Changes based on the students’ needs and challenges

Short summary

Newly arrived immigrant students in Sweden who enter a new school system rather late in terms of age, have been found to struggle to become eligible for a national program in upper secondary high school, and at a higher risk of dropping out than students who enter the school system at a younger age. In order to support more immigrant students to reach eligibility to the national programmes, and stay in upper high school in Lycksele municipality, the school undertook a strategic plan to reduce the dropout rates in 2013 and joined the national Plug In-project (see www.pluginnovation.se). At the school newly arrived students who had struggled to become eligible to national programmes and were motivated to study, had still dropped out from the national programmes and the management were concerned. Changes were made on the structural level to organize the instruction differently, but also to the practises and pedagogical approaches to enhance students´ progression.

The work was led by a special needs education teacher, and the first very important task was to make a very thorough study of the support/pedagogical needs from the perspective of not only teachers/school leaders/student health team and support staff at the school, but foremost of students. Interviews were conducted with all the groups at the school which gave an excellent base for analysis for how to shape the instruction and support system. Interestingly, the needs and challenges that students expressed were quite different from how the staff had perceived the needs, and accordingly changes had to be made in the plan for the support system and instruction.

To address language challenges, all teachers at the introductory programmes began to cooperate with a focus on what the students´ have expressed in their interviews. 2 extra support hours every week were added in the students´ schedule to strengthen the vocabulary connected to the different subjects, with support from “subject teachers” rather than as before language teachers. Simultaneously, all teachers also began to focus more on terminology and a shared vocabulary – subject teachers thus began to take on the role of “language arts teachers”. This was particularly important for students who arrive in a new school system with extensive subject knowledge but without the language skills to express their skills and competence. With the new support from subject teachers working more extensively with terminology, students struggling to learn Swedish were able to show their skills at an earlier stage and gain credit and thus higher grades. 

In addition, the school also began to make more systematic introduction meetings with new students at the beginning of their program of study to assess their needs before entering a program, and make sure to elicit the students´ perspective on her/his needs and adjusting potential support accordingly. An increased study and career counselling with more information about available programmes of study was also a focus in the meetings with students. 

The changes were monitored and followed-up regularly by the local project manager in order to understand how the students perceived the support and what effects the changes were making.

A year later, it was clear that the students excelled with the new practices and changes made to support their learning – and students reported many different positive outcomes. 

All students earned credits in their coursework (also higher marks) and stayed in school.

Students reported feeling more motivated to study and that the school work felt more meaningful.

Students reported an increased self-confidence and felt a greater sense of agency and involvement.

The teachers who participated in the project reported a changed view of their students, and deeper insights into their needs and their own practices in supporting their students´ learning. They had acquired new competences and expressed that they had become much more skilled at their work when facing students´ different needs. 

The school implemented the new instructional practices and support structure, and has since continued to develop the pedagogical approaches and instruction to better serve newly arrived immigrant students. 

Context of good practice

Lycksele municipality is in the north of Sweden and has a population of about 12 000 people. The local municipal upper secondary school is the only one in the area. It is located in the main city and serves about 700 students in total. Many students travel to the school from the neighbouring municipalities, and there is a boarding unit for students who stay at the school during the weeks, due to the long distances between the towns in this part of Sweden. The school offers a variety of programmes including special electives in winter sports which attracts students from longer distances.

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Target group of good practice:

School leaders & Teacher educators

Country:

Sweden

Author:

Karoline Holmgren

Institution:

Tannbergsskolan

Institution Website:

http://www.tannbergsskolan.nu

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