Case Studies - The Study Centre (Norway)
When students leave compulsory education in Norway they have, particularly during the three years in lower secondary education, received education of a rather theoretical kind. The majority seems to be able to digest this, but there are always students in upper secondary education that have struggled with theoretical teaching to such an extent that they have had “enough” of it when they enter upper secondary education. These students suffer from low motivation when it comes to the core subjects and have a tendency to find them rather difficult.
Also, upper secondary education in Norway is for everybody, which means that we have students who struggle with reading- and/or writing, struggles because of dyslexia, struggles because of mathematical challenges etc. The Norwegian law on education states that we are to give adapted training to all students, no matter what.
All in all, this means that each educational institution has to find their way of providing customized and adapted teaching for all their students. At Haugaland the individual teaching and the group teaching we offered to students who were struggling with basic skills did not work sufficiently and therefore a want to improve the situation grew. Our Study Centre is a direct result of the want to provide this customized and adapted training to students who struggled with their development of basic skills within numeracy and literacy.
2. Institutional implementation
The most important aim in our Study Centre (as well as the whole school) is to get as many students as possible to finish their education with a full set of marks, to Stay On and not drop out.
This main aim leads to other aims, helping students to achieve in subjects they have always struggled with, helping them to believe in themselves and their own performance, giving them a chance to relate to other students and the teacher and guiding them in their choices concerning education.
The first step that was taken in order to establish the Study Centre was to find the right teachers for the job. A few teachers were commissioned to design the organization and teaching at the study centre and these were teachers with extensive experience and a special eye for students who need extra attention academically and socially. The same teachers also received training in methodology adapted to the target group, especially in the New Possibilities program.
Haugaland upper secondary school was not the first school in Norway to set up a Study Centre, and several excursions to other schools were taken. From every visit there was something to be picked up, and therefore the Study Centre is in a “forever” changing state. Try, read scientific papers, experience, learn, adjust, try again etc.
The study centre had its accommodation in a “separated” part of the school during its two first years. The available classrooms were big, which was good, and to an extent several small groups of students could be taught at the same time. The interior had a certain retro style, which had a positive impact on the students. It was almost homely, and many students spent their breaks in the study centre, partly because of the free supply of tea and coffee.
Our school has undertaken big changes the last few years, we have brand new buildings and renovated buildings. The present Study Centre in in the heart of the newest part of our school, near our library, ICT-centre and an open study area with tables, chairs and sofas. The teaching takes place in several small rooms, where the latest technology works perfectly. Every need that we have had has been catered for, equipment of every kind, shelves, cupboards, transportable walls (on wheels), green plants, refreshments like trays of fruit etc. etc. The teachers have their office in the middle of the classroom area, with partly glass walls so that all our students can get hold of us if they want to.
Even if we had bigger classrooms where we used to be and even if the amount of students that used to just hang around in the study centre area has declined, we know that the study centre is placed where it should be. Our students are not stigmatized by being separated from the others, the school leaders have placed the study centre in the “show room” of our school - which gives an important signal. A centre of alternative teaching, a place where it is acknowledged to struggle with basic skills - and still be a natural part of the school environment, that matters.
What students should be offered a place at the Study Centre?
The selecting process was based on assessment tests in numeracy and reading skills, collaboration between teachers in classes and teachers at the study centre, professional assessment from Head of Department for adapted teaching, the school’s social councillors and finally the New Possibilities label from lower secondary school.
How does teaching take place on a day to day basis, what subjects are involved etc?
English and mathematics:
For our English and mathematics classes the teaching takes place like this:
The lessons in English and mathematics the first year is organized so that two and two classes have English and mathematics at the same time on the timetable. From these two classes 5-6 students are offered a place at the study centre. This has a double effect, the students in the small group will benefit from that and the teachers of the two ceding classes have fewer students to teach and help. They can also cooperate in new ways.
The students at the Study Centre are transferred from their classes to the study centre, which means that the responsibility to provide those students with teaching and marks has been transferred from the classroom teacher to the study centre teacher. There is a broad cooperation between the teachers though, the curriculum for the students in the study centre is the same as for all other students, so is the exam.
