Adapted and condensed by James Cordonero
There is a growing number of teachers in different subjects trying to hone their pedagogical skills, and those who want to go the extra mile turn their eyes to other countries to find ideas about continuous professional development (CPD).
According to David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, we should keep track of what is taking place abroad in terms of professional development. However, he further states, “It takes a number of different levers to change what’s happening in a large complicated system, but professional development is going to be an important one.”
Bearing that in mind, the following is but a small sample of the world’s education success stories:
Languages: Malta and Sweden
The route to success in language teaching lies in a complex multitude of factors, from the curriculum to the culture and geography of a country. But, despite the caveats, teachers can still take ideas and inspiration from abroad.
In 2011, the European Survey on Language Competences highlighted Malta and Sweden as leaders in pupils’ foreign language achievements. The reason is simple: they speak the languages at home. In both countries, English is spoken by nearly 90% of the population and the media is in both native and foreign languages.
Nevertheless, it’s not all about home-schooling: effective teaching supports the multilingual culture. In Malta, for instance, language teachers report high levels of funding and, for pupils, it’s given prominence in the curriculum. Students’ attitudes may also make a difference to learning approaches: in Malta and Sweden, students say they find learning English easy – an attitude not found in other countries.
It is almost impossible to replicate the same level of language immersion that students in Sweden and Malta experience, but the techniques have nevertheless begun to emerge in the some countries such as the UK. In Bohunt School in Hampshire, for example, each new year a group is assigned a language, be it French, Spanish or Chinese. Then, lessons in ICT (Information and Communications Technology), art, PE, social studies and after-school activities are taught in that language.
Teacher’s professional development: Japan
Japan has become a notable case study for CPD, with a system that was a well-kept secret for decades. The Lesson Study scheme originated in the nineteenth century, and provides a structured program for peer-to-peer development.
Collaborating with a group of teachers, a lesson is planned, observed and analyzed. Together, the teachers learn from each other, and share insights into their pedagogy. The result is a more open and public forum for education, where there may be as many teachers as children in a classroom.
Critics say it creates an unnatural environment in schools, but the Japanese system has already been adopted by teachers across Asia and is quickly finding its feet in Europe.
Furthermore, the Lesson Study model has itself become internationally collaborative, as the system evolves in unique ways in each new country. Japan’s most important lesson is the importance of collaboration in professional development.
Along with other East Asian countries, Singapore has been hailed for its innovative maths education, producing world-class results.
In Singapore, learning times tables parrot fashion is frowned upon. Children are encouraged to develop core maths skills in creative, noisy classrooms, using props and diagrams to explain abstract concepts. The system, which was developed in the 1980s, couldn’t be more different from the traditional approach used in other countries where students s are still encouraged to do rote-learning without making sense out of how time tables work.
Singapore’s success has caught the attention of schools in the USA, where some have adopted the system and it has enjoyed rave reviews. As always though, teachers’ pedagogy is only part of the equation. A recent study, which highlighted Singapore’s success, also claimed: “An early start is crucial in shaping children’s numeracy skills.”
Social and emotional learning: Sweden and USA
A British scholar recently explored classrooms in the US and Sweden to find out how they approached social and emotional learning.
“The classrooms are full of mood meters and feelings charts as well as quiet areas that pupils can go to think, problem solve, reflect and resolve disputes using clearly-defined steps,” she writes about the US. “At the heart of the American school day is the importance of patriotism, national pride and the American flag.”
Although the approach stems from classroom culture, schools also use more formal frameworks to develop emotional learning, such as the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP). At the heart of the scheme is strong CPD, with a focus on teacher training and classroom management.
It’s a far cry from the freedom and autonomy found in Swedish schools. There, social and emotional learning is tied up with an emphasis on self-motivation. Pupils are encouraged to think independently, and have individualized guidance from teachers.