In the middle of an industrial park just outside of Stockholm is one of Sweden’s top-performing schools – Kunskapsskolan Tyresö. It is part of a network of 33 Kunskapsskolan schools in Sweden – all funded by a public school voucher system (Sweden has a national voucher model), and has no tuition, accepting students on a first-come, first-served basis.
Having just spent some time with several colleagues who attended High Tech High, in San Diego, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in the stories they told (Here is a post by Gary Kern and by Lynne Tomlinson) about their experiences. It is a school that has technology as a key tenet, but one would hardly notice it; students do inter-disciplinary work and have large segments of time to organize themselves; the school is a draw to those “on the ends” of the learning spectrum – gifted and challenged – and both groups flourish; students outperform their counterparts in neighbouring schools and have strong records in post-secondary.
The physical plant itself is modest. The particular school we visited was in the midst of an industrial park in a converted factory; other schools in the network have taken older office buildings, or leasable space, and have converted them into schools. One is struck by the fact every square foot in the building is used. A case in point is, there are no hallways – rather, there are tables and gathering spaces literally everywhere for students to collaborate.
Much of the same language around British Columbia’s education system and personalized learning was evident with teachers and students at the school, but what was most noticeably different from the BC experience is that they didn’t take one or two practices and adopt them at their school, they completely rethought everything about their school and how it operates. Here is a video overview of the school:
Here are some of the key elements we saw as we walked around the school and talked with teachers and students:
- Every student has personal goals that are continually monitored
- Every student has personal strategies on how to reach these goals
- Every student has an assigned coach to meet with them every week in a structured, 15-minute discussion – it was noted this was far more than a conversation, but a structured process
- Teachers had multiple roles – all teachers had a base group they met with each morning and afternoon (an advisory-type program), and these students are the ones they meet for “coaching” once a week. In addition teachers are subject experts (e.g. math or French) and also run tutorial centres that require some more general knowledge
- The schedule is flexible. There were group lessons, individual study sessions and teacher-led workshops
- The school offers a variety of learning sessions and formats – some compulsory, some voluntary – from lectures, to labs, to individual sessions
- The curriculum is organized by steps and students’ progress on an individual basis without being tied to a class or grade
- Thematic courses provide contextual understanding, while providing subject standards
- The Learning Portal gives access to learning resources everywhere and anytime – the entire curriculum is online and teachers are continually working to develop and improve materials
- Every student has a log book to keep track of their work (like our agendas) with clear purpose and value – this is connected to the weekly coaching sessions
- There are regular, individual progress tracking review/development discussions
- The student has their own individual study plan
The bullet points are all quite familiar for those following the personalized learning discussions. What was stunning was I don’t think I have met many students like the two Grade 9 students who toured the school with us – the epitome of students who own their own learning.
The conversation with Odd Eiken, Executive Vice-President of the Kunskapsskolan network of schools, highlighted the different approach they are taking toward schooling. He argued the schoolwork versus homework conversation is not one worth having – it should be able workload – and students, like adults, need to find ways to manage their workload at school or home. He articulated that all the efforts to standardize systems at the schools allow for teachers to have more contact with students – about 30 hours a week — compared with about 20 hours of student contact in most schools. It is the personal relationships that are key, so they are what need to be the focus of teacher-time. In his schools, teachers spend far less time prepping for classes, and more time with students. Teachers also have a more traditional formal workday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the school, and they spend a large part of their summers building curriculum. Technology, he argues, is to “liberate time” for teachers, so that they can do the important work connecting with students.
Here is Eiken’s full presentation:
Just as with High Tech High, there are many “Yeah, buts”. The Kunskapsskolan schools are products of a voucher system; the Swedish school system does not consider athletics and the arts as part of the school program like we do; the voucher system which has produced the school leads to real concerns over equity and concerning behaviours (they told a story of a neighbouring school giving away free computers to draw students); while they have been successful in Sweden, and are expanding to New York, England and India, the feedback has not been all positive.
I left the school with the impression of the two kids who gave us the impromptu tour of their school. I want my own kids to care as deeply for their learning at 14 as these two students clearly do.
The visit to Kunskapsskolan Tyresö came, in part, after hearing Valerie Hannon discuss the school at the BCSSA Conference two years ago – here is a link to the post on that presentation.