Team learning –

a valuable tool for the 21st century skills

Learning in the Finnish high school has previously had a strong focus on the individual student and the Matriculation Examination. Learning and teaching both, have been lonely jobs. Today, there is a change towards more collaborative methods.


In the autumn 2016 schools in Finland started to work with the new core curriculum, and we were definitely taking a step into a new direction. The new core curriculum emphasizes co-operation, student-centered methods, problem-based approaches and the use of technology. But still, the students are too often educated into a system where they are told what to learn, how to learn and when to learn. It’s extremely important to teach the students to take responsibility of their own studying and to become more aware of themselves as learners. I strongly believe that when students “own” their own learning, learning becomes more meaningful and interesting.

21st century skills

Finnish high schools have used different team learning methods several years already. The goal is to develop a learning environment, where the teachers more or less “coach” the students in their studies. Teachers focus on personalized learning environments and do it together. Teachers work as a team to plan, execute and assess learning. Problem-based and phenomenon-based methods are often used and of course students work in teams.


Team leaning is not a new pedagogical tool. For example, Team-based learning (TBL) is a collaborative learning and teaching strategy that enables people to follow a structured process to enhance student engagement and the quality of learning. The term and concept were first popularized by Larry Michaelsen at the University of Oklahoma, as early as the 1970s. After that it has been a popular training tool in the corporate world and especially after 1990 when Peter Senge introduced the “learning organization” concept.
Team learning is based on four underlying principles: team formation, student accountability, carefully designed learning assignments and frequent and immediate feedback. In team learning the team plays, of course, the major part. So, what makes a team a good learning group? Teachers have used learning groups for ages, what makes this so special?

The key is collaboration, one of the key skills of the 21st century learner. To me the difference between cooperation and collaboration is as follows: cooperation can be defined as working together to accomplish a goal or goals. A cooperative task can be divided among the participants so that each person is only responsible for their own part of the task. The group is usually more focused on the end product, than working together. Collaboration then again is working and thinking together to accomplish a shared goal. Successful collaboration requires participants to share knowledge in interaction. Collaboration requires dialogue throughout the process to have a shared vision and a goal.

In team learning there is a high positive interdependence. Team members are responsible for their own and each other’s learning. They promote each other’s success and do real work together. Help and support each other. In team learning the teamwork skills are emphasized, the members are taught and expected to use their social skills. And what is important, group’s continuous improvement is emphasized, and they are given immediate feedback on their success.

This post was first published on my partner organisation’s page http://learningscoop.fi/

Phenomenon Based Learning

Phenomenon Based learning (PhenoBL) was introduced in the Finnish Core Curriculum 2014. It is a form of webbed integration and thematic teaching. Different topics are studied from an interdisciplinary perspective. One could also argue that it is one type of a Content Based Instruction (CBI) model or Problem Based learning (PBL) or Inquiry learning. The city of Helsinki has made PhenoBL as one of their major target areas in instruction and all the K-12 schools are expected to include PhenoBL units in their curricula.


According to Silander (2015) PhenoBL starts from holistic real-world phenomena as the starting point. The phenomena are studied as complete entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied interdisciplinary. It differs from the traditional school which is divided into subjects, where the things studied are often decontextualized, making it sometimes problematic for the students to understand larger concepts and the relationships between different phenomena.

The PhenoBL structure creates excellent opportunities for integrating different subjects as well as the systematic use of pedagogically meaningful methods, such as Inquiry Learning, Project and/or Problem Based Learning (PBL), and portfolios. (Silander, 2015) One aspect of PhenoBL is that questions and problems arise from the learners. Under the given phenomena learners together, collaboratively pose the questions and problems they want to study.

Aki Luostarinen: Ilmiöprosessin suunnittelu – planning the learning process


PhenoBL also emphasizes that knowledge needs to be presented in authentic contexts. It can be seen as a continuum form the Situated Learning Theory (Jean Lave) and Anchored Learning, where the settings and situations that would normally involve that knowledge are an essential part of the learning. Learning, both outside and inside school, develops through collaborative social interaction and the social construction of knowledge. Situated learning is related to Vygotsky’s notion of learning through social development and it can also be traced to Dewey’ s Pedagogic Creed “I believe, therefore, that the true center of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities” (Dewey, 1897, p.78)

A list of reflective questions to use with your team

When working with your team, its necessary for you to reflect on your work regularly. Here is a list of reflective questions you can use:

A list of Reflective questions

Answer the questions first by yourself. Then share your answers with the team, do you agree or disagree?

Can you state the purpose of this group as well as the routines and procedures?
Do people on the team know who you are and what you have to offer?
Do you feel like a valued member of the team with equal voice?

