Case Study: Does a New Finnish Learning Method Improve Student Performance and Can It Be Adopted in Rural Malaysian Schools?
Language skills are essential in today’s global world. Research has proven that the best time to learn a new language is at a young age, and learning another language as a child is an incredible opportunity and investment in the future.
This project was established to test how a new Finnish learning method for early language learning could be adopted in an average Malaysian rural school. The method combines world-renowned Finnish education principles, researched teaching methodology and digital tools to optimize language learning at an early age.
The project also tested how teachers, parents and students are able to adopt the new method.
This project also tested the hypothesis that Finnish predesigned classroom sessions supported by mobile game based language learning are more effective at promoting learning than those based on textbooks.
Another point of interest was to look at how the learning objectives fit into the national curriculum.
Additionally, performance on quantitative learning assessments and student perceptions of learning gains were analysed to determine whether reported perceptions of learning gains accurately reflect academic performance.
The results reported here suggest that the tested Finnish approach is effective and significantly aids children’s learning. This is positively correlated by the students’ increased perceptions of learning gains associated with verbal communication skills. Based on these findings, this method should be considered as subject for testing on a larger scale to determinate if this could become a preferred method for learning English and other foreign languages in the Malaysian school system during early years.
A study, published in the Royal Society Open Science, that examined the effects of early language exposure found that children who had heard a language in their infancy were better at recognizing sounds in that language as adults than those who had not been exposed to the language, despite not having heard the language after their infancy. The study therefore suggests that even a brief exposure to a language in the early age can be an advantage for learning the language later in life.
The benefits of a bilingual brain
Remembering seemingly forgotten languages is just one fascinating aspect of the bilingual brain. It is also quicker and better at adapting to new information than its monolingual counterpart, and the language synapses in the bilingual brain are more plastic, which makes it easier to learn new languages as well as relearn a language later on even if we haven’t used it for years. Bilingual brain is also better at concentrating – an important aspect for all learning – and fighting dementia than a monolingual brain thanks to the retained neural plasticity, as explained in a Medical News Todayarticle.
The spacing effect
The spacing effect describes the phenomenon whereby learning is more effective when done in smaller doses but often rather than in one go. For example, a studypublished in 2008 found that young children learned more when there was time between the learning instances, rather than having everything introduced to them only once, all at once.
Curiosity is the key to meaningful learning in early years
For children to learn something new, they have to be interested. When children are truly motivated and interested, learning becomes much more meaningful. A recent study, cited in MindShift’sarticle, shows that the chemistry of our brains changes when we are curious. This curiosity helps us learn and preserve information. Curiosity also gives us the feeling of pleasure and helps us remember things. When we are curious, the part of our brain that regulates our memory gets activated.
Finnish method connects curiosity, play, happiness and learning
The Finnish school system is known all over the world, and Finnish schools have received media attention for years because of strong performance in the PISA tests. Children in the Finnish kindergartens, preschool and early primary years start their lifelong learning path by playing and having fun. In pedagogically designed play and expert care, children don’t even realize how much they are learning while playing.
Children develop through play
Studies show that children develop through play. While children are playing, they develop their cognitive, social, emotional and physical abilities. When play is fun and child-directed, it engages children and provides them with plenty of opportunities to learn. In Finland, the play-based learning is a part of the National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education.
This pilot project was conducted from January to November 2018 together with a Finnish sponsor Spinfy Oy and Larut Matang Dan Selama District Education Office at SK Seri Selama, which is located in a rural area. Sixty students aged six and seven participated in this project.
In this pilot project, the latest Finnish method for early foreign language learning was introduced. The method, packaged as the Moomin Language School concept and licensed from the Finnish language learning solution provider Playvation Ltd., is based on the latest Finnish education methods, implicit learning and language immersion. In addition, it utilizes digital tools and spaced learning to create a safe, engaging and effective way for children to learn a new language. The service combines a mobile language learning game with predesigned on-site playful group sessions.
By playing the mobile game, children build a broad vocabulary and a strong understanding of grammar, while the teacher-led predesigned playful classroom sessions help children to start communicating in the new language.
The service is created by an interdisciplinary team of experts and is based on a solid educational curriculum that not only teaches a language but takes a holistic approach to help children develop as wholesome individuals.
Moomin Language School won the Best Finnish eLearning Solution award in a quality competition in 2015. In 2018 Kokoa Standard, a Finnish Edtech quality verification agency, evaluated and certified Moomin Language School for its high educational quality.