Students are not forced to enter the Study Centre, they can of course decline the offer. If they accept, they must sign a contract where they recognize and accept the offer. They are allowed to return to the class teaching if they do not find the teaching at the Study Centre useful for them, but virtually 100 % of the students stay in the groups throughout the school year.
Haugaland Upper Secondary School is a distinctly vocational school with a long tradition of cooperation with local industry and local businesses. Students at the school often come with a background story where practical education is preferred to theoretical education. They appreciate to be allowed to DO something rather than having to READ something. This has been acknowledged by the language and mathematics teachers a long time ago, the study centre being no exception. The teachers there put an emphasis on trying to teach a theoretical subject as closely to real life practise as possible.
This means that teachers in mathematics and English work with the various program teachers to create good teaching where students will notice that a mathematical topic actually has something to do with a job being done in the workshop or that English expressions can relate to the student’s future.
That is why teachers from the Study Centre who teach students that are going to work in industry or construction are equipped with overalls and general safety equipment so they are able to be in the workshop as much as possible. The practical mathematics tasks are tasks that students recognize from working in the workshop and in English teaching most of the oral presentations that the students have, takes place in the workshop. This way of doing lessons is well received by the students and the school is trying to develop the program around vocational orientation so that more and more are taking part in it.
As a direct result of this practical teaching, the Study Centre is always on the look out for alternative teaching aids. Our collection of cardboard boxes, board games, decks of cards, pictures, posters, hand tools, products made in the workshops etc is increasing.
Courses in reading strategies and writing strategies:
Students take part in reading tests at the beginning of the school year, and these provide useful results in terms of which students struggle with basic skills in reading and understanding. Students also provide short written texts in the beginning of the school year, which of course gives useful results in terms of how things are with writing skills.
Based on this, the Study Center gives short courses in strategy in relation to reading and writing. These courses have emphasized various learning strategies, trying to teach students different reading methods and to see the benefit in using various forms and techniques when to read or write. For 2012/13, these courses were voluntary for students. As of from this year, they are mandatory. The courses are conducted in collaboration between teachers who teach language and teachers who teach vocational subjects.
How is the Study Centre financed?
To offer teaching at the Study Centre for 5-6 students per two classes requires a third teacher. Where do the resources to pay these teachers come from? When students enter upper secondary level they come with different “labels”. If these labels show a need to continue a specific level of specially adapted training, it will release money to do so. This, together with the school leaders’ eyes for prioritizing in accordance with what type of students we have at Haugaland, has made the Study Centre possible.
What are the future plans for the Study Centre?
To continue to provide customized and adapted teaching to students in need of it in order to finish and pass their education. To develop a centre that can provide the rest of the school with alternative methods if necessary.
c. Outcomes - quantitative
Over a three-year period, the Study Centre has had an increasing proportion of students receiving part of their teaching at the study centre. For 2012/13 about a 100 first year students of a total of approximately 310 students were offered teaching in either English or mathematics. The majority accepted the offer.
Students work on the same learning objectives as all other students and must sit the same exam. The combination of several factors makes students very often succeed in these groups. These factors are that the groups are small and it is easier for all students to be seen, the teachers are good at creating relationships with students, teaching is as close to real life as possible and as many concretes as possible are used. Instead of talking about cubic metres, a full sized model of a cubic metre is physically there, in the classroom.
Out of the approximately 100 students that were offered teaching at the Study Centre, 26 students failed either English or mathematics. 7 of the students that failed in mathematics had been offered a place at the Study Centre but declined. 4 of the students that failed in English had immigrant background with very little English in the education they had before they came to Norway. The other 15 students that failed did this because of various reasons, one of them being absenteeism from the actual class.
The students that attended teaching at the Study Centre and that passed were all students who entered upper secondary education with poor qualifications in English and / or mathematics.
The Study Centre is here to stay. Based on the results we have achieved at the Study Centre, our conclusion is that it is a very good way of providing students with an alternative teaching in subjects where they most likely would not succeed in the ordinary system. Adapted learning is stated by the Norwegian Department of Education as a right that all students have. The Study Centre is one way of accommodating this directive.