Exploring life in Nordic classrooms

By on 31.08.2017 in Publications

Kristi in actionProfessor Kirsti Klette stands on a chair in a corner of the classroom with her back towards the room. She’s in a hurry. Before the lecture starts in a few minutes, she needs to have fastened the small video camera in the upper corner of the room, and connected it to the computer below.

She jumps down from the chair, rushes out of the room, and comes back with her hand full of cords.

This kind of gymnastics is common for her and her team when they are doing field work and collecting data.

“We have collected a huge amount of unique data, and our preliminary analyses of it shows very interesting results,” Kirsti says eagerly.

Kirsti radiates. It is clear that she loves what she is doing. She is leading JustEd team 3, as well as several other research networks, with the purpose to collect a huge amount of video recordings from Nordic classrooms, and to investigates the impact of different models of classroom instruction on students’ learning by comparing student achievement data with classroom data.

“Primarily, we analyse instructions given by the teacher in classrooms and how autonomously students are working,” Kirsti says. One of the main tasks with investigating qualities of classroom teachings is to use the research findings to improve teacher training. The video recordings will be used at the teacher training departments in Helsinki and Oslo.

A second feature will be to collect a set of video cases from the Nordic countries, focused on innovative teaching in Mathematics and the national language from lower secondary classrooms, and make them available (through an on-line virtual video lab) for collaborative research and teachers’ professional development.

Several hundreds of hours caught on video

During the lesson she sits quietly in the back corner of the classroom, beside her computer. Two videorecorders and two microphones are rigged up in upper corners of the classroom, recording everything that happens in the room.

Kirsti in action 2“I really believe in this material and the method. I can just sit there and relax while everything is recorded. Later, in our lab, we will do the coding,” Kirsti says after the lesson is finished. She has been through this procedure about a hundred times, and she still finds it exciting.

So far, Kirsti and her group has filmed several hundreds of hours of lessons in Norway, Finland and Sweden.

“This winter we were videotaping 16 lessons in mathematics and 16 lessons in mother tongue in the Karlstad region in Sweden. We followed the same design and data collection method as we did for the Helsinki data gathering last year, using portable video labs, illustrative copies of students work and conducting surveys to the students,” Kristi says.

After the data has been collected, which includes power point presentations and handouts of any kind, the researchers follows a strict coding manual developed at Stanford. The project demands 15 terabyte and will be stored for 15 years, and will generate a lot of research.

One of the ambitions for this large project is to test and evaluate how different measures and methodological designs (observation protocols; discourse analyses; ethnographic analyses) provide robust lenses for measuring quality, and equity, in classroom learning.

In a current paper in the European Educational Research Journal, Kirsti and JustEd member Marte Blikstad-Balas, discuss the role of coding and observation manuals in classroom studies (Observation manuals as lenses to classroom teaching: Pitfalls and possibilities). In the paper, Kirsti and Marte argue that if used in a reflexive manner, coding manuals can provide a common language and vocabulary when talking about – and researching – classroom teaching and learning.

Yet, a fourth ambition with the work in JustEd team 3, is to identify high quality teaching that supports equity and justice in education.

Comparing Norwegian and Finnish classrooms

Kirsti and her colleague Bjørn Sverre Gulheim, Data Manager at University of Oslo, collected video recordings in secondary schools in the Helsinki region last year, while the old curricula still was in force.


Bjorn Sverre Gulheim, University of Oslo

“We have video recordings in Mathematics and Language Art before Finland got their current curricula. If we will conduct more recordings in Finland, we will be able to compare how the two curriculas were applied in the classrooms,” Kirsti points out.

During their video recording sessions in Finnish classrooms, Kirsti and Bjørn observed that there are many similarities between Norwegian and Finnish classrooms, and – of course – differences.

“All Finnish teachers have a Master’s Degree in their own field, which seems to give them a clear feeling of expertise and pride. This was very evident in our discussions with the teachers, as well as the good relations between teachers and students. Generally, the teachers seemed to be very careful and willing to see the needs of every individual student,” Kirsti adds.

Another difference Kirsti observed was that in the Finnish classrooms the students worked more independently when solving assigned tasks, when in Norway the students participate more actively in discussions and commenting on what the teacher says. Another observation was that the Norwegian teachers tend to more often give feedback to the students on how they can improve their work or find other ways of solving the assignments.

“Some of our early observations shows differences such as Finnish students being more restless, especially some boys, compared to students in Norwegian classrooms. We also saw an extended use of mobile devices used for pleasure in the Finnish classrooms, students were listening to music and sending messages.”

All these observations, and many other details, are coded and can be used in analyzing e.g. how explicit the teacher explains and teaches, the quality of the discussions and how students are included in discussions, as well as the overall climate in the classroom.

“I have a genuine interest in developing and improving education in our schools,” Kirsti says when asked how come she is so engaged in this project. “I know this data will be very useful.”

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About the Author

About the Author: Journalist currently working as Communications Specialist at the Nordic Centre of Excellence "Justice through Education in the Nordic countries" and in NordForsk's programme "Education for Tomorrow". .


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