Learning to (hand)write in Finland

Learning to write in Finland starts in the very first week of Year 1. In Finland children start school the year they turn seven and the school year starts in August, meaning some are 7 1/2 before they start.  The school day is quite short (8am-1pm) and children are in classes of 20 children. The short school day and small classes continues throughout primary school. Children start Year 1 with a teacher who will also teach them in Year 2. Teachers all have 5 year Masters Degrees.

The term ’writing’ refers to any/all forms of text creation including early mark-making, scribble, drawing, painting, writing with letters, words and or sentences, and multi-modal and digital text creation (e.g, drawing plus talking, drawing plus writing). Handwriting is an important ‘secretarial’ skill that facilitates written communication.

Handwriting has been defined by Dinehart (2015) as ‘the ability to produce writing quickly and legibly‘.

Handwriting in Finland: I was interested to see that handwriting instruction started in the very first week of the first year of school. The instruction was very specific and daily. As the children mostly knew all the capital letters  the teachers started to introduce lower case letters in the very first week, while they checked the way they wrote their upper case letters.

Daily handwriting practice opportunities provided in a variety of ways – e.g. with paint and paint brush, apps on a computer tablet, small blackboards and white boards and in a writing book. The teacher watched closely and corrected any poor formations or poor pencil grip. I noted that most children had a good pencil grip.

Teachers told me that children learn how to hold a pencil when they draw. They do a lot of drawing at preschool and this continues into school. I noticed that the children’s drawings were creative and detailed.

Special pencils provided: I noted that all children were provided with pencils designed to make it easy to develop good pencil grip.They are thick and triangular, with round cut-outs that make them easy to grip correctly. I have seen them in some good toy shops and office/art supplies places in Australia but not provided by schools.

Children (aged 7) were keen to develop their ability to write well.

It is interesting to note the use of Copy Books. While these can be helpful, they can also be a trap. If children copy incorrectly they can develop bad habits. For these books to be helpful, the teacher must provide very clear demonstrations of ‘where to start and which way to go’ and then check that the child is forming the letter correctly. While the arrows provided may appear to overcome the need for vigilance, that is not the case. The teachers in these classrooms were checking children to ensure they were starting in the right place and correctly forming the letters. Only a small number of children were working in the books at the same time. I observed explicit handwriting instruction in Year 1, 2 and 3 classrooms.

No more Cursive Writing in Finland’s schools: Finland started a new Curriculum in August 2016. While children in the past were taught to print in years 1 and 2 and introduced to Cursive writing in Year 3, that is no longer the case. I observed as a Year 2 teacher explained to her students how writing in Finland’s schools was changing. She showed them what she described as ‘old fashioned writing‘. Then she showed them Finnish Cursive that children in the past were taught from Year 3.The children were disappointed to discover that they would not be learning cursive or ‘Running Writing‘.

Keyboarding or typing is gradually introduced in the primary schools. This is new for most as in the past it was not a requirement of the curriculum. While some classrooms had access to computers, often these were shared across classes. The computer comfort of the teachers varied greatly but this is a new focus for Finland.

Next week I will share a little about how the timetable is organised in Finnish Year 1 and 2 classes and start sharing some of the findings from the Handwriting and Keyboarding survey that many of you contributed to last year.

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