Primary Literacy - The Little Book Project

Part of the series Finland

  Screen capture from Primary Literacy - The Little Book Project


In this programme, Ophelia Vanderpuye, a primary school teacher from London, travels to Finland to learn more about the country's approach to teaching literacy.

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Johanna Hamalainen, a teacher at Stromberg Primary School in Helsinki, begins her class with a puzzle: "I'm silent, but I speak to you; if you join me I will tell you more than anyone else."

Her eight and nine-year-olds are attentive. "Who am I?" she asks. The answer, of course, is "a book," as this is a literacy class.

Together, Johanna and Ophelia want to try to answer a bigger puzzle. Why have Finland's youngsters performed so well in the international OECD PISA assessment in literacy; what are Finnish schools doing better than any other country?

Johanna has spotted one feature in the PISA statistics "What I've noticed in Finland's results, is that there are not as many of those slower learners who need the special help."

Is her mixed ability class part of the answer, or does the explanation lie deeper in the nation's character?


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    • Literacy in Chile
      29 May 2008 - 14:31

      I am looking forwad to developing something like the activities towards improving our students literay, unfortunatelly there is a cultural diffrence between my country and Findland, parents and families are not so concerned about reading. We are working hard to make a change in our society butin some schools we still have 48 kids in a classroom with teachers who are so tired that they no longer want to change or be critizised about their job. As far as the school where I work is concerned we'll be doing and developing every strategy suggested beacuse we believe that our kids will make a different and more prosperous country. Congratulations Finnish kids and teachers!!

    • Literacy in Finland
      3 March 2007 - 14:31

      I worked in Finland for over 10 years teaching English first in kindergarten and then setting up an English immersion programme for 7-13 year olds in a Finnish school. Finnish children have a wonderful opportunity in pre school to enjoy the environment, play and enjoy finding out about their world. There are no pressures to reach a certain level or be tested. At age 6 they begin pre shcool sessions within small groups of about 8-10 students. Here they begin to find out what school is all about: learning to increase concentration, some letter and number formaiton and sounds of letters. By the age of 7 when they begin school the children are ready to lap up everything the teacher offers them as they are so excited to be going to 'big' school. They are so excited to begin 'proper' reading. Each child is given the year's reