Fabulously Finnish



Languages, Compulsory classes

Seminaarin koulu, Hämeenlinna, Finland

October 2016

Finnish, Swedish and English. Optional classes in German, French and Russian.

Tilka Brown

Seminaarin koulu, Hämeenlinna.

The first snowflakes of the season began to drift from the sky as I walked briskly towards Seminaarin koulu. I took this to be a good sign; the beginning of something new.

My escort informed me that: “This is the type of glitter we have here in Finland.” I smiled; he had obviously looked into my background.

As we walked, I was provided with a few key facts about the school: over 700 students; around 90 staff members; three optional language programs for students in Fourth Grade onwards and that this site was previously a teacher-training college.

It was a lot to take-in as we hurried through the multitude of staircases and hallways.

Thankfully I remembered a key statement which I later learnt is paramount to the school’s core belief: “We are a school for all students.” I didn’t understand the significance of these words until the conclusion of my two days.

My schedule had been previously arranged and I had two full days of observations and classes organised ahead of me. This in itself was an early-indication of the efficiency within which this school operates.

Smooth sailing, classroom clarity. Following my introduction to the staff (en masse whilst attending their morning briefing in the auditorium!), I was lead to the staffroom in the main building. My goodness! This was unlike any other staffroom I had ever been in! It felt more like a private bar for business-leaders in the middle of a city!

Clean, structured, respected, serviceable (“Would you like a coffee Tilka?”), friendly… But the ‘business’ of teaching and learning in Finland is just that; highly respected. This is a country where teachers are looked-upon with the same level of regard as doctor’s and lawyers.

I looked about in awe and suddenly knew that this was no ordinary school! Not solely for the resources available for the teachers, but because of the instant feeling of ‘welcoming calmness’ as I walked through the door.

Staff satisfaction is a priority for Principal Pasi Rangell. “A good atmosphere is our cornerstone. We want to create a healthy and encouraging atmosphere for everyone.” And so it is. I was immediately welcomed by everyone at Seminaari!

Pasi recognises the importance of staff welfare, knowing that his teachers must feel content and happy in order to provide the best teaching and learning situations for their students. All students. This is done extremely well at Seminaari. Beyond the 28 generalist education classes, there are three ‘preparatory classes’ which are for students of immigrant origin.

They must at first learn Finnish and reach a certain level before joining the mainstream classes. This is so that they can receive the best learning opportunities for the rest of their primary-school days.

Tilka Brown

Artwork completed by preparatory students.

Tilka Brown

German Class.

There are also eleven special education classes. Team-teaching occurs between the mainstream and special needs teachers and all students have equal opportunities with the resources throughout the school. The learning needs of all students are recognised and there are several classrooms which have been designed with the needs of these students in mind.

For example, there is the ‘White Room’ which students can attend when they are feeling overstimulated and stressed. It contains a bed and many kinaesthetic and auditory resources which their teacher and/or carer provide to them as needed. It’s lovely. Extended teaching, ‘Explorers,’ is provided for those students who excel in their regular classes. This includes language classes and this for me, is where things became extremely interesting.

I attended several language classes whilst at Seminaari; English, Swedish and German classes. All wonderful, all effective and all engaging. In fact, the German Teacher proudly informed me that; “Class doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes, but they all come in from lunch earlier because they want to start this.” 

She is referring to her Kahootz German quizzes. Ah Kahootz, such a fabulous tool for language teaching and learning! I joined a fifth grade German class and whilst my knowledge of German is limited to perhaps just four phrases, I was able to follow the lesson easily enough thanks to the students. These clever multilingual kids set-up a laptop and logged me into the Kahootz quiz, explaining to me in English what their teacher had asked of them in German!

When it was time to attend the Swedish lesson, I needed to double and then triple-check to see if I had in fact found the correct classroom – it appeared that I had stumbled into a maths lesson by accident. But no, I was in the right place: “Yes this is the Swedish class. We’re just doing some maths now.”

I looked around; the students smiled at me which told me that they had been awaiting my arrival. Yes, I was in the right place. Some students were using Surface-Pros to complete online maths tasks whilst others were working from Swedish text books.

Students worked in pairs, or individually; whatever they felt was best for them. They appeared to be of various ages, but they were all co-operating and communicating with ease in Swedish; between themselves and with their teacher. She incorporated some phrases in English but only for my sake – her students didn’t need this additional language support. I was so impressed!

Tilka Brown

Swedish Class.

Tilka Brown

‘Kangaroos’ and ‘Koalas’ are the group names for the students in this junior classroom!

Speaking of English, I attended several classes including a maths class where the students were working on long multiplication. This was true CLIL! I watched in awe as these students not only completed the questions but explained how they reached their answers – in English – to the rest of the class! I asked their teacher about this, wondering if she ever needed to switch to Finnish to explain complicated processes; “Maybe at first I used a little Finnish. But now they pretty much understand everything – it’s very rewarding!”

It sure is! Consistency is key and rules supreme as the main factor for student-success. Other subjects throughout the school are also taught only in English: Art, Religion Studies, Science and History. My goodness!

I also observed ‘Language Showering’, a term given to describe the gentle introduction of English for young students; those in kindergarten and preschool. I was in a first-year classroom and I initially thought that the teacher was doing this for my sake since I didn’t understand Finnish… But this wasn’t the case at all.

Language Showering is a process whereby the teacher begins to include basic English words and  short phrases as part of his/her teaching. Greetings and the occasional use of basic vocabulary are ‘showered’ into these classrooms; consistently and with the support of the Finnish language.

No stress and no fuss – for either the students or their teacher. Simply learning another language through subconscious immersion. I liked it, a lot.

By the time my visit had come to an end, my head was full and overflowing with all that I had seen and learnt.

Everything that I had previously read about Finland’s Education System was true; my visit had confirmed this. The rest of the world can learn a lot from the way things are done here.

Well done Seminaari koulu – you are a Stella School!

By Tilka Brown
©The Language Toolbox

For more information about Seminaari koulu, please see their school website: http://www.hameenlinna.fi/seminaarinkoulu/