Dear reader, welcome aboard! My name is Roosa and I am a Finnish teacher exploring opportunities to work abroad as an educator. While studying different education systems and their ideas of learning and teaching, I provide personalised private language lessons in Finnish and Swedish, and design teacher training courses.
Please welcome my favourite time of the year once again: the clock changing circus. The last time we went through this in March-April was a total disaster. Therefore, I’m now prepared with double and triple checks on all of my students’ time zones to make sure that I know what’s going on. Also, I’ve got some exciting news about the new work I accepted last week.
First let us review the facts. At the end of March, Europe changed its time from winter time (standard time) to summer time (Daylight Saving Time, DST) by setting the clocks one hour forward. On October the 25th they will change it back to the standard time. As we are located in the Southern Hemisphere and the seasons are all upside-down here in Australia, we set our clocks one hour backwards earlier this year. Now, we set the clocks forward to have the standard time again. This means that during the European spring and summer, Australian Autumn and Winter, the time difference between Finland and Eastern Australia is 7 hours and the rest of the year it’s 9h. Pretty simple, eh?
What I didn’t realise, however, was the fact that countries all around the world have different dates for changing the time. Not to mention that more than half of the countries do not observe DST, including some countries’ independent states like Queensland here in Australia. And this means that between those clock-setting dates the time difference between Finland and Victoria goes first to 8 hours for a couple of weeks and then to 7 or 9 hours depending on the time of the year.
Last March-April I wasn’t aware of the different dates when the time difference to Melbourne changed so I managed to mess up my whole schedule for a couple of weeks. The weekly lessons booked from different time zones which either changed or didn’t change the time, overlapped and I had to reschedule almost everything.
This time I prepared myself both manually and digitally by listing all my students, their time zones, and the time changing policies of their countries and making sure Google Calendar gives me the right times based on the DST changes. After all this maths my brain hurts, however I am happy because once again it is a new task that I can do as a private online teacher.
Oh yes, the new job! I signed my very first employment contract with an Australian employer and I’ll start working next week. So excited! More on this coming up so stay tuned.
Still living through Melbourne’s second lockdown. My housemates and I have found a new way to break the everyday routine and have a little bit of excitement in our days of starring the screen: playing social games! So far, my favourite ones have been Monopoly Deal, and of course, the best Finnish outdoor game of all time – Mölkky – which by the way, is not “Finska” or “Battle Blocks” as they call it here in Australia.
The games got me thinking about all the social activities we used to have with my 5th graders in Sweden. That class just loved all kinds of games, challenges, and drama improvisations. And what they learnt through a game or other fun learning activities, they remembered later in the exam. It’s amazing how learning can be boosted by simply making it fun for the learners. So why not to try the same in online teaching!
The newest project in my private teaching has been converting the good old social games, like Pictionary, Alias (a Finnish word explanation game), and classic card games into online versions in which the students get to practise Finnish vocabulary and structures. For instance, the best ice breaker game on the very first lesson with Finnish as a second language students has been the game called Kuutamolla (Two Truths and a Lie) where the student and I come up with some sentences about ourselves, some of the truth and some of them lies, and try to guess which ones are true and which false.
In the small group of adult beginners, the game that made me and the students laugh the most was the Finnish Small Talk game which I invented when exploring the Monopoly Deal cards. In this game, I gave the students some questions and responses in Finnish and their task was to chat with each other by matching the phrases so that the conversation would make (at least some kind of) sense. With the wild cards like “No niin” (oh well / so / yeah) and “Mun pitää mennä. Moikka!” (I must go. Bye!), some excitement and entertainment were added to the game when a player got a new turn or made a funny match with the phrases.
Playing games is not everyone’s cup of tea – or “pala kakkua” (a piece of cake) as we say in Finnish – but it’s certainly an effective learning strategy for those who enjoy it. I haven’t noticed any difference between children and adult learners in terms of the effectiveness of game-based learning. Adults might sometimes be surprised by how beneficial playing language games together with other students can be in terms of learning. Younger learners, on the other hand, are usually more open-minded for different teaching methods; they want to try new learning activities to see if they like them or not. Anyway, the feedback I often receive from adult learners is that they discovered or understood something new about the Finnish language when trying a different learning method as it gives them a new perspective to explore the topic. That’s why I want to encourage all students to try various learning methods. You never know if the new strategy motivates you to learn more!
