Support from research for teaching Finnish

Maria Ahlholm investigates and teaches developing proficiency in Finnish, multilingualism, and language awareness in education.

Senior University Lecturer Maria Ahlholm from the Faculty of Educational Sciences oversees at the Faculty the training of Finnish teachers specialising in Finnish as a second language and teaches related didactics to class teacher students. In her teaching, she utilises research datasets originating in preparatory instruction for comprehensive school. 

Research and teaching in the field are highly topical 

In early 2023, media outlets have, mainly because of poor learning outcomes, turned their gaze towards pupils studying Finnish as a second language. Some politicians wish to reform teaching in the subject. 

“However, the issues of studying in a second language will not be solved within the syllabus of Finnish as a second language, as learning the language of study applies to all school subjects,” Ahlholm says.


For researchers the discussion in the media is nothing new or surprising. 

“Nevertheless, it’s been pleasing, in a way, to see questions in the field rise above the reporting threshold. Every week, I discuss with students questions related to developing language skills and the school path of recently immigrated pupils.” 

Having studied preparatory education for more than 10 years, Ahlholm is familiar with its practices, successes and deficiencies. Moreover, assessment in particular is associated with complex problems for which there are no easy solutions.

Combining research and teaching works 

Ahlholm trains teachers to work with multilingual pupils and students whose skills in the language of study are developing. 

“The same theme is my research topic when I examine preparatory instruction and the school path of recent arrivals in the country.” 

Ahlholm has led projects where students have been able to complete their theses and study assignments of varying scope. One such project was the development of the Toisto method for adolescent and adult language learners, initiated in 2015 and still ongoing, now in cooperation with the Let’s Read Together network. 

“Another extensive project was the Meeting in the Middle project for developing preparatory instruction, which is about to publish its second scholarly book. It includes texts by three master’s students and two doctoral researchers.” 

In Finland, the education of multilingual pupils and adult immigrants is a current and even hot topic, on which new research is constantly conducted. 

“I am continually updating teaching on the basis of research.”

Wellbeing and inclusivity originate in peer interaction within groups 

“In teaching, I think a lot about peer interaction in groups, and try to provide them with tasks that increase cohesion.” 

In seminar-type courses in particular, Ahlholm emphasises the importance of the group’s support. According to her, wellbeing is boosted by realistic goals.

“I try to calculate the time spent on the reading assignments I give, and have my students discuss their experiences of reading the course literature along the way. I want them to actually achieve the desired learning outcomes.”

Future university teaching from Ahlholm’s perspective

Ahlholm hopes that support for peer interaction will be further developed. 

“Then again, I believe that research-based expert lectures characteristic of the university tradition will increase in value, as student-oriented assignment types have become commonplace,” she notes.

Maria Ahlholm received the Maikki Friberg award for promoting equality in 2016. She became a member of the Teachers' Academy in the end of  2022.

The Teachers’ Academy

The Teachers' Academy is a network of teachers who have invested their time in the development of teaching, teaching skills and students' learning processes. The establishment of the Academy is an indication of the value the university community places on the quality of teaching.  By investing in teachers, the University also invests in students and the quality of learning.  An appointment as a fellow to the Teachers’ Academy is a sign of recognition for teaching merits and expertise in the field of teaching.

The members of the Teachers' Academy form a multidisciplinary network that shares its expertise and is active in the development of learning and teaching at the university. The members of the Teachers' Academy meet regularly during the academic year to share their pedagogical innovations, learn about ideas for improving teaching and learning in different departments, and work together to promote issues they consider important.