Moving forward together

On 7th May 2020, the IKI project hosted its fourth national seminar, this time as a webinar, on ‘Navigating a language aware pathway’. As in previous IKI seminars, this seminar included invited talks from experts in different areas of language education. Associate Professor Gunhild Tomter Alstad’s keynote focused on Creative and flexible multilingual spaces in early childhood education – what views on ‘language’ and ‘multilingualism’ do teachers have? and language educator Ilona Leimu shared practical examples for developing functional approaches to foreign language in the early grades. The webinar also included thematic breakout rooms for further thought and discussion on the use of kamishibai theatre in language education (Johanna Lähteelä), linguistically sensitive approaches to education (Pauliina Sopanen) and language aware environmental science (Selma Närkki). IKI seminars are designed as opportunities to engage with key themes at the heart of IKI: the value of working together, of sharing ideas and experiences, of developing greater possibilities together. A fundamental premise of IKI recognizes that although each educational community, each school and daycare, works within different conditions and with unique individuals, nevertheless we can learn from each other and positively contribute to the ongoing development of Finnish education.

The particular focus of IKI is on the use and development of language education as a fundamental feature of the Finnish educational landscape. IKI understands language education in the broadest possible way. In addition to the teaching and learning of foreign and additional languages, IKI recognizes that language education includes the development of language aware approaches, language enriched innovations as well as bi- and multilingual pedagogies. Language infiltrates almost every aspect of education – how we develop relationships, how we share and foster understanding, how we build and offer new opportunities. How educators use and understand language has critical implications for how children use and develop their ability to use language (Cummins, 2018; Driver, 2019).

The IKI project has documented a range of innovations from across Finland. Some of these innovations might appear remarkably ordinary at first glance, but what is ordinary in one context might be revolutionary in another. Even everyday activities can offer rich opportunities for language development if they create space for the joy, playfulness and creativity highlighted in the Finnish curriculum (OPH, 2014), as well as opportunities to explore new ideas, see the world in different ways and to participate with their whole self (Cummins, 2018; Bland, 2019; Driver, 2019; Alstad, 2020). This means that children need opportunities to use the different resources that they already have and are developing (Hulse, 2018). Children need positive spaces to use their home and community languages, as well as the official language of the daycare, school and nation. Educators need a range of rich activities to be able to integrate into educational settings to support development in different ways.

In order to map existing innovations, IKI has visited daycare centres and schools in different cities and regions around Finland. Whilst the GDPR requirements mean that many people have had to sign many papers to allow IKI to catch glimpses of ongoing innovations, educational communities have warmly and generously welcomed IKI. In Jyväskylä, Rauma and Vaasa, IKI teams have also hosted pedagogical cafés for local educators. In these events, educators have shared and developed ideas together. A particularly valuable aspect of these events has been the bringing together of early childhood educators with teachers working in basic education as class and/or language teachers. Student teachers have also increasingly become involved in these events and actively been part of the ongoing developmental process, thinking about how innovations can be modified for different groups of students, different languages, different educational contexts.

IKI aims to support the ongoing development and sharing of innovations to ensure that as many children as possible from early childhood education to the end of basic school have the opportunity to participate in and to contribute to positive language-related educational experiences. The ‘IKI-tips’ and ‘IKI-blogs’ published on the IKI-hanke Facebook page and the IKIhanke website, as well as publications for professional audiences including Kielikukko (Spring, 2020) and Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta (May, 2020) point to the wide range of innovations that educators can adopt. The innovations developed during the IKI project will be available online after the project. This bank of innovations should be a useful storehouse of options. Educators do not only need activities, however, but understanding as to why and for whom an activity is worthwhile and how it can be changed for the particular children and students in a community.

In addition to mapping different innovations, IKI is developing a compass to help educators to decide what kind of innovations and modifications are appropriate for their children and students. This research-based compass puts the findings from existing research into dialogue with the innovations that the IKI community is developing and sharing in Finland. The compass raises key questions, such as: What form of language development does this activity promote? How are children involved in this activity? What spaces does this activity provide for children to use their existing language resources and to explore new forms of language? The IKI compass also draws attention to the different ways in which language can be part of activities: is language a tool or the focus of this activity? How does this activity build on earlier activities and pave the way for further activities? How can other language forms be integrated into this activity?

Mapping, sharing and developing innovations is at the heart of IKI, as well as the conviction that through community interaction educators can continue to develop and enrich Finnish education (Mård-Miettinen, 2019). The resources and opportunities that exist across Finland are significant. By continuing to share and develop these ideas together, educators can continue to critically reflect on what is beneficial for their students, what forms of development they are investing in, what new approaches can be added to their existing repertoires and understanding of how the actions that take place in one community feed into the possibilities of another community. Especially at this time of social distancing and isolation, it is all the more important that Finnish educators have the opportunity to share their ideas and understanding together, to cross the institutional boundaries of educational communities and to harness the developmental potential of children and educators.

On this basis, IKI invites Finnish educators to participate in IKI activities throughout the academic year of 2020-2021, the final year of IKI as a project. On a monthly basis, IKI will host pedagogical cafés online during the autumn, to provide spaces for educators to meet, share and develop together. IKI hopes that educators will trial the different innovations that they hear about, share their experiences and recommendations for further development. Educators are welcome to share innovations that might seem ordinary to them, but have been beneficial for the language development of their students Throughout 2020-2021 IKI will continue to develop a compass for language education and to invest in meaningful conversations that will hopefully continue to inspire and support educational communities into the future.

Josephine Moate

Josephine Moate works as a senior lecture in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Jyväskylä. Josephine’s research interests include the role of language in education and teacher development. Josephine has the privilege of heading the IKI project, working with a wonderful team of project researchers, and contributing to the development of language (in) education in Finland.


Alstad, G.T. 2020 Creative and flexible multilingual spaces in early childhood education – what views on ‘language’ and ‘multilingualism’ do teachers have? Innovatiivisia polkuja kielitietoisuuteen – Navigating a language aware landscape 7.5.2020.

Bland, J. 2019 Educational opportunities for literary innovation and creative responses in language education. Kielikasvatuksen kevättuulia – Ideoita ja innovaatioita kielipedagogiikkaan 6.5.2019.

Cummins, J. (2018) Multilingual pedagogy: Rationale, implementation and outcomes across the grades. Joining innovative dots in language education 12.12.2018.

Driver, J. & Alfaro, V. (2019) Against all Odds – Bilingual Education Provision. Tuhansin kielin moninaisin keinoin – Monikieliset ja kielitietoiset käytänteet kielikasvatuksessa 3.12.2019.

Hulse, B. (2018) Dramatizing language education. Joining innovative dots in language education 12.12.2018.

Mård-Miettinen, K. (2019) Yhteisopettajuus kaksikielisten käytänteiden mahdollistajana varhaiskasvatuksessa ja perusopetuksessa. Kielikasvatuksen kevättuulia – Ideoita ja innovaatioita kielipedagogiikkaan 6.5.2019.

OPH 2014 = Opetushallitus 2014. Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2014. Määräykset ja ohjeet 2014:96. Helsinki: Opetushallitus.