I am starting four new Finnish courses for small groups in August:
Learn Finnish through games: adult beginners (CEFR A0-A1)
Learn Finnish through News: adult intermediate level (CEFR A1-A2)
Game Club: young Finns living abroad, ages 7-10
Media Club: young Finns living abroad, ages 11-15
The beginner course Learn Finnish through Games and the Game Club for young Finns abroad focus on game-based learning. Meet other Finnish learners and practise everyday vocabulary, useful phrases, and basic grammar through activating social games. In News Club and the intermediate course Learn Finnish through News, the learners are encouraged to explore the Finnish language through various multimedia texts. By learning strategies to read, understand, and discuss Finnish news, the students improve their multi-literacy and communication skills in Finnish. To discover new learning strategies, check out the new courses on my website!
Thanks to all the amazing students who booked Finnish lessons with me, my new career as a private teacher and sole trader experienced a good kickstart during its first two months. I found many new, eager, highly motivated, and hard-working students who gave me fresh inspiration for teaching the Finnish language. Simultaneously, I have enjoyed learning more about my old students and exploring their ways of learning. Knowing my students better gives me confidence and energy to keep on working and creating new ways to teach Finnish.
The newest idea that I launched recently, was small group learning. I created a small group learning model with some of my old students by bringing them together into a video call meeting to practise Finnish through dialogue and social activities. It was important to me to make sure that all the participants would feel comfortable in the group. Therefore, I recommended the first entry-level group to students who are more or less on the same level in Finnish, have similar connections to Finland, and similar reasons to learn the language. The dynamics in that group have been better than even I could have imagined! It’s always a good sign when the students who have never met before find something in common, feel comfortable sharing things about themselves to others, and can laugh together.
On the entry-level, we practise common everyday phrases, grammar, and vocabulary to use in simple conversations with other Finnish-speakers. Through various learner-centered methods, the students will improve their responding, speaking, and listening skills in Finnish. As a teacher, I enjoy having the role of a mentor who manages the learning session in the background while the students learn by interacting with each other. At the beginning of the course, however, I guide the group by using rather structured lesson plans in order to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at participating. A structured lessons plan also helps the group to stay on the topic and focus on the purpose of the lesson.
We begin the lesson with a casual chat including greeting and asking questions. After that, we have a vocabulary and grammar session, which is usually the only teacher-centered element of the lesson. To have the opportunity to apply the theory, the students will play an activating game, drama, or do another creative activity at the end of the lesson before it is time for feedback. Additionally, we have our own Google Classroom group where I share optional extra tasks and material to support self-studying. As the students get to know each other better, the structure of the meetings will naturally become more flexible; enabling free discussion and sharing experiences. I was pleasantly surprised when the students were inspired to share their own flashcards with the other group members.
I am happy to notice that this kind of small group learning works even with total beginners, and thus, I am looking forward to establishing more small groups for Finnish learners of all levels. I think it’s important that all language students start practising communication skills right at the very beginning of their learning journey because it gives them more confidence when having a conversation with native-speakers. If you wait for too long without practising any speaking, listening, or reacting, you might subconsciously raise the bar for opening your mouth. Social learning in a small group gives students peer support and motivation when they can see that there are others on the same boat. Furthermore, I have noticed that it is also an easier way to start for many students to communicate with other non-natives instead of native-speakers because are able to explain things to each other in a different way than natives. However, in order to prevent misconceptions and provide professional feedback, my role as a teacher is still essential. I like to think of language teaching as a bridge-building dialogue between the learners and native speakers. Students can always come to me and ask about something they do not understand when communicating in Finnish, receive guidance and encouragement, and continue their journey again.
In addition to courses for foreigners, I launched two group learning options for Finnish children and youths living abroad. In these new clubs – Media Club for youths aged between 10 and 15, and Story Club for children aged from 7 to 9 – the goal is to improve the native and second language learners’ conversation skills in Finnish. Through authentic age-appropriate material, dialogue, and real-life connections, I want to encourage Finnish children living abroad to share and discuss their rich and valuable understanding of different cultures. I have always admired their way of discussing different perspectives, and therefore, I would like to create an international platform for them to expand this communication. Starting with cosy small groups, we practise literacy and communication skills, asking questions from a text, and sharing thoughts. The idea is to upgrade the discussion clubs later into workshops, where the same participants who already know each other, would create their own media content or stories.