Moomin Language School is endorsed by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland.
The scope of this project was 44 weeks’ study material, which was divided into eleven chapters each consisting of 20 ten-minute sessions with the learning game and four classroom sessions. The content for those 45 weeks consisted of a vocabulary of 700 words and sentences.
Additionally, children learned various grammar structures, such as verb conjugation, the genitive ‘s, definite and indefinite articles, plurals and singulars, prepositions, pronouns, sentence structure and word order, question words and question-answer pairs, as well as social language use such as greetings and politeness.
The mobile learning game was installed on the school’s Android tablets. Each student had their personal student account so that the teachers could follow each student’s individual progress. Later in the project the same learning game was installed on the parents’ smartphones and children were able to play the game at home. Daily play time was planned to 10 minutes, 5 days a week, but due to some technical issues it was increased case by case basis.
The classroom session materials for teachers were available online in the Moomin Language School “tools” portal. The material included song recordings, picture cards (to be printed out in the school) and detailed instructions for classroom session preparation, gathering, teaching and closing.
Classroom sessions included different activities for children as seen in the video.
At the end of each chapter, children completed a chapter test in the learning game, testing vocabulary and context knowledge of the chapter content.
The project was led by Mr. Petri Karjalainen, CEO of Spinfy Oy Finland together with Mrs. Inka Linna MSc. (Helsinki University, USM), an early childhood education specialist from Finland, and learning game designer and technical advisor Mr. Joni Mikkola BSc. (Oulu University of applied sciences, game design and programming).
Half of the preschool and year one students in the SK Sri Selama took part of the project and other half was a control croup getting standard English language instruction by same teachers as the target group.
The project included 6 on-site support sessions:
- Initial briefing
- Introduction to parents
- Initial training for teachers and technical setup
- Teachers’ training
- Hands on teachers’ training
- Follow-up teachers’ training
Data collection and analysis
Games are connected to backend servers in Finland and game progress is automatically uploaded from game play of each individual student into a database where arithmetic means, median and other representative data are calculated.
Same method has been used earlier and approved by University of Helsinki in a similar study performed with City of Helsinki, Finland and Playvation Ltd.
In addition, primary school students had 3 achievement tests (in March and May and November).
For pre-school students, no assessment or special examinations have been done because the KPM preschool level does not provide exams unless the assessment is ongoing. So, through observations, some things can be identified for students involved in the program compared to those who are not involved
From February 22ndonwards teachers were able to start implementing the teaching method and with remote support the March 14thfollow-up training session the actual teaching was performed very well by the school’s teachers and there was no need for intervention by Finnish specialists. Parents showed great interest and commitment as well.
As one of the objectives was to study how teachers and parents adopt it, one conclusion is that adopting the new concept was smooth and well taken by local staff and parents.
All children that took part in the pilot study showed positive development in their English language skills.
As for primary one students achievement tests – there was almost 20% hirger results compared to control group and insignificant improvement in the results among weakest performers in the first test.
Preschool students are more prevalent in the use of English and are not confuse to spell words in English spontaneously when questioned by the teacher. Their confidence using the language is better.
As we can see in the data, right answers were gradually increased while play time decreased as the children became more familiar with the language – even though each new chapter introduced more difficult words.
The curriculum used in this program does not completely match the national curriculum, but the themes and learning objectives are very similar. Initially it looks like this can be safely used as an alternative for national curriculum for preschool and primary one students. A further examination regarding the curriculum was out of the core scope of this project and may require further studies before drawing definitive conclusions.
In addition to these results, the study also gives us insight into children’s motivation towards using the tablet for learning, and not only for entertainment. Generally, children were interested in using the application for language learning. Especially children who were only beginning to learn English were highly motivated to use the application. The different exercise types catered well to the children’s varying interests; for example, recording one’s speech and listening to it in the language studio was especially enjoyable to some, and a safe way for the shy kids to try speaking English.
It was also noted some technical challenges due breaking internet connection. It was suggested the game should better overcome those situations and allow offline playing. Game Interact with backend shuld be required only once a week when a proper connection can be assured.
Because of the relatively limited sample group duration, these results are naturally only preliminary. However, they clearly show that the methods of Moomin Language School are effective. It is important for us to study this on a bigger scale so that we can develop and offer children the best possible way for learning languages.