Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen

The Role of Teacher-Student Interactions in Learning and Motivation


During her 15-minute talk, Dr. Lerkkanen discusses and explains:

  • Basic education (0 to 7, 7 to 16, and for older students);
  • Possible factors of Finnish Success;
  • Teacher training, selection and involvement in the curriculum;
  • The National Core Curriculum;
  • Assessments as a tool for student, parent and teacher development;
  • Motivation

Dr. Lerkkanen's definition of a "Prepared Adult": We need to increase our resilience to be prepared for the uncertain future.


Dr. Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen currently works as a professor at the Department of Teacher Education, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, as well as professor II at the University of Stavanger, Norway. Lerkkanen does research in Educational Psychology, Reading, Motivation, Primary Education, and Pre-school Education. Their previous project was the 'CARE project' which continues currently as 'Quality Matters'. Her current projects are 'First Steps study', 'Teacher Stress Study' (TESSI), and 'Two Teacher in classroom'.


I will talk about the role of teacher student interactions in learning and motivation in Finnish schools, how we see that in our curriculum and what kind of results we have found in our research work. As I see, you know, perhaps that Finland has been very successful in international studies, in girls concerning ten years olds, in PISA surveys during many years, concerning 15 years old, and also in Paca, which is concerning the adult but also skills, academic skills, but also, for example, digital skills and other things. And of course, this has raised the interest in the Finland data, how what we do in the schools, maybe we do something right. And we have been actually a little bit confused about that interest because we think here that we are all the time developing our educational system and also the schools and teach education and so on. So I think that we are not ready and we are not perfect, but there might be some issues with the right way. Finland is part of Scandinavian countries next to Sweden and you see maybe Helsinki is the most familiar town to you. Give us a university. Where I come is in the middle, middle of the country. And right now the spring has arrived here. And actually this week the first bird has arrived. Even the lakes are still frozen. But anyway, I saw him yesterday in our lake next to our house. So about the education system in Finland. We have the early childhood education and care and pre-school education before the basic education, which is nine years studies starting from the seven years of age until the 16.

We have the public school system, but we have some private schools. And usually these private schools are Montessori school Steiner schools, or they have some some other ideologic behind. The aim of the basic education is that the equal education opportunities to everyone, irrespective of domicile, gender, financial situation of the family or the linguistic and cultural background of Finland has to offer the languages, feelings and Swedes. And 6% of the schools are Swedish speaking schools, mainly beside the West Coast next to Sweden. But at the schools are Finnish speaking schools. Parents do not select a school for their child because the difference is in the quality of the schools is very, very low. And we have so that also in our PISA results that the difference is between the schools doesn't make any any sense or any difference between the learning outcomes as well. And usually the parents just pick up the nearest school by their home. And also schools do not test or select the pupils because we think that the schools need to be ready for every child to attend and not the other way around that that you don't need to be ready for the school. European Commission has listed some issues about the possible positive factors of Finnish success in these international or OECD surveys. The first thing is that the Finnish society appreciates education and the trust highly educated teachers, and we can see that in every level that we put a lot of investment in education.

It's among the biggest in the in the whole world. The basic education is completely free of charge to everyone. So all the learning materials at lunch. Also the school travelling and everything. It's free of charge in basic education to everyone. The next one is a little bit complicated to describe in the short time, but anyway, the Finland has comparatively low teaching time, so the school days are not very long and there is a lot of breaks during the day. And even as you know that we are in the north, we have quite long winter time. So it's cold outside, but we just think that it's there's no bad weather, there's only bad clothing. So the students are going outside every day after every 45 minutes and they stay there 15 or 30 minutes to play outside or be with their friends or something. And then they come back to study and they are again full of energy. So I think the combination of of these keep the focus to the studies very, very well, the assessment of school learning outcomes and students in encouraging and supporting in nature. So we don't list the schools according to achievement. There's almost no national testing. There's two exceptions at the end of the basic education at grade nine and in the end of the upper secondary school, the Grade 12 matriculation test. But the aim of the assessment there is to produce information that will help schools of teachers when they are developing their pedagogy in the classroom.

And the students have the parents to develop, they work and they learn. So it's more like the feedback and based on the and the pedagogical purposes and the development issues. The main aim of the assessment, not the ranking. Plenty of attention is focused on individual support for pupils learning and wellbeing at schools, and early recognition and interventions are offered for children at risk or for learning or any kind of problems, for example, the behavioural problems or anything. About the teachers. We are quite famous about the highly trained teachers, so all teachers are studying in the university, also education teachers. The master's degree in education at the elementary level is international, still rare. So, for example, classroom teachers who are teaching grade 1 to 6, they are studying five years in the university program and they do their master thesis as well. In education, teaching profession is highly respected in our society and it's very popular among the young people, which makes it possible for us as teacher, educator, as as myself to select the best students to the program. And annually there are about ten fold more applying for training to be a teacher than there is a possibility to accept into the program. And for example, in the US University in 2017 there was 1.5 thousand applicants and we accepted 90. So you can understand that this very selective group of people who are going to be a teachers in our schools teacher training program is research informed.