I am keen to see where the new online group learning takes me. Also, I am excited to meet new Finnish learners. Read more about the group learning options on https://www.teacherroosa.com/grouplearning, sign up for a small group course, or recommend it to a friend! 🙂
The first month of living in Melbourne and I already started to forget how to stay optimistic in the process of getting the Victorian teaching license. For sure, the Coronavirus has also had its impact on my mood as I started to get calls from my now pretty much closed home country and as the people around here are going mad with the unreasonable hoarding panic. For the first time, my family back in Europe would say that they are happy that I’m not there.
Despite the less restricted life in Australia (for now), I couldn’t help but question my recent decisions, realising, that this is not an ideal time to be an unemployed teacher in a new country. What if the license process takes until the end of the term and I run out of money? When I finally get my license, what if they close the schools in Australia as they are now doing in Finland? However, I refuse to write a letter of complaint. Here’s how I try to keep myself motivated and out of this widespread end-of-the-world mood even as unemployed in a new country.
Concern 1: What if I still need to wait for months to get the Victorian teaching license?
Waiting for an administrative process to be done is probably the worst thing I know, especially, when it keeps me from getting a job that I was trained for.
Solution: Keep busy.
The situation has given me time to re-think what I really want from my career. It made me research today’s educational field and find new interesting opportunities. I was inspired to study and expand my qualifications.
Luckily, I also found myself a part-time job as a homeschool teacher to a Finnish-Australian family. Getting back to teaching year 1 Finnish classes, I work towards maintaining and improving the bilingual kids’ Finnish skills. Thanks to Kulkurikoulu, I will simultaneously improve my own skills in teaching year 1 Finnish. What a perfect deal!
Concern 2: What if I run out of money?
Obviously, both, exploring a new country and sitting at home, cost money. Paying for waiting definitely doesn’t make it any easier to be unemployed.
Solution: Get creative.
Forced to expand career options, I have been working on my online Finnish lessons and considering to turn it into something bigger than just a hobby. As the current global situation is getting strictly limited as well as becoming quite unpredictable, the online teaching providers have (unfortunately or fortunately) found the school closings as a great opportunity for business. Might as well get on board with my online Finnish lessons! I warmly welcome all tips and recommendations regarding online teaching and starting your own website!
Concern 3: What if there aren’t any jobs when I get the teaching license?
Ironically, when I was writing this, I heard that the state of Victoria is going to close some of the schools this week so this question remains unsolved. My criminal history checks are still in process, either stuck at the authorities in Finland and Sweden or stuck somewhere on the way here. This means that the process will be delayed anyways. Not much I can do to hurry the international post in this situation.
Solution: Make the plan B to become a plan A.
I guess the only thing I can do now is to focus on the plan b’s, such as online teaching and homeschooling. Nothing is certain yet, except that we are definitely living interesting times. Stay tuned as this might be an opportunity to start something exciting!
Even though the last time we had a vacation was only a month ago, a break from school life feels once again deserved. To celebrate the last day before the Easter holidays and my comeback from a week-long sick leave, I planned Toimintatorstai (not Maundy Thursday this time but Thursday full of action) for the pupils. The idea was to forget the books for one day. Here are two of my ideas for functional education I introduced on Toimintatorstai.
Like in sports reports, the idea of action reporting is to tell the others what is happening in the video you are watching together. I gathered the pupils to sit in front of the screen so that they could reach each other. There is a microphone (we used a whiteboard eraser) going from pupil to pupil to show whose turn it is to report.
First, we talked about reporting, what it means and how it is like in sports news. We have been practising verbs and substantives in Finnish so I gave them two basic examples: something happens or someone does something. As a teacher, I encourage everybody to say at least one thing that happens or name one thing they see in the video. The video I used was only 7 minutes long. Therefore, we also counted how many seconds can one speak so that everyone gets a turn. This exercise is suitable for both L1 and L2 learners since every student defines his/her own level. My favourite videos for this exercise are Shaun the Sheep episodes which are short enough but full of action to report about.
