Tag Archives: learning

Finland: Educational Principles That Work

Schools with Shorter Days, No Homework and Better Outcomes

 

I’m not a fan of Michael Moore, but I thought his video about education in Finland would get your attention.

Finland, which has ranked at or near the top of countries in international testing, has discovered principles that we at NACD have known and been implementing for almost fifty years.

Finland’s international ranking was based on the PISA test, which is the Program for International Student Assessment test. When the test was administered in 2015, the United States ranked 41st in math, 25th in reading and 26th in science internationally—not so hot! However, we have been close to the top relative to how much we spend per child.

For the past forty-plus years at NACD we have been working with families to help develop and educate their children, applying some of the same basic principles that have helped turn around the educational system in Finland.

For starters, Finland has learned that less can be more. We have always preached neuroplasticity and the associated principles of frequency, intensity and duration, acknowledging that as you increase duration, you generally decrease intensity and as such push too long and less goes in. Finland also has shorter school days. In Finland, elementary students only attend school for twenty hours a week and don’t even start school until they are seven years old. Older students go to school from about 9:00-9:30 a.m. until 2:00-2:45 p.m. and receive no homework or very minimal homework. When able to really individualize, we can generally accelerate a student at home in about half that much time. The more we can individualize, the more we can target the input and educate efficiently and effectively.

In Finland, they give students many 15- to 20-minute breaks during their school day. We encourage parents to work with their children for short periods, followed by breaks. The younger the children, the shorter the work/attention periods—starting literally from seconds and minutes.

Finland has learned to stop teaching to standardized tests. They are not following a ridged, set curriculum and then testing based on that curriculum. Their system gives teachers much more autonomy to individualize and actually teach until the students have learned something. They are also now starting to use what they call phenomenon-based learning, which means that they are exploring a more holistic approach involving students and encouraging them to explore their interests and talents. We incorporate a child-centered approach as much as possible, using the child’s interests and passions to produce more globally-associated knowledge that sticks, while still focusing on the core, accelerating reading and math. We believe in less curriculum/stuff and more in building the educational foundation and creating a more meaningful education. Establish the educational base, turn the children into readers and turn them on to learning.

Finland also has more children receiving special education services than perhaps any other country in the world. But, it is done differently. Just as we do at NACD, they believe that educational issues can and should be addressed and fixed, not labeled and used as an excuse for failure. Children receive what special services they need so that their issues can be resolved and they can move forward unencumbered.

What neither Finland or any country has learned

The real foundation that we at NACD have been building in children is the neurological foundation—short-term memory, working memory and executive function. What the world has yet to realize is that education alone is not enough. If we build the neurological foundation, we make people smarter—much smarter! And smarter is better!

And now for the rest of the story. . . 

—Bob Doman

 

May I Have Your Undivided Attention? Fidget Spinners

 

Let’s just install ceiling fans in every classroom.

Ban Fidget Spinners with Bob Doman of NACDFidget spinners—what a wonderful invention—as though our children need something else to distract them. Let’s give children mini ceiling fans to carry around to help them pay attention—what a great idea! If spinning things help children concentrate, let’s just install ceiling fans in every classroom.

I have been arguing against giving kids on the Autism Spectrum fidgets for years. Do some kids on the spectrum like and want fidgets? Absolutely—they’re addicted to them. A fidget feeds their sensory addictions and helps keep them seated in their classroom chair when what is being presented quite possibly doesn’t fit them and goes on way past their auditory attention span. You attend to what you can process and if the input doesn’t fit your ability to process the information or what is being presented doesn’t match your knowledge/educational base, then you don’t pay attention to it (sadly this describes most children in most classrooms). Unfortunately, the operational definition of educational inclusion for children with developmental problems has really just come down to the kids sitting in desks and not making a fuss while surrounded by typical children. The special needs children then leave the classroom for a resource room where the instruction is hopefully more targeted and appropriate for the child. So, enter the fidget. The theory is that the fidgets help the children on the spectrum pay attention and avoid being distracted. As far as I know, there has been no good research to substantiate this, but I would suspect that if the research were directed at whether a fidget would keep a child sitting for longer periods the results would quite likely be positive. If, however, the study was testing whether the children learned more or if it helped their sensory issues, I believe the answer would be no. There has, however, been extensive research on the effects of any and all distractions while driving (paying attention) and the conclusion is that they are all bad. Try driving and watching your fidget spinner spin. You can give it another twirl if it stops and tell me if it makes you a safer driver.

