Recess and Discipline

I recently read an article in The Atlantic about teaching in Finland. In the piece, an American teacher in Helsinki questioned the national practice of giving 15 minute breaks each hour—until he saw the difference it made in his classroom.

In Finland, teachers send kids outside—rain or shine—for a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of teaching. And the children get to decide how they spend their break times. There are no teacher-led activities or expected things to do during recess. Usually, teachers take turns—two at a time—supervising the playground during these 15-minute stints.

To Americans, this approach sounds too soft—too lazy. But as this teacher in Helsinki noted, “My students in the States had always seemed to drag their feet after about 45 minutes in the classroom … Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.”

A little under two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit schools in Finland. Their schools are very different from those in the U.S., as are their results. Discipline issues are low, personal responsibility is high, and school districts and teachers are empowered to teach the curriculum as they see fit. In fact, according to numerous studies, Finland is one of the best educational performing countries in the world, even though they have no standardized testing and do not believe that achievement gains improve the lives of children.

You can find my entire 10-part blog series on Learning and Discipline in Finland on this site that details many more differences between the U.S. and Finnish learning systems.

  1. Many years ago I went to your training sessions in Australia. Since then I have used your strategies and wherever I teach people are amazed at how the students attitude changes and how calm and productive my class is. At present I’m teaching teen boys in a behaviour unit who went through three teaches in as many weeks due to their poor behaviour and now everyone comments on their changed attitude. Other teachers think I have magical powers but if you give respect and empower a person, they not only respect you they begin to take responsibility for their own actions. I think we need to start looking at Finlands school system and follow suit. Thank you Marvin, you changed my life and the lives of many of my students.