It is a tradition in the schools in Finland to practise planting every Easter with rairuoho, ryegrass. I didn’t know how difficult it would be to find ryegrass in Sweden but since I had already decided I wanted to do this project, I ended up asking a friend to bring some ryegrass seeds all the way from Finland. We planted them already two weeks ago so that they had a good time to grow before Easter. This project combines Finnish (or any other language), Arts, Biology and little bit of Maths as well. It is suitable for all grades.
1. Comics. We started by drawing comics with four square-shaped panels. I had drawn and copied the grids of the right size for them. The topic of the comics was obviously Easter so first, we thought about different characters and events related to Easter. Then the pupils drew one sketch version with pencils and one final version with colourful markers.
2. Puzzle. As planting pots we used milk cartons I had collected from the school’s kitchen. I asked the pupils to measure and cut the cartons so that every side had the same length as the comic panels. We cut the panels separately and glued them in the right order on the milk cartons.
3. Plant. Planting ryegrass is very easy and there are many simple instructions – at least in Finnish – you can find online. For our grass it took one week to sprout and grow. We watered the grass every day with a spray bottle and trim it after one week.
4. Share. On Thursday before taking the Easter grass home the kids were, for once, allowed to use their cellphones in the classroom. The task was to take a photo of each comic panel (4 in total) and send them to me via Snapchat. I had, of course, created a separate teacher account for this task. Another option was to send it from home via email with the help of parents. It worked pretty well and the students liked it! At the same time we also practised (social) media skills when testing different perspectives for the photos and learning how to share pictures privately on Snapchat.
April Fool’s Day
Since the April Fool’s Day is officially today, I tested the students’ sense of humour on Thursday with a little prank. I told them that the principal had decided to test all the 4th-grade students with a concentration test because it has been “so restless and bad behaviour lately”. I had actually printed out a test with ridiculous tasks like “go and knock the door” and “make a hole in the test paper with your pencil”. The point was only to read the first sentence that kindly asked the student to read carefully through the whole text. At the end of the test, it said: “Now that you have read the tasks, turn the paper over and raise your hand.” It was very hard to keep the poker face for those 3 minutes until the first one understood the joke. Fortunately, everyone laughed when I started to recite the Finnish April Fool’s poem.
Aprillia, aprillia, syö silliä, juo kuravettä päälle!
Anyway, now it’s time to enjoy the Easter vacation, which in Sweden means not only the holidays but the whole week off! I cannot complain. It’s a perfect time to relax, travel and reload new energy.
Getting back the discipline and normal order in the classroom has now been my main task. You could refer to it as the “norming after storming” stage like in the classical group developing model. I will now introduce you to two routines which I introduced to the pupils in order to maintain discipline and promote peace in the classroom. I can proudly say they finally work as they should making the daily life in the classroom much easier!
To provide some background information, I think it is worth mentioning that one big difference compared to the standard Finnish school system is that here the lessons are 60 minutes long with 10min recesses between. Still, for some 4th graders, it is a challenge to get out on time, especially during winter when you have a lot of clothes to wear. For me, the schedule was also a challenge in the beginning because I was used to the Finnish 45min+15min system. I realised that as 60min is too long for the children to remain focused, it is a challenge for me to plan a 60min lesson without the hassle of children becoming too tired by the end. 60min is also too long to stay seated.
We started doing Math Yoga (matteyoga/matikkajooga) in order to increase concentration and also to move more during the long days at school. This idea was a mixture of the Finnish Liikkuva koulu project, Yoga with Adriene videos and some Pinterest pictures (“yoga for kids”). The idea is very simple. When the pupil has finished one page of math exercises he/she can go to the yoga corner (the corner at the far end of our classroom where we put some floor pillows), pick a yoga pose from a catalogue with pictures and names and hold that pose for 10 seconds. Believe it or not, they will come back and continue calculating! I also noticed that it’s good if they have the possibility to do more pages in a row and have a longer relaxing moment afterwards. The rule, however, remains the same: 1 page = 10s yoga. (See an example of a yoga catalogue below.)
Tasks of the day
Nowadays’ kids should be good at programming and coding, right? Maybe on their devices but not necessarily in reality when it comes to assigning tasks to themselves. Even though the students are very active and enthusiastic, I noticed that they aren’t independent enough to start a new (at least not a didactic) task spontaneously when the first one is completed. They come to ask me what to do next even though there are still exercises left on the same given pages. Some of the students cannot concentrate on the same subject for 60min so I figured we need more freedom to get better self-guidance and thus better order.
