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Observations of a Danish Classroom by a Former Chinese Teacher

December, 11 2023
EMTM 2023-2025 Kolding

After resigning from my eight-year teaching position, I relocated to a small city in Denmark to pursue further studies. The transition brought about excitement and the allure of the unknown. Fortunately, my fascination with diverse lifestyles and uncertainties transformed every encounter and emotion into a source of joy and personal growth.

Observations of a Danish Classroom by a Former Chinese Teacher

Returning to studying after work brought a profound change. Reconnecting with education imposed by others made me constantly reflect on what I received and what I could give back. Reading foreign views on education stirred a mix of emotions—dismay, delight, shame, regret, and an eagerness to put these insights into practice. It felt like my heart was being shaped by a gentle but persistent hammer, not out of sadness, but from a deep realization.

Sitting among students of a similar age to my first class, I found myself pondering without apprehension or eagerness. As Goethe wisely said, "Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but not as interesting as observing." I didn't travel 8,842 kilometers to compare moon phases; I wanted to avoid regulating my relationship with the world. While many admire my courage, they might not realize that courage is all I have. Behind it lies uneasiness about going off the grid, fear of uncertainty, and self-denial lingering since my IELTS preparation days. Nevertheless, I shrugged off these concerns with a smile and took my seat.

What awaited in the school's "starter pack"? A pre-approved student card, a stick of chewing gum, an introduction to the Jutland peninsula, and a thick pile of vouchers for tickets, music festivals, museums, pubs, and weekend events. The intent was clear. Real learning, distinct from earning a diploma, involves connecting with the wonderful world around us. The first day of Freshers' Week unfolded with various activities. The professor's speech focused on encouraging feedback for course improvement, emphasizing a warm welcome not just in words but evident in the dedication of those serious about their pursuits. I felt touched by every individual committed to something meaningful.

Though human nature is similar, teaching methods differ. Teachers here don't obsess over explaining concepts but present a news link, allowing students to identify, compare, and understand. The process involves repeated discussions, retrieval, and access, encouraging independent thinking. The teaching efficiency may differ from traditional Chinese methods, where the teacher acts as a vanguard illuminating the essential points. However, teaching effectiveness remains subjective. The "flare" approach, while momentarily disorienting, encourages self-discovery and problem-solving joy, fostering initiative and enthusiasm.

After a series of exciting orientation days, my study life returned to the daily routine. This gave me a closer look at the Danish classroom, and the insights and experiences I gained grew with each day's homework.

A Very Malleable Metal

Whenever I saw the teacher walk in with a large white sheet of paper and a watercolor pencil in her hand, I couldn't help but take a deep, careful breath in my mind. That heavy feeling almost instantly transported me back to my middle school years when I first learned that I had to write an essay with the class. It felt as if the surface of a flat lake suddenly gathered dark clouds, foretelling that everything could be predicted, and the sunny mood would soon be blown away by the wind, and the rain would break up.

For Chinese students accustomed to the traditional "question and answer" classroom, this kind of group task is genuinely stressful. A few randomly grouped students need to discuss a set topic in a very short period, and not only do they need to clarify the topic of their speech as soon as possible, but they also need to list out the main points. Defining the topic promptly and listing the main points, and, more importantly, ensuring everything is logical and convincing, pose significant challenges. I struggled to switch between two languages and different ways of thinking. The switch was always rusty and stagnant; my mouth could never keep up with my brain, my brain could never keep up with my eyes, and I was quickly lost in the desert of speech and semantics. The more difficult part was the final presentation. Despite having eight years of professional training as a teacher, I didn't feel any stage fright when I spoke, but it was not easy to "output" the information that I had just "inputted" into my mind in a different way. In Chinese, I have a lot of fixed collocations, such as "effectively enhance," "effectively carry out," "comprehensive literacy," "disciplinary thinking." When it comes to specific people, you can also scribble "relevant people" and "relevant departments," but these vague boundaries and unclear expressions cannot be used here. A good presentation here is one that "makes sense," which may not be too colorful but should have a clear objective and complete logic.