One of the first things we recommend parents who have children on the spectrum do for their children who engage in visual DSAs (Debilitating Sensory Addictive behaviors), is to remove or a least not turn on any ceiling fans. As most parents with children on the spectrum with visual issues know, the kids will stare at ceiling fans endlessly if given the opportunity. None of these parents will tell you that their child is paying better attention or is more present while staring at the fan. The fan takes them away—it doesn’t help them focus or concentrate. Most visual stims or DSAs involve the child playing with and stimming with their peripheral vision. Your peripheral vision picks up movement and edges, both of which are stimulated in a negative fashion by ceiling fans, fidgets, waving fingers, staring at edges, etc. Fidget spinners not only distract with the visual aspect, but also with an audio and a tactile component—they hum and vibrate while they spin. So let’s have the child’s brain distracted with extraneous visual, auditory and tactile garbage and simultaneously help build a new addiction.

I’m sure to hear from “professionals” out there, particularly occupational therapists who just discovered that children have sensory issues, but having worked with Autistic children for fifty years and having learned how to help normalize their sensory issues, I am confident that feeding their addictions is not in their best interest in the long term. If the motivation and goal is to keep them content, in their seats and quiet at the cost of their development, then. . .

Now, enter the logic that begins with the erroneous premise that if fidgets help kids on the Spectrum pay attention, then perhaps they will help typical kids pay attention. Sadly many, if not most, children have successfully learned not to pay attention already and the last thing they need is another distraction. Parents and teachers often mistake the child looking in your general direction and apparently listening as attending. At best, we often mistake listening for paying attention. Listening is something you do when you’re watching your favorite sporting event and the game is tied with seconds to go and someone talks to you about the weather. Listening is something you do when you’re talking to someone on the phone while you’re checking your email. Ask the child who appears to be “listening” to repeat the last sentence of something you just said or read to them. When we talk about learning we are talking about changing the brain and to change the brain we need to put in specific appropriate input with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration. Of the three components, intensity is the most important. Intensity means focus and focus means that I have your undivided attention. We need to help teach children to focus and give undivided attention, otherwise parents and teachers are largely talking to themselves.

If we want to be proactive and improve focus and attention, we need to do a better job of targeting the input to fit the child. Teaching algebra to a child who still is struggling with basic math isn’t going to work. Speaking in paragraphs to a child who has difficulty following a two- or three-step direction doesn’t work. Making many children sit in a chair and attend for more than ten minutes without letting them get up and move around a bit generally doesn’t work either. We need to pay attention to the individual and teach to their knowledge level so they have some context within which to associate the information. We need to be aware of the child’s processing ability (short –term and working memory) and target the structure of the input to fit them. We need to provide educational environments as free of extraneous distractions as possible—not contribute to them—and we need to focus upon the neurodevelopmental foundation and help build the child’s ability to learn, communicate and function.

Many children across the county are learning not to attend, not be present and sadly are learning that learning itself isn’t fun, isn’t exciting and that it doesn’t work for them.

Ban Fidget Spinners!

—Bob

Educating for Excellence – Cougars in the Backyard

I just received a video created by two of our NACD boys—Matthew, 16, and Harrison, 14. My sister Ellen, who is directing their programs, gave these two homeschooled boys the assignment to create a unit study documentary.

We feel very strongly about inquiry-based, student-based learning. The boys might not know it, but what they are doing is called autodidactic learning. A good example of an autodidactic learner, or self-taught learner, was Leonardo da Vinci. History is full of many such self-taught, self-motivated inquiring minds that were given or took the opportunity to experience and interact with the learning experience and to create excellence. I would love to see more of our children be given the time and opportunity to have such real learning experiences. Learning to learn and not needing to be spoon-fed is necessary if we are going to assist our children in achieving excellence.

Matthew, Harrison, and the rest of the Murphy family–well done! I hope your documentary inspires other students to explore, investigate, and discover how really cool learning is.

Oh, and guys, I have seen cougars in my backyard.