What really helped the children and me was to write the tasks of the day for each subject on the board every morning. I still present the new topic at the beginning of every lesson, but once they have completed their tasks they are free to move on to another subject or carry on with tasks which may not have been finished in previous lessons. On one hand, this system helps them to focus on difficult subjects where some extra time is needed. On the other hand, it gives variety to their lessons and freedom to choose what is the best way to reach a goal. Like in coding, there are different ways to get to the same goal, but the code must be thought-through with your own best logic.
After sportlov I’m feeling much more confident with everyday routines at work. It’s time to focus on the special features of this new learning environment. As I’m a new teacher in another country using two foreign languages in addition to my own native language, it will still take some time to settle into this position. The motivation for being fluent in Swedish is now higher than ever because it would definitely make the work easier for me. To understand the students’ communication and their culture is one of the most important things in teacher’s work, if not the most important one. But what is the communication like in a bilingual school? How does it work to teach in two languages?
In a bilingual school, instead of one teaching language, there are two languages with academic status, which is why the lessons are usually given in both languages, more or less at the same time. The exceptions in our school are of course the Finnish and Swedish lessons where everything is in one language. The goal of this particular type of bilingual education is so-called additive bilingualism. Basically, it means that the aim is to improve two languages simultaneously and give the students good academic skills in both the major language (Swedish) and the teaching language (Finnish). Additive bilingualism is often applied in minority language schools, such as Finnish or Sámi schools in Sweden, to support the status of the national minorities.
But how to teach in two languages simultaneously? It is still a mystery to me how it is supposed to work fluently. At first, I thought it would be something like CLIL or language immersion where the goal is also to improve two languages. However, the difference to bilingual education is that the teaching language in these cases is not the students’ native language. For example in Finland, the language immersion programs (kielikylpyluokka) in Swedish are designed for children whose parents are Finnish speaking and who speak Finnish as their first language. The same with the CLIL programs in English – the students don’t speak English at home, but they learn it at school where it’s integrated into different topics. In these programs, the teacher can (in most cases) assume that the teaching language is new to all students. In bilingual schools, however, the students’ level in the two teaching languages varies. And what I’ve learned this far is that it varies a lot. Like most of the schools in Stockholm, also ours is multilingual/multicultural, not only Finnish and Swedish. Some students might even speak three languages at home in addition to the two spoken at school. Therefore, it can be very hard to define which language is the student’s “first language” (L1) and which one should be taught as the “second language” (L2). I’m getting a bit lost here with all the different concepts so let’s go back to practice.
For those students who are fluent bilinguals (both FI and SE as L1), it’s not a problem to switch between languages during the lessons. For instance, if we read a text in Swedish, the bilinguals can continue talking about it in Finnish without translating. However, I was surprised how much we need translating after all. It seems to be very important and interesting for the pupils to compare the languages. I started to question the method where the teacher should not translate but stick to the teaching language and explain the difficult words with that. If there’s a translation that means the same, why not to switch the language and translate? The translations are especially needed in math and science since the students should learn the important concepts in both languages. Usually, we mix Finnish and Swedish material depending on the topic. For those students whose Finnish is much weaker than Swedish, we have the exact same math books translated into Swedish (Tuhattaituri/Karlavagnen). Furthermore, I sometimes give instructions in both languages to those who need it. However, as I’m not bilingual (FI/SE) myself, I’ve still got a lot to do with my Swedish to be confident enough to teach fluently in Swedish.
If we go out from the academic world and listen how the pupils talk, we’ll find a third language spoken perhaps even more than “pure” Finnish or Swedish. On my first day, the students showed me a little dictionary of the language they speak with each other. They’ve started calling this mixed language as Swefi, meaning Swedish-Finnish spoken by the Sweden Finns. Mainly it’s Swedish with Finnish grammar rules, which makes funny combinations like “vessata” (means “to sharpen a pen” but to a native Finnish speaker like me it sounds more like “need to pee”). I think learning Swefi is the key to good communication and cultural understanding with the students. So the goal is set! Let’s see how it goes!