Hei! My name is Angelika and until Christmas I was an exchange student at the University of Helsinki. I am a teacher trainee from Austria for Mathematics and English and I am about to finish my Master’s degree. For my Master’s thesis I am investigating internal differentiation processes in English lessons in the Austrian and Finnish language classroom. To gain a better perspective on how differentiation is implemented in the Finnish high school system, I fortunately got the chance to observe multiple lessons, talk to teachers and students as well as conduct interviews with several teachers at Medialukio.
Internal differentiation – or the ways in which teachers adapt their teaching to the various different needs of leaners in a heterogeneous classroom – has always been a topic of my interest since differentiation is not only an educational issue but also a political and social question. Recent developments in Austria as well as Finland have pushed towards inclusive education, which means that learners of all needs (including children with learning disabilities or language difficulties) should learn together.
However, there are major differences in how Austria and Finland implement the principle of inclusivity in their school system. One of the most obvious and most radical differences is the moment when learners are allocated to different school types depending on their previous school performance. While in Finland all students attend the same school types up until the 9th grade (primary and middle school: alakoulu and yläkoulu), students in Austria are allocated to different school types after the 4th grade usually depending on their academic achievement. Despite this process of early external differentiation in Austria, the classrooms in Austria remain very heterogenous. Especially in urban areas – much like in the Helsinki region – many learners struggle with the language of instruction as a result of the diverse multicultural background of learners.
To overcome potential difficulties that arise with teaching a classroom with students with mixed abilities, teachers develop their own strategies. For my Master’s thesis I am interested in the different viewpoints that teachers in Finnish and Austrian high schools have on heterogeneous classrooms and differentiation. I have already conducted several interviews with teachers at Medialukio and will now conduct interviews with Austrian teachers, which I will then analyze.
I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to experience a bit of the daily school life at Medialukio, which gave me a practical glimpse of what the school life there is like. I have had so many interesting and informative conversations with students and teachers there and I am so grateful for this experience.