Are you clear on why you are a member of this team and what part you play?
Do you feel that someone needs to tell the team what to do?
Is there confusion about goals, roles, timelines, or tasks?

Are there disagreements within or outside of meeting times?
Are people choosing sides or forming cliques?
Are some people just doing their own thing?

Is there intolerance for different opinions?
Is leadership shared among members?
Is the team focused on the quality of their work and communication?

Do people trust each other?
Are you honest with your team members?
Does the dialogue follow the guidelines of voicing, listening, suspending and respecting?

Are you proud of the quality of work your team produces?
Is the team analyzing their work and learning from their mistakes?
Is the team dedicated to helping each other learn and grow?

Are conflicts handled in respectful and helpful ways?
Are you celebrating your success regularly?

a list of Reflective questions

Professional learning community (PLC)

The term professional learning community is used in various ways. It can be used to describe every possible action that takes place in the field of education, as long as multiple persons are involved. It can refer to a grade level teaching team, a school committee, a department in a school, a whole school district, a national professional association, and so on. This is probably the most common form of collaboration or team work in all the schools around the world.

In my school we use teams for two different purposes. First, we have teams that organize the everyday life in school. One team that takes care of all the events we have, one team to organize PD events and materials for our teachers (I belong to this team and will write about it more later on), one team to take care of our international collaboration projects with European schools, one team to take care of the emotional well-being of students and personnel, and so on.

Second, we form a team to plan and execute the team-based learning unit that we have every year. We start the forming of the teacher team in the spring. The team usually consists of 5 teachers from different academic fields. One of the goals of the unit is to give the students possibilities to work on cross-curricular topics. The planning of the unit starts with setting the goals and common values. This phase usually takes a lot of time, because the teachers have to familiarize themselves with all the curriculums for the different subjects and then set COMMON goals. Sometimes it helps if the team decides on different roles to help goal setting. Here is one example of a handout you can use:

Roles handout

2016-02-25 07.11.13

Richard DuFour in his book Learning by Doing (2006),  introduces some principles that should be applied when talking about professional learning communities.

1. The very core of a PLC is the focus and the commitment to the learning of all students. To be able to do this the members of the PLC must have a clear vision what the values and visions of the organization are. The assumption is that if the organization wants to become better in helping the students learn, the teachers must also be learners.

2. Collaborative teams that are working towards a common goal form the PLC. The team members work interdependently to ensure learning for all. Collaboration is a way to get to the results. “In a PLC, collaboration represents a systematic process in which teachers work together interdependently in order to impact their classroom practice in ways that will lead to better results for their students, for their team, and for their school.”

3. The teams are action orientated and engage in collective inquiry. They are interested in both best practices in learning as well as teaching. They understand that the most powerful learning involves action. Learning by doing develops a deeper understanding than just learning by reading or thinking. Teams are also constantly searching for better ways and do not settle for status quo. They implement new ideas and strategies, analyze change and apply knowledge for continuous improvement.

4. Finally, the members of PLC teams understand that their work must be continuously assessed. Ongoing assessment of the concrete results helps the teams to develop and improve.

 

 

 

 

Team based learning and my school

The learning in the Finnish high school has previously had a strong focus on the individuals and the Matriculation Examination. Learning and teaching have both been lonely jobs. Today, there is a change towards more collaborative methods, but the change is slow.

In fall 2016 the schools in Finland started to work with the new core curriculum, and we were definitely taking a step into a new direction. The new core curriculum emphasizes co-operation, student-centered methods, problem-based approaches and the use of technology. But, the students are still too often educated into a system where they are told what to learn, how to learn and when to learn. I want to teach the students to take responsibility of their own studying as a way to become more aware of themselves as learners. I strongly believe that when students “own” their own learning, learning becomes more meaningful and interesting.

In my school, we have experimented with team-based learning (TBL) for four years. Our goal is to develop a learning environment, where the teachers more or less “coach” the students in their studies. We focus on personalized learning environments and we do it together. Teachers work as a team to plan, execute and assess learning. We use problem-based and phenomenon-based methods and students also work in teams.

Our next collaboratively planned unit for our freshmen class will start in two weeks (October 1st). In the unit we’ll combine 5 subjects: Two languages English and Finnish (students’ mother tongue), Social Studies, Sports and Student counselling. There are six teachers who plan, execute and assess the unit. I will write more about the planning and also the execution later on, so don’t forget to subscribe to get the new posts! If you are in Facebook, I’ll share there photos and videos from the unit so join my community there as well.

IMG_3067
One of the first planning sessions last spring

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