When I think of writing this blog, two thoughts come to mind. One concerns the risky business of writing: of putting my questions, discoveries, connections, ideas and fumblings out there. Writer and teacher Katherine Bomer explains the nature of this risky business when she says, “What I learned and came to understand about writing is that for some reason, even if you are writing a feature article about hot air ballooning, putting words on paper/computer screen can feel like you are opening yourself from the inside out; you are putting your little heart in your hands and begging the world to please not stomp on it.” That being said, I’m diving right in!
My other thought about writing this blog was, “Oh, great. Now I have to write essays several times a week!” This task, I realize, seems taxing and frustrating because in order to write I have to organize my learning. And learning is hard work. Luckily, 1.) my job is to learn for the next six months, 2.) I like learning, and 3.) I love teaching children and the only way I’ll become a better teacher for my students is to dive in.
So, dive in, I did! I’ve attended my Fulbright orientation, met with a member of the Finnish National Board of Education, met with my host at the University of Helsinki, Fred Dervin, found two courses to audit, and learned about how the University’s Department of Education trains its teachers. My main question coming here was: “How do teachers use constructivist methods of teaching and play to help primary-aged children learn?” After engaging in countless conversations concerning teaching and learning during the last six days, I’m left with many, many more questions, but the main question I keep coming back to is, “How do we learn?” In order for me to be an effective teacher, I have to know how learning happens.
I pondered how all of my questions fit together with my interest in constructivism and play while I went shopping (for chart paper-just like a teacher-, but the best I could do was a white board). Since it’s very quiet in Helsinki–people rarely speak on the trams or out and about in the city–and because I don’t know very many people here yet, I have a lot of time to ponder. How do we learn? I’m in a new place, doing new things. How am I learning? Am I learning in constructivist ways? Am I playing? Is it working? So, here in this pathway of my apartment building, I had an “aha” moment.
Right at that moment, I dropped my bags, took off my mittens, searched through my bag for my notebook and a pen, and scribbled these words: time, relevance, independence, cooperation, and reflection. This is how I’ve been learning to get around Helsinki, learn Finnish words, communicate, figure out protocol in different situations, and learn about Finnish culture. I’ve needed time to independently discover where to go and how to get there. Relevance, tapping into my prior knowledge, of space and geography has helped me learn to get from A to B in more efficient ways as I remember landmarks and roads. Relevance in terms of my life and goals has helped me learn Finnish words. I know that “kiitos” means “thank you” because I say it all day long. I know that “kahvi” means “coffee”, “kerma” means “cream,” “kippis” means “cheers,” and “Apollonkatu” is the name of my tram stop. I’ve need hours to independently wander around, study maps, and observe life in my new city, and then reflect on it. I’ve also need to cooperate and talk with people here to make sure that I am heading the right way or if I am using proper etiquette in the sauna, for instance.
It’s interesting, necessary and appropriate for me to be wearing the hat of a learner, to be metacognitive about how I learn because that informs me of how my students learn. Once I’m more aware of the answers, then I’m able to ask, “How do I best teach?” Is the answer in constructivist theories? I think so.