Nordic teachers struggle to provide independent learning support



Teachers know that learning is not about memorizing facts, but about providing students with the support and skills they need to solve problems independently and understand different subjects.

Findings from the Nordic Center of Excellence QUINT – Quality in Nordic Teaching, highlighted two areas where teachers struggle to teach students: the quality of feedback on student work and the provision of learning strategies. ‘learning.

Researchers argue that emphasis should be placed on improving these two aspects of teaching in teacher education programs.

Missed opportunities for reading comprehension in the language arts

A recent study by the QUINT Center found that language arts teachers often miss opportunities to advance students’ understanding of texts, even in lessons focused on reading text and solving complex tasks. The study examined 237 lessons from 62 lower secondary classrooms in Norway and Sweden, using video observation.

Researchers Michael Tengberg (University of Karlstad), Marte Blikstad-Balas (University of Oslo) and Astrid Roe (University of Oslo) wanted to know what was happening in classrooms where teachers encouraged students to work with textual understanding. They found evidence that explicit strategic instruction and cognitively challenging tasks were rare, even in lessons focused on in-depth text comprehension.

Professor Michael Trengberg of Karlstad University.

Reading comprehension is vital for the advancement of education and is the cornerstone of lifelong learning. Helping students progress in reading comprehension requires strategies that students can use to make sense of a text, such as making predictions, identifying central ideas, and questioning the text.

But as Professor Michael Tengberg explains, “What we saw in many classrooms were models of in-the-moment decision-making by teachers, where activities that provided opportunities to interpret and meaning from a text were missed. For example, we saw how the procedural aspects of completing an assignment often took precedence over more intellectually demanding tasks. Teachers would focus on things like understanding difficult words, plot summaries, or personal associations with the text, rather than helping students construct their own interpretation of the text.

This emphasis on assignment procedures and superficial aspects of understanding limits the possibilities for what researchers call “higher-order thinking” by students.

As research professor Astrid Roe explains, “These types of reading comprehension assignments should equip students with questions and strategies that help them derive meaning and meaning from text. But we have seen that many opportunities to do so have been missed because teachers have become preoccupied with helping students complete the assignment, sometimes even providing the students with the answers. »

Not an isolated problem

The problems observed were not associated with poor classroom behavior or assignments that were not designed to promote understanding. Instead, teachers seemed to lack appropriate strategies to support students who asked for help without degrading the intellectual challenge of an assignment. For example, students who had difficulty forming an interpretation of a text were often asked to write a plot summary instead.

Similarly, when students struggled to make sense of a specific aspect of a story they had read, teachers often provided them with a potential interpretation.

The study also found that teachers very rarely questioned students’ original interpretation or asked them to justify their interpretation with evidence from the text.

“It’s pretty clear that providing this type of education is difficult for teachers, it’s not an isolated problem. We believe that teacher training and professional development programs need to address this issue. Teachers need support and time to develop a repertoire to teach relevant strategies, and they need good role models for how this type of teaching can be delivered,” says Tengberg.

The researchers emphasize that the study does not try to criticize the way teachers teach or focus on what they should be doing differently.

Professor Marte Blikstad-Balas from the University of Oslo.

Professor Marte Blikstad-Balas from the University of Oslo.

“We know how difficult it can be to teach multiple students at once, and how tempting it can sometimes be to just solve a student’s task so that we can move on to other students and help them. What we wanted to do in this study was to systematically map out what happens in lessons that begin with an emphasis on reading comprehension, but then end with low cognitive challenge and no strategic instruction. We have found some important models which are described in detail in the article. We think this knowledge is really valuable, as it illustrates how in-the-moment decision-making – which all teachers have to do – impacts the quality of teaching,” says Professor Marte Blikstad-Balas.

Trends in Nordic classrooms

The study is one of many recent and upcoming studies from the QUINT Center, which conducts classroom research in the five Nordic countries using video observation as its main source of data. Regular classes in social studies, math and language arts were videotaped, each for four consecutive days.

The data covers over 150 different lower secondary classes and 600 lessons across the five Nordic countries, and is used in a number of different studies focusing on different aspects of teaching quality.

“We see some trends emerging in our analyzes of these classrooms, and one of them is that good feedback and so-called “scaffolding techniques” for students are generally lacking. There are differences between countries and topics, but it’s definitely a common theme,” says Kirsti Klette, QUINT Center Director.

Earlier this year, Klette, together with Roar Bakken Stovner, published a study on feedback in Norwegian mathematics classrooms.

“There was, on average, more concrete feedback given to students in the math classes than in the language arts classes in our sample. We suspect it has to do with the nature of the two subjects; in mathematics, you have an answer to a problem, and usually a very specific way of reaching that answer, whereas when interpreting a literary text you don’t,” Klette explains.

However, the type of feedback in math lessons tended to be more procedural than conceptual.

“We focused less on the conceptual foundations of the problems than on the procedure for solving them. There are a number of possible reasons for this, one is that this is how math teachers themselves were taught to solve such problems. But there seems to be room to train math teachers on how to communicate math concepts when giving feedback to students,” Klette says.

Research professor Astrid Roe (left) presents the results of the study during a workshop with Kirsti Klette (right) at the University of Oslo.

Research professor Astrid Roe (left) presents the results of the study during a workshop with Kirsti Klette (right) at the University of Oslo.

Using video to help with teacher training

One of the areas explored by QUINT researchers is the use of classroom video footage as a tool for teacher professional development:

“In both Sweden and Norway, we work systematically with teachers over time. We see a lot of great results from studies where teachers see images of classrooms and can review them with an instructor. It’s much easier to understand what ‘good teaching’ is when you can see concrete examples of it,” says Roe.

The QUINT Center has several ongoing projects that examine the use of classroom video recordings as a tool to support initial and in-service teacher training. These teachers and student teachers also have the opportunity to analyze their own practices.

“Teachers often find it a little daunting at first,” says Blikstad-Balas, “seeing yourself on camera and going over things you could have done differently in class can be uncomfortable. But the feedback we get is that teachers find this extremely valuable in the end, as they get the opportunity to reflect on what they are doing, what they don’t have time for at the moment.

The results of several studies on the use of video in teacher training will be published by the end of 2024.

The QUINT Center

The QUINT center is funded by NordForsk and has nine research projects that use video observation in the study of teaching and in teacher training.


M. Tengberg, M. Blikstad-Balas and A. Roe. Missed opportunities for text-based teaching: what characterizes performance learning if strategies are not taught and students are not challenged? Teaching and teacher training, flight. 115, 2022. DOI: 10/1016/j.tate.2022.103698

RB Stovner and K. Klette. Teacher Feedback on Procedural Skills, Conceptual Understanding, and Mathematical Practices: A Video Study in Lower Secondary Mathematics Classrooms, Teaching and teacher training, flight. 110, 2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.tate.2021.103593

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