New learning environments and teaching experiments

A relaxed atmosphere in a classroom with no desks

Tia Patenge

“How about we push aside the desks and chairs? We won’t need them in an oral skills course,” noted my course assistant Lisa Kalkowski at the beginning of an oral skills course in German in spring 2015. The aim of the course, which took place during an intensive period, was to activate the spoken German skills of students at the elementary (A1) level.


Lisa’s idea turned into a big success. With desks no longer serving as “buffers” in the classroom, the students got much closer to each other. The group as a whole, not just the students sitting near each other, interacted more spontaneously and actively, which was great for internal dynamics.

Warm-up exercises at the beginning of each class contributed to the relaxed atmosphere. As a kind of improvised drama, the exercises included not only physical movement, but also a number of vocal techniques. All group members also memorised each other’s first names to ensure a more personal atmosphere. In fact, the students got on so well with each other that they often left class together to go for a bite to eat.

Some of the teaching also took place outside the classroom because the course topics included giving people directions and running errands while out and about. We organised a tour of Helsinki and asked students to give each other directions to some of the city’s sights and to provide information about them in German.  

The “deskless” classroom initially demands the teacher’s willingness and ability to take the plunge, but it is incredibly rewarding, especially in concrete terms: at the end of the spring 2015 course, some students hugged Lisa and me goodbye.

I now favour the “deskless” classroom in all my oral courses, as it has made the courses considerably less static and added a sense of fun and lightness to my teaching. As for Lisa Kalkowski, she now studies German philology as her major subject at the University of Helsinki and is currently writing her Bachelor’s thesis on the topic of Performative Didaktik in language teaching, drawing on the case study of the oral skills course in German.

 

ALMS in Swedish: Towards autonomous learning in Swedish

Johanna Manner-Kivipuro, Elise Miettinen, Tiina Mäenpää and Kirsi Wallinheimo

The ALMS (Autonomous Learning ModuleS) model was first piloted in Swedish teaching in the autumn 2015 term to provide more flexibility to students completing the course in Swedish as the second national language of Finland, which is a compulsory component of their degrees. The course supports independent study opportunities in a novel way and recognises students’ prior learning in the areas of language and communication.

ALMS courses in Swedish were piloted at three faculties (Biosciences, Behavioural Sciences and Science) and as an ERI course (i.e., a special learners’ course) for students of all faculties. The pilot courses were based on the ALMS model used previously in English courses.

The Swedish ALMS course began with two joint meetings that allowed students to acclimatise themselves to studying Swedish, to seek their own learning style and to assess their language skills. They also set objectives for their studies and progress and prepared a study plan, in which they identified the thematic groups that would best support their objectives. The thematic groups convened on three campuses (City Centre, Kumpula and Viikki), and students could participate in the groups on any campus. The most popular groups were Läs, skriv och diskutera (“Read, write and discuss”), Öva ordförråd och terminologi (“Vocabulary and terminology practice”) and Filmklubben (“Film club”) as well as the students’ own thematic groups, of which the group focused on board games proved particularly popular. In addition to participating in the joint meetings and completing the independent work and thematic group work, students had to attend three personal supervisory meetings with their teacher to discuss their progress and any problems they encountered. Throughout the course, students maintained a learning log, which they submitted to the teacher during the last supervisory meeting. At the end of the course, all students took a written and oral final examination.

Student feedback on the pilot experiment was positive and encouraging: “The motivation to develop my skills, the chance to work independently and especially the right to choose the time, place and material all made learning Swedish more meaningful!” For us teachers, the most rewarding aspect was meeting students on a more individual level in conjunction with the supervisory meetings. All in all, the pilot was a great success, and we will continue to offer ALMS courses in Swedish in the future.

 

International online

Heidi Mäkäläinen

In April 2015, Monika Ševečková, a teacher from Masaryk University, visited the Language Centre’s Russian unit on a teacher exchange. The visit allowed us to compare our practices and to consider how we can encourage students to use Russian spontaneously and creatively at lower skill levels also. We designed a cooperative project based on short videos recorded by our students so they could practise seeking and presenting information, while also gaining experience of Russian-language communication and Russian as a common language.

A good number of both Czech and Finnish students took an interest in the project because they wanted to try a new study method or to benefit from additional language practice. The video topics and timetables were agreed at the beginning of the project. We decided to use the students’ own recording tools as well as the video channels they already use, such as Vimeo and Youtube. For our discussion platform, we selected the University of Helsinki’s Yammer channel, which we used to create an external network called Русский кружок. With students at the helm, the project proceeded without a glitch. The students demonstrated their expertise in recording videos, using video channels and communicating online. The students’ daily use of Russian helped them activate their language skills, and their need to communicate during the project made it easier for the students to assess their language skills, as the course encouraged the students to communicate in Russian. With their busy schedules, the students also appreciated the flexible timetables that the working method allowed: they could check answers to their questions, for example, on their lunch break. It was also a fun experience for us teachers. The project will continue in the future, albeit in a modified and further developed form.