Our first day of school will involve each homeroom teacher welcoming their flock back and going through all the necessary admistrative and other details and paperwork with them. It's also an occasion to motivate and inspire students for a fresh new start.
Today I started thinking about our school development group's achievement from last year - a slideshow on guiding students how to gradually be more self-directed.
The ideas of the slides were compiled by our development team by studying literature and research on motivation, learning to learn, lifelong learning etc. and also visiting experts on these fields at Finnish universities for consultation. All the ideas were also passed through all the staff, and revised accordingly. This was done with the hope of all teachers committing themselves to applying these principles in their lesson plans by varying their teaching methods to help different students learn to learn. The visual look of the slides was developed by a group of students, some of whom also adjusted the Finnish language to sound right for teenagers (the English translation you see here is mine).
On the first day of school, each homeroom teacher is going to introduce the slides to their group in a way that they feel comfortable with - some may use drama, others more traditional class discussions. As in our school system senior high school is an optional establishment (about half of 16-year-olds choose a more practical-oriented vocational school instead, some even enter the working life at 16). In Finnish 'senior high school' is called 'lukio', which is derived from the verb 'lukea', meaning 'to read'. This clearly indicates that it is a rather academic type of school preparing many students for later university studies, and thus it is generally believed that students at this level should be capable of studying much like at college. This belief is reflected in the very structure of our senior high schools, which is rather unique in the whole world. The underlying idea is that students compile their own yearly schedules from a choice of courses, which, in our school, looks like this.
Every year students choose one course on each of the horizontal lines with the aim of getting together the required minimum of 75 courses to graduate. The number of compulsory courses per subject varies, and depending on their preferences and plans, students then choose any number of optional courses in different subjects. They can, for example, focus on mathematics, physics and chemistry and only study the bare minimum of humanistic subjects. Or they can take several courses in history and social studies, and only fewer courses of lower-level mathematics. Many different combinations are possible. In practice, it means that students don't study with the same group or with the same subject teacher all the time, but with different teachers and students and following their own schedule that changes 5 times a year, ie. we work in 5 different grading periods. Also students' school days may be very different. Because of this unusual structure of the school, I would actually like to talk about the Finnish lukio even in English, since translating it into senior high school or secondary school or anything else is rather misleading.
Most students spend 3 years in senior high school, but 4 years is gradually becoming more common, which is often due to students slacking, ie. only choosing very few courses for some grading periods. Because they can. There is no denying that it is a demanding system, and unsurprisingly, not all students can handle the freedom they are given responsibly and wisely. We developed these levels of study skills as a tool to make students aware of how they could cope and develop themselves better. Not all of them starting at senior high school at 16, are even at level 1, whereas some get stuck on that level and waste their time on rote learning their textbooks and still wonder why their results aren't improving. In my school, it's rare to meet anybody at level 5. Most students need a lot of scaffolding and guidance.
We also have a much more detailed teacher's version of the levels with suggestions on how teachers could develop themselves to facilitate student learning. The teachers' version is in the form of a wiki that is supposed to be built together once we have more experience of working with this model. Hopefully the wiki will start 'living' next year after the initial sceptical opposition of many colleagues.