Research Focus: Strengthening teacher training for significant special support in Finland

It is estimated that there are approximately 10 000 students in Finnish basic education who need significant special support, and the number is growing (MoEC 2017). Therefore, there is a significant demand among teachers and student teachers for further training and education in significant special needs support. The TUVET-project has tackled this issue and provided knowledge and training for both target groups by offering free in-service training workshops, online courses and research-based teaching materials. The work will continue until the end of June 2021.

The TUVET-project

Introduction

The TUVET-project aims to develop significant special support skills in Finnish teacher education and in-service training. TUVET provides research-based pedagogical methods and training for in-service teachers and teacher students. The project strengthens the knowledge of significant support needs within the target groups with pedagogical courses and training workshops. The outcomes and effects of the measures are assessed in-depth during the project.

The TUVET-project is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Education, continuing from December 2018 to June 2021. The coordinator of the project is the University of Eastern Finland, partnered with the universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä and the Valteri National Centre for Learning and Consulting.  The activities and implementation of the project are divided into five work packages.

Work package 1 

Work package 1 concentrates on research-based teaching methods and the use of these methods in practice. To support teachers in choosing the best possible teaching practices, a wide systematic literature review was conducted to search for practices which teachers or other school staff can implement in a natural learning environment when teaching certain skills or content.  

Based on the literature review, three reports are published on three categories of educational practices: 1) teacher-mediated interventions, 2) peer-mediated interventions and 3) self-mediated interventions (Talja & Iisakka 2020).  

The interventions are evidence-based, since their effectiveness has been demonstrated in several high-quality empirical research studies, and the positive outcomes show that students’ learning of specific educational targets has been demonstrated repeatedly and reliably (see Odom ym. 2010). These methods are put into practice during future teachers’ teaching practice, which is an integral part of teacher training. The experiences are collected and published via the TUVET project. During in-service training of teachers and other school staff as well as regular teacher training, these contents form one part of the teacher training. 

When using evidence-based methods, teachers no longer depend only on their own experiences or evaluation but can plan and implement education on the most secure and responsible basis possible. Trust in the evidence base does not mean that the teacher rejects his or her pedagogical freedom or creativity. The teacher’s professional wisdom is essential when using the methods in the changing environment of real-life situations and environments. When a teacher decides which methods to use, s/he also needs good professional skills and experience. Teacher experience and good knowledge of the students are key factors when selecting practices that suit each individual student’s needs and implementing them to fit into one’s own classroom (Talja & Iisakka 2020). 

Work package 2

Work package 2 focuses on the development of the teaching content of significant special support in the pedagogical studies of student teachers. In this content, interaction, being present, connecting with one another and a sense of belonging are emphasized. The accessibility of the studies and materials has been promoted by combining face-to-face teaching with online materials, group work and lectures. Recent and current research are emphasized with a conversational approach. Some of the produced materials are made available to everybody; video materials have been produced from versatile topics, e.g. social haptices. Furthermore, extensive interview data has been collected from teachers, and the working culture of an inclusive school has been examined. Articles and reports will be published.

Work package 3

The activities of Work package 3 focus on the development of an interprofessional collaboration model for comprehensive schools. The model is developed and implemented through research. A nationwide enquiry (N=103) was conducted for multi-professional operators concerning their views on functional cooperation practices in interprofessional collaboration. In addition, the teachers at one research collaboration school (N=23) were interviewed. A model for interprofessional collaboration for comprehensive schools was designed based on the enquiry, interviews and conversations with the schools’ student welfare personnel. The model is being implemented in practice during the school year 2020–2021. Three MSc theses and one research article are being prepared within this work package.

Work package 4

Work package 4 includes the organization of in-service teacher training. In-service training has been aimed at teachers and other professionals who, in their work, encounter children and young people with significant support needs. Training workshops have been organised on four different themes during the years 2019-2020. The first theme dealt with Child inclusion and rights in multi-professional collaboration and the second with Significant special support and dialogue as a way of working. Both were organised as four regional workshops in different parts of Finland. In 2020 the themes are concentrating more on pedagogical issues, with the themes Significant special support and pedagogy and A prosperous educational professional in a variety of operating environments. Because of COVID-19 these training courses are mainly carried out as webinars. It was our pleasure to have a total of more than 300 attendees in our training workshops during the first year, and despite the escalation of COVID-19, around 150 attendees at workshops in March 2020. As we write this, the number of participants in our last meetings in November 2020 is yet to be seen. 

Work package 5

Work package 5 focuses on the evaluation of TUVET project activities. The evaluation is operationalized in the following way: First, the courses on significant special support provided for students in teacher training programmes in all the participating universities are evaluated using a feedback questionnaire that the students fill in after they have completed the course. The questionnaire covers topics such as students’ satisfaction with the content and implementation of the courses and their suggestions for improvement of the courses. 

Second, an Inclusive learning environments course provided for students in teacher training programmes in two participating universities and in all in-service training workshops are evaluated with a three-phase survey based on Kirkpatrick’s (2007) evaluation model (Figure 1). The participants of the Inclusive learning environments course and in-service training workshops fill in three questionnaires: one before they start the course or workshop, one immediately after the course or workshop and one half a year after the completion of the course or workshop. 

Figure 1. Levels of evaluation of training (Kirkpatrick, 2007)   

The questionnaire for the three-phase survey contains questions about self-efficacy, applied knowledge and attitudes towards inclusive education, among other things.  The results of the survey are used for the participants in inclusive learning environments to further develop the course. The findings of the survey are also used for the participants of in-service training workshops in order to provide more information about the benefits of the training for teachers in their work. As the dissertation research on teachers’ perceptions of significant special support and their experiences of in-service trainings is also in progress, some interviews are being conducted to collect more in-depth data from the participants.  

Third, overall evaluation of the project is implemented using questionnaires prepared by the funder of the project, the Ministry of Education and Science. The results of the feedback questionnaires as well as the multi-phase survey will be utilized for overall evaluation of the project.

Conclusions 

It is estimated that there are approximately 10 000 students in Finnish basic education who need significant special support, and the number is growing (MoEC 2017). Therefore, there is a significant demand among teachers and student teachers for further training and education in significant special needs support. The TUVET-project has tackled this issue and provided knowledge and training for both target groups by offering free in-service training workshops, online courses and research-based teaching materials. The work will continue until the end of June 2021. 

References:

Kirkpatrick, D. L. & Kirkpatrick, J. (2007). Implementing the Four Levels: A Practical Guide for Effective Evaluation of Training Programs. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Ministry of Education and Culture (2017).  Vaativa erityinen tuki esi- ja perusopetuksessa. Kehittämisryhmän loppuraportti. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2017:34. Helsinki: Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. 

Odom, S. L., Collet-Klingenberg, L., Rogers, S. J. & Hatton, D. D. (2010). Evidence-based practices in interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Preventing School Failure, 54(4), 275–282. 

Talja, E. & Iisakka, R. (2020). Tutkimusperustaiset opetusmenetelmät vaativassa erityisessä tuessa – kirjallisuuskatsaus. Osa 1: Opettajajohtoiset menetelmät. TUVET-hankkeen raportti. Helsingin yliopisto, Itä-Suomen yliopisto, Jyväskylän yliopisto, Valteri.

Contact information:

Eija Kärnä, Professor, School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Eastern Finland, Finland – eija.karna@uef.fi

Aino Äikäs, University Lecturer, School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Eastern Finland, Finland- aino.aikas@uef.fi 

Mirva Poikola, Project Reasearcher, School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Eastern Finland, Finland – mirva.poikola@uef.fi 

Merja Mannerkoski, Project Reasearcher, School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Eastern Finland, Finland -merja.mannerkoski@uef.fi 

Elina Kontu, Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tampere, Finland – elina.kontu@tuni.fi 

Satu Peltomäki, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland – satu.peltomaki@helsinki.fi 

Raija Pirttimaa, University Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland – raija.pirttimaa@jyu.fi 

Riikka Iisakka, project Researcher, Faculty of Education and Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland- riikka.j.iisakka@jyu.fi 

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