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Saunalahti school

Personalized learning and wellbeing in the school community

This model helps you to build flexible and personalized learning opportunities. It centers on utilizing students' personal strengths and improving study motivation through ownership of learning.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






March 2017
Personalized learning allows children and youth to progress in their studies according to their personal learning abilities and strengths. Learning can happen independently from students' age or grade.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

The Saunalahti model is based on a personalized learning plan that is designed with the guardians. Their goals are set according to their strengths, skill-level defined by a special-needs teacher as well as their own interests. These goals are also founded on the curriculum's objectives and modified to fit each child.

When students are engaged in setting goals for themselves, they engage in working towards them and they gain agency over their education. The goals are founded in the student's skill-level and progress in studies charted in regular meetings with a team of special-needs teachers. The teachers, however, also assess the student's need for support and a general need for flexible learning groups during these meetings.

Learning is personalized but still collaborative and, above all, child-focused. The model is focused on children's comprehensive wellbeing and seamless multiprofessional collaboration on a daily basis that engages also the guardians. The children's whole developmental community works together to support their wellbeing, personal growth, development and learning. This sets the stage for the joy of learning both for the children and adults – together.

The model requires strong, collaborative pedagogical leadership and a framework that supports it. Teacher teams that encourage collaborative planning and assessment of learning processes illustrate these aspects well. When the framework is founded on participation, everyone at the school can feel like they are heard and seen and this creates an environment where anyone can make a difference.

The planning process allows you to direct resources at children in need right when they are needed. The goal is for every student to find their own, diverse methods to work and learn.

These eight steps illustrate how to build a school community that supports personalized learning and what you should note when creating a personalized learning path.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


The model provides personalized learning paths for students all through basic education.


The flexible learning model centers on students' strengths and builds their self-esteem. The assessment style is focused on developing the individual in concrete ways.


The innovation can be implemented in any school, in any grade with enough time.

Implementation steps

How to get started
Start experimenting with personalized learning with a small exercise during a single lesson.

For example, during a mother tongue lesson, set up groups based on the students' reading abilities and design each group a motivating exercise suited to their skill-level.

You can implement this teaching style to any subject. The teacher can design, say, three different tasks varying in difficulty and the students can choose the task-set they feel able to take on.

Teacher's responsibilities

In the long-term, the model requires teachers to command action-based and motivating learning methods. Furthermore, they must be skilled in various assessment methods which they can later develop in the teacher teams.

The significance of knowing the students
Personalized learning and differentiating is always built on a strong foundation of knowledge of the students.

Teachers can build this foundation by communicating with guardians and special-needs teachers, as well as with other professionals or teachers in contact with the child.

Building education based on the students' strengths is imperative. Therefore learning the fundamentals of strength pedagogy can help every teacher to build personalized learning paths.

Mapping students' strengths

Strength pedagogy is based on pedagogy stemming from positive psychology. It focuses on individual character strengths, recognizing emotions and experiencing successes.

You can illustrate character strengths on your classroom wall. Thinking about their successes can help students recognize their character strengths which the student can write down in their individual learning plan together with their teacher.

Saunalahti school has developed a ”Mapping System” for the teachers to track students' learning and need for support in a systematic way. Teachers can plan their instruction based on situation assessments made every couple months by special-needs teachers. Teachers should track every student's progress and skill-level regularly.

Organizing work in the classrooms
Teachers must have proficient organizational skills and teach students how to work independently in order to differentiate the class.

These methods can include working at different stations. You can facilitate differentiating if you expand the learning environment beyond the classroom.

Teachers can gain the skill-set needed for differentiating when they collaborate with their colleagues and have the support and guidance of their superior. Differentiating does not mean designing 20 different learning paths for the class but instead learning to group students based on their abilities and the topic in question. As an illustration, a class of 25 students can be divided into 4–5 skill-groups based on the teachers' expertise knowledge on them.

Teacher collaboration as a strength
Teacher teamwork and collaborative lesson planning are key in supporting differentiating.

This way, teachers are able to share their workload and plan the instruction and learning environments in a reasonable amount of time.

Teachers should collaborate on how they organize the instruction, what methods they will utilize and how to divide the responsibilities. They should consider different types of learners and their interests, as well.


Saunalahti school holds weekly meetings for “pedagogy teams” where teachers can share lesson ideas, work and organizational methods, ways of grouping students in flexible ways as well as divide material preparation responsibilities.

Expanding the model
You can expand the model to other subjects, topics and multidisciplinary modules step-by-step.

A simple starting point is to implement methods of differentiating in arts and physical education as well as various projects and multidisciplinary modules using comprehensive learning methods.

Organizing grade-independent studies
At Saunalahti, grades 1–2 study independent from grade.

Grade-independent studying means instruction that is not tied to the student's grade-level. Students receive instruction related to their level of knowledge, skills and motivation in every subject.

The principle is to provide students with instruction and learning environments that cater to their pedagogical needs.

During this time in primary education, children study in classes with two different age-groups. Every child reaches the primary education objectives in their own time and some children require up to three years to gain the necessary skill-set.

Similarly, the school creates personalized learning plans for older students every year together with the student and guardians. The learning plan includes the student's strengths, current skill-level and potential need for support. The plan also states the student's personal learning objectives, not only cognitive skills but also transversal competences based on the reformed Finnish core curriculum.

Teachers should design learning content and methods that serve all learners. In other words, the activities and tasks should consider every student's skill-level and need for support. Usually this translates into many different tasks taking place in the classroom simultaneously.

Documenting the learning process and tools for assessment
You should document the student's goals and progress in their learning path.

Documenting tools range from a traditional pen and paper to modern electronic tools. Saunalahti school has developed a model for documenting pre-primary and primary education learning. This innovation has been developed further to be used for students through the 8th grade.

The documentation tool is based on forms that include sections for student self-assessment, setting goals and models for assessing them. The model developed at Saunalahti has been transformed into an electronic assessment tool “Assessment Train.”

Personalized collaborative learning building the school culture
In order to get more teacher teams to adopt the model, you must cultivate encouraging and coaching pedagogical leadership and create clear guidelines for collaboration.

All teachers at the school must be involved in designing and collaborating on personalized learning paths. This way teachers can distribute the responsibility of tracking the student's progress and interest in studies as well as providing motivating assessment. It also engages the learner.

As a result, the school culture will slowly shift to a comprehensive view on the strengths of children and youth. This allows students to reach their potential using their learning-to-learn skills.

Spread of the innovation

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