactions and contributions to the give and take of the lesson are not clear.
The prospective teachers suggested that using video more frequently would help them become more comfortable with the exercise, and that discussing the videos in even smaller groups would also make the experience easier. Some thought it would be useful to see and discuss videotapes from prior sessions. They also noted that it would be helpful to have
2 Manipulatives, sometimes called manipulables, are objects such as blocks, peg boards, bead counters, or representations of fractions that students can use to explore mathematics concepts.
lessons with a broader range of grade levels, since it would provide valuable comparisons.3
Participants worked in small groups to identify questions for discussion. They clarified several points about how the University of Helsinki teacher preparation program uses videotapes, focusing on the kinds of feedback the prospective teachers receive. They receive feedback from the faculty, but do not receive formal evaluations, one person commented. The peer discussions also provide key feedback, Laine agreed, but she noted that the students tend to be very polite to their peers and to focus on very positive feedback. She observed that they need practice and guidance in giving feedback that is negative in a constructive way.
Participants had a number of ideas for doing this. One noted how important it is to create a safe environment so the prospective teachers feel comfortable acknowledging the ways they have struggled. Another suggested requiring that all of the prospective teachers include some areas for improvement in their comments about their peers’ lessons, so it will be understood that everyone can improve and that no lesson is perfect. Another noted that it is important to create a framework within which to critique lessons. Japanese lesson studies, this person noted, provide some criteria for students to consider when they review lessons, such as time spent on different components of the lesson, clarity of expression, and so forth.
Another participant pointed out that it is important for the discussions to explore the significance of different types of mistakes that prospective teachers make. Looking at the work produced by the kids in the lesson is a useful strategy, another noted. The prospective teachers can examine the different kids’ problem-solving strategies and relate what they observe to the teaching that is shown in the videotaped lesson. Interviewing kids to better understand their thinking is also valuable, one person commented. All of these strategies, another added, are ways to help the prospective teachers look at their own learning more objectively and begin to focus on linking what they do in lessons to mathematics concepts and insights about kids’ learning.