Effective Mathematics Teaching in Finnish and Swedish Teacher Education Discourses

Dec. 01, 2015

Source: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Volume 18 issue 6, (2015), p. 501–521

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores effective mathematics teaching as constructed in Finnish and Swedish teacher educators’ discourses.

The data collected through focus group interviews with lecturers, interviews with mentoring teachers supervising prospective teachers in schools and feedback discussions between mentors and prospective teachers to study how good mathematics teaching is constructed.


Teacher educators in both countries bring into play a variety of aspects identified in the field of mathematics education research, when talking about good mathematics teachers/teaching. The teachers often talk about the same general categories, but a deeper analysis reveals a substantial difference between the characters of the discourses concerning how most of these categories are conceptualized.

First, the Swedish teacher educators tend to conceptualize effective teaching as interactions with individual children, building on students’ ideas and emanating mathematics from everyday situations, while the Finnish teacher educators stress the importance of a clear presentation of mathematics, routines and homework as well as specific goals for every lesson.

Second, while assessment in the discourse of the Swedish teacher educators concerns the act of listening to pupils, in the Finnish discourse it concerns not only this but also using written tests and formatively assessing homework.

Third, as to the category of classroom practices, the Swedish teacher educators avoid promoting concrete methods or routines as desirable, since teachers should flexibly build their teaching on the needs of the individual pupil. In the Finnish teacher educators’ discourse, a balance between routines and variation, as well as homework, is stressed as important for quality mathematics teaching, and several recurring routines are advocated as favorable.

Fourth, including problem-solving in mathematics classrooms is raised by teacher educators in both countries as important for good mathematics teaching. Open and rich problems are particularly advocated by the Swedish teacher educators in order to flexibly build the teaching on students’ different solutions, while in the Finnish discourse, it refers to letting students test and fail in the frame of quite strictly planned and structured instruction, and offering problems especially to the talented pupils.

Fifth, in the Finnish discourse, goal-orientedness refers to clear goals for the lessons and knowledge of the long-term goals, while the Swedish teacher educators talk about the importance of not losing sight of the goals when working with everyday situations or hands-on elaborations with the children. Furthermore, the flexibility in teaching in the Swedish discourse refers to being able to follow the paths of the children and help the individual pupil move forward in the content, whereas in the Finnish discourse, it is about modifying the lesson plans and routines according to how pupils seem to be learning the current topic.

Finally, the Swedish teacher educators argue that a teacher should possess good mathematical and didactical knowledge in order to be able to flexibly emanate mathematics from everyday phenomena and students’ interests and to lead discussions about students’ different solutions in connection to problem-solving. However, the Finnish teacher educators state that teachers’ mathematical knowledge should be sufficient in order to be able to perform the planned teaching activities and they portray a good teacher more as a master of different methods.


The study has limitations, since its results cannot be generalized to the two countries but rather show interesting conceptualizations of effective teaching, adding to international theory building. However, this discursive approach to conceptualize and analyze data did not only reveal interesting differences of how teacher educators construct good mathematics teaching but also focuses the explicit and implicit positioning of teachers and students within the discourse. Finally, the authors found features harmonizing with US discourse, especially in the Swedish discourse, while some features in the Finnish discourse are similar to the findings in some Asian countries such as the relationship between understanding and memorizing, and the role of the lesson plans in the Finnish and the Japanese teaching practice. To further characterize and explain whether and how influences from other discourses are recontextualized in Sweden and Finland is an area worth future studies.

Updated: Jul. 04, 2017