So the teacher students use read a lot of studies and they are involved in research projects during their studies and they do they master theses in in the research projects and it's possible for them to continue their studies to doctoral degree in education as well. And the idea behind that is that when they go to the schools to act as a teacher, they have all the tools how to develop the schools, and they own teaching using the research as a resource to do that. Teachers have a strong autonomy well, because they are very educated. We trust them a lot. And there is a strong autonomy and pedagogical freedom to implement the curriculum and develop their practices. And from from many research, we have seen that teachers are strongly committed to their work. So the dropout from the teacher profession is is very rare in. About the national curriculum. Then there's just some highlights concerning the curriculum. So it's student centric teaching and learning. It's emphasized the interactions and student students experiences taking care of of focus on the interest areas, support motivation and engagement for learning to enhance students participation, increase the meaningfulness of study, and make it possible for each and everyone to experience success during their school career. So try to find the best and there is place or space to solve the interest. And so they based on their competencies. So the students sector, they are involved setting the goals for the learning, solve problems and assess the learning based on set targets and the individual learning approaches of each student need to be taken into consideration in teaching practices.

The inclusion idea is in our curriculum and so also the students with special needs are integrated in the normal classroom. We have still also the special special education schools, but not very many. The theatrical background in our curriculum and teacher education is very, very well. I describe it also in curriculum. And I just highlighted three things here. So the development of system theory of program is one, that the daily teachers are interactions and teaching practices and continuous exchanges between teachers and the children is very important. It's also the central drivers for child learning and development, the interaction between the teacher and the student and between the students. The next thing is that effective teaching. That means that there are some principals of effective teaching and teaching strategies. For example, the supportive classroom climate, the scaffolding creation of motivational, motivational atmosphere, classroom management issues and curriculum and instruction and assistance. And the third one is educational dialogue, which is nowadays very much under the discussion, because the recent research has found quite few educational dialogue in the classroom observations, and now we are nowadays emphasizing more to develop that part of education in the classrooms in a way that, based on the idea that the learning emphasized the development of knowledge and understanding through talk and inquiry, and the process of scaffolding is interwoven in education dialogues whereby the teacher supports students participation, meaning making an independent thinking through open questions, inquiry and feedback, and encourage them to explain their thinking.

We have run 13 well, 11 years a longitudinal study called first step study starting from from the pre school classroom until the end of the basic education where more than 2000 students and they teachers and parents and we saw there that the quality of teacher student interaction makes the difference. The quality of the high quality means that in the classroom we have a positive classroom climate, a good social relations, warm relation between the teacher and the students. Teacher was sensitive on sensitive, sensitive students needs in the classroom. Records for students perspectives was taken care of and there was a space for that classroom organization was very well done and scaffolding learning processes by feedback loops was evident and there was time for thinking, analyzing, problem solving and the education dialogue in the classroom. Those are effective, effective to the motivation and engagement in the classrooms in every age and where in the classrooms where the motivation and engagement was high level to achieve achievement at the social skills development of better. What we mean by the motivation. It's not only the interest about some things, but it's we followed Eco's idea and the Ryan and the ideas about the motivation that underlying motivation or goals beliefs about one skills and capabilities, expectancies of success and the interest attached to achieving various outcomes are key determinants of engaged learning. And the Ryan and Daisy idea is about autonomy, competence and relatedness affecting to to the intrinsic motivation for the individuals very, very much.

There's three examples about the research results where we have seen that this is from the kindergarten classroom where we saw that the the differences between the classroom were in the learning motivation and it was explained the well-being of the teacher and how well they organized the classroom. And the learning motivation was mediating the development of a logical awareness. Also in in in the classrooms where the tax and trade practices were more frequent, the interest in reading task was evident. And in the grade six we saw that the quality of educational dialogues was affecting. The decrease in academic subjects is quite strongly. So how were the most effective teachers unique in that follow up? The first thing was that they emphasized student centric practices with active role of teacher. So the teacher was involved in the learning sessions and the situations. But the was very sensitive to students need and and and the agency of the students a high quality society interaction was evident there the sensitivity to children's needs. There was more opportunities for differentiation, how to learn how to go forward in learning situations and so on. Where engaged in the activities. The lessons where. Well, planning and organized the curriculum. Emphasis on social interaction, motivation, self-regulation and competence building which is actually evident in our curriculum as well, that is should be emphasized. So it seems that together we are strong also in the classroom now, not only the teacher but together with the students. So thank you.

Made possible by the Prepared Adult Initiative.