My classmates were always friendly, and if I stayed silent for too long, they would encourage me to speak up more. When reporting back on my speech, they would also inquire about which part of my speech I felt comfortable taking on. These classroom behaviors are obviously not just an innate ability to "be nice" but are the result of being trained over time in this classroom model. Teachers always emphasize "mutual respect," avoiding dismissing anyone with phrases like "yes, but...," and encourage all ideas. It is always recommended to cooperate with students from different countries and cultures and not stick together as good friends. Therefore, grouping is not always based on the principle of voluntarism. Sometimes each person writes down his or her interest in the topic, and then the students find each other, several people finding a "maximum common denominator" in terms of interest and ability. Sometimes it is a random number, so that students whose seats are far apart will randomly group together by reporting a common number.

So far, the Danish classroom I have experienced is like a kind of malleable metal; everything is symbiotic and malleable. Direction, right, and wrong are obviously not the most important part; what matters is that through the dialogue, we work together to stretch the breadth and depth of the content. It is also in this kind of teaching interaction that the fascinating light of thinking, like metal, shines everywhere.

A Vast Classroom

The professor spontaneously boarded the bus and casually sat on the floor as soon as he noticed there were no seats. Do I really not have to give up my seat? The vehicle for the field research had just left, and I faced a "moral dilemma." I quickly shared my confusion with my circle of friends, seeking advice from over 8,000 kilometers away. Should I let it be? Despite being deeply ingrained with the traditional culture of "respect for teachers" and "gentle, kind, and frugal," I felt a genuine struggle in my heart. Eventually, I stood up and relinquished my seat, even though the teacher insisted on not sitting down, making myself feel completely at ease.

Every day, I encountered various moments of wonder. To call it "culture shock" is a bit of an exaggeration, but describing it as a "culture surprise" seems just right. Everything was new and unexpected, not "good" or "right" in the absolute sense, but they prompted me to ask further questions and think.

Taking fieldwork as an example, I witnessed diverse energy behind different educational approaches. At the start of the semester, the teacher had announced the fieldwork, and it was, of course, exciting to go out. While we were all thrilled, we were also given our own "task list." The teacher outlined the general scope of the topic, leaving the rest to each of us. Sounds simple, right? In practice, however, it was incredibly difficult. From selecting content to the research process, to conducting research in the local area and phrasing each sentence, all the steps were very detailed, requiring us to "look ahead and think back."  We are all familiar with Einstein's saying, "It is often more important to ask a question than to solve a problem." This is a familiar saying, but we often overlook the reality that it is more challenging to ask a specific question than to solve one. With three dozen people sharing the same journey under the guidance of the same teacher, finding a valuable entry point and articulating their thinking with clarity and depth can be very challenging. It is precisely in this "immersive" field learning that students discover their own abilities and preferences and tap into their own enormous potential.

Normally, when we visit an art museum, it is for leisure travel, enjoying personal preferences along the way; now, with the task to visit, we observe people quietly listening to meditation, nodding their foreheads, or hastily recording. How to maximize the teaching effect, rather than letting everything become a formality of "study tours," is the urgent need for educators to consider. The test is not only a sincere heart for education but also the ability of curriculum design, organization, and coordination. Of course, the whole journey is only a small part of the learning process, and students must further refine and integrate all the information they have acquired into a text, present it as a narrative, and receive questions and feedback from the audience, ultimately completing the entire process from field learning to academic expression. After returning, the report takes various forms, some turned into animated videos, some into on-site mock interviews. I have always believed that good education should be inspiring; teachers, I have always believed, should provide a light source, and then students, like a ray, extend their ability to reach poor reasoning and continue to seek. I don't know if there is a Danish saying about "learning by doing," but it is obvious that this kind of field study is a good practice of this saying.

As I continue navigating the Danish educational landscape, the innovative teaching methods, collaborative spirit, and focus on critical thinking inspire me. The dynamic and inclusive nature of Danish classrooms continually reshapes my educational journey, urging me to question, explore, and appreciate the transformative power of learning.

Written by Beiming Fan, Student of EMTM Generation 2023-2025

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