Early Language Learning in Primary School Finland: Case study on eTwinning project (English, Finnish)

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: Oriveden Keskuskoulu (FI)

1 Profile of school

1.1 Main characteristics

The school is situated in the Orivesi town centre. It is a primary school containing pre-school and the grades 1 to 6. The students are from 6 to 13 years of age. There are approximately 240 students and a teaching staff of 10 class teachers, three special needs teachers, an English teacher, two pre-school teachers and four school assistants. The school is the biggest primary school in Orivesi region. Altogether there are 9 primary schools, seven of which are small village schools with only 2-3 teachers. It is a state funded school and it is coeducational. The main language of tuition is Finnish and this is the mother tongue of the children.

1.2 Language teaching in the schools

In Finland everybody has to study Swedish, but those studies don't start until in the 7th grade. In Orivesi students can study German, French or Russian as optional courses in the 8th and 9th grades. English starts in the 3rd grade when the children are 8-9 years old and continues to grade 6 when the children are 12-13, and all pupils are taught the language. There are two lessons of English every week.

The teacher involved uses Information Communication Technology (ICT) extensively in her work in the classroom and the pupils are experienced users of computers, digital cameras and camcorders.

International collaboration activities have been a feature of the work of the school, and, in this context, it has been involved in eTwinning projects since 2005.  These projects are carried out as part of the school curriculum with the 5th and 6th grades, pupils aged 11 – 13 years, therefore all pupils take part. The work is teacher-based although the policy of the school supports the teacher in this work. The class size averages 20 pupils.

 

2 Profile of the language initiative

2.1 General description of the eTwinning action

The eTwinning action is one of the activities that make up the Comenius programme, the school education section of the Lifelong Learning Programme. It currently has 60,000 registered users. Schools and teachers often opt for eTwinning, as it is an easy and non-bureaucratic means of starting a European project. It is unique among the Comenius actions, insofar as it has a dedicated communication space for teachers equipped with a wide range of online communication tools designed for use in the project implementation. Unlike the Comenius school partnership programme, there is no funding for schools involved in eTwinning, and many teachers use eTwinning to begin their Comenius projects while they are waiting for approval, or else to continue the project after the funded period is finished.


The importance of language learning is central to the work of all Comenius actions, and eTwinning is no exception. Within eTwinning, it is impossible to carry out a project without touching in some way on language. This language can be the mother tongue of the project schools, or, as is more often the case, a common third language used as the medium of communication.

 

2.2 Description of the language initiative

The language initiative described for this school is an eTwinning project carried out in collaboration with a Norwegian school. The schools opted for eTwinning as being an ideal vehicle for carrying out a project with younger pupils. The teachers involved were very ICT literate and the eTwinning tools made it easier to implement the project.

The aims of the project were:

The theme of the project was based on the four seasons and the pupils researched this looking at weather, nature, festivals, sports clothes etc. It provided an ideal vehicle for expanding vocabulary on a wide range of topics and the pupils exchanged their ideas and experiences with each other.

The pupils spent 1-2 lessons per month working with the project in the ICT lab at school for online chats and teacher’s guidance. They did a lot of the work at home during free time. Pupils used their home computers for communicating with their partners, wrote letters, did exercises or at least prepared their texts at home. The teacher spent about 2 hours a week planning, preparing tasks and communicating with partner teachers.

3 Evaluation

3.1 Success Factors

The success factor for this project is mainly based on the curricular emphasis for elementary schools in Finland, which places an emphasis on providing open learning environments, i.e. the school opens its door to the world outside and lets it in and pupils out to explore. Within this context, the school regarded involvement in the eTwinning action as an ideal way to do this and realised that it gave  an authenticity to language learning for the pupils, as they could communicate directly with their partners.

This enabled the teacher to implement within an eTwinning context  a substantive language learning experience for her pupils. So one might also comment that the attitude of the teacher was also a major success factor in this study.  She commented, “I have met new people both virtually and in reality. I have been able to exchange ideas and good practices in relation to language learning. I have learnt a lot. And I've had fun, too.”

 

3.2 Success Indicators

The main indicator of success perceived by the teacher was the change of perspective on the part of the pupils. They stopped looking at foreign language as an object of learning and start seeing it as a means of communication, a way to new understanding. For young children, this was an important point, as in the opinion of the teacher, it formed a basis for all their further language learning in the future.  Other indicators observed by the teacher was an increased motivation on the part of the pupils for their language lesson and the fact that they were willing to spend extra time at home working on this project.

 

When the project was over the pupils were asked to give some comments on the experience. They are produced below, translated by the teacher from Finnish.