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Practicing Competency-Based and Differentiated Instruction: NTNU’s Preservice Teachers Visited Sweden for Overseas School Practicum
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The cohort of six preservice teachers successfully completed their oversea school visiting practicum at Almunge skola, and took a group photo with their home university supervisor and oversea school supervisors. Back row, left to right: Preservice Teacher
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Preservice teachers discussed with Carl Lindberg education for sustainable development (ESD) in Sweden.
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Art major Susan Lee (美術系李書嫺) taught Chinese calligraphy and Spring Festival couplets, letting students’ creativity flow.

As the day was dawning in Uppsala, Sweden, a cohort of preservice teachers, including Henry Liu(劉晉豪)、Erica Chen(陳易欣)、Susan Lee(李書嫺)、Gunter Chien(簡浩君)、Sally Jao(饒雅筑) and Andy Yeh(葉星宏) , from National Taiwan Normal University braved the zero-degree weather to take a commuter bus to Almunge skola, a public comprehensive school situated at about 30 kilometers from the city center, for an in-depth education visit and practicum.

As the pandemic restrictions eased, the “Realizing the Potential of Each Student: Swedish Overseas School Visiting Practicum,” subsidized by the Ministry of Education for the 2021 academic year, finally took place in April 2023. Led by Professor Henry Chen(陳信亨) from the College of Teacher Education, six preservice teachers from the English, Education, Geography, and Fine Arts departments participated in the program from April 15 to April 29. In addition to observing local teachers’ teaching, during the two-week practicum, these preservice teachers conducted up to 25 cultural and professional lessons to Swedish students ranging from year 7 to year 9, which corresponds to the age of junior high school students in Taiwan, allowing Taiwan’s education practice and its culture to be seen on the international stage. Through numerous class observations, lesson discussions, and reflection sessions, the selected student teachers were able to explore and understand the meaning and challenges of “student-centered teaching” in Swedish schools.

When asked about their most impressive learning experience, the preservice teachers unanimously agreed that they saw the complete manifestation of competency-based instruction here at Almunge skola. They saw how teachers strive to design rigorous lessons to enable students’ learning to transfer and connect to their real-life situations, how teachers provide learning support or reinforcement based on individual differences through diverse assessment methods and strategies, and finally how teachers continuously monitor learning process and progress rather than defining it solely by grades. For example, in English classes, language’s communication function is prioritized, and pedagogical tasks such as oral presentations and diary writing are commonly seen in the class to enhance students’ communication abilities. The teacher also uses diverse strategies to ensure both low-achieving and highly-motivated students have suitable learning opportunities, such as playing board games to learn English, using English version comic books as extracurricular reading materials, and giving optional assignments like etymology research. Plus, to provide personalized learning, the teacher seizes various opportunities to understand students’ levels, such as chatting with students during lunchtime to establish a relationship and assess their English proficiency.

Moreover, cooperative teaching and interdisciplinary teaching were also highlights of this visit. Teachers of the same or different subjects at Almunge skola often work together in both assessment and lesson planning. Regarding co-teaching, it was observed that when students gave oral presentations in English class, the teacher would divide students of different proficiency levels into two or more classrooms, and collaborate with other English teachers to assess students, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to showcase their abilities within a limited time. As for interdisciplinary teaching, preservice teachers specializing in geography and home economics found that the social studies teacher often integrates different subject areas based on a mutual theme and incorporates tasks that involve inquiry and practice, allowing students to gain a well-rounded learning experience. For example, when discussing Judaism in a religion class, the social studies teacher collaborated with a home economics teacher, letting students make Jewish bread. Besides, Geography and home economics, these two subjects also worked together by having students choose a country, make its traditional food, and explore the interaction between humanities and natural environment.

In addition to observing, the preservice teachers also attempted to incorporate Swedish teaching style into their own prepared cultural and professional lessons, trying to spark diverse cultural exchanges. They taught and shared various topics such as Taiwan’s marriage and gender equality movement, the hand-shaken beverage industry and its online marketing, AI writing, Taiwan's educational system and the Bao Gao Zong custom derived from test-driven environment, Spring Festival couplet calligraphy, Eastern ink painting, Taiwan’s climate and Chinese pastries culture, Dragon Boat Festival culture and rice dumplings craft, and food loss and food waste issues, which amazed Swedish teachers and students.

Apart from the practicum at school, the preservice teachers also exchanged ideas about education with Carl Lindberg, Vice President of the Uppsala Municipal Council, Esbjörn Larsson, Dean at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Uppsala University, and Katerina Gahne, International Coordinator at Department of Education, Uppsala University to understand essential social and educational issues in Sweden, as well as the system and belief of teacher training in Swedish middle and upper secondary schools.

This overseas practicum was like a mini study-abroad program for the preservice teachers. Aside from learning to live independently in a foreign country and engaging in cultural exchange with people from different nations, they had numerous meaningful interactions with local teachers and students, gaining a deep understanding of the democratic system that Sweden takes pride in and the educational philosophy of “realizing the potential of each student” in the classroom. Through this oversea school visiting practicum, the teaching faculty at Almunge skola demonstrated that “realizing the potential of each student” is achievable. Furthermore, the democratic values and literacy, teacher professionalism and evaluation system, as well as school-parent collaboration that Sweden employs, are all invaluable lessons worth learning from.

During this journey, the preservice teachers not merely expanded their international horizons, but also witnessed the possibilities and experienced the challenges that could result from a student-centered education, which provides them with abundant nourishment for their future teaching careers.

Note. Almunge skola is a Swedish comprehensive school that comprises three sub-stages of compulsory schooling, lågstadiet “lower stage” (years 1-3), mellanstadiet “middle stage” (years 4-6), and högstadiet “upper stage” (years 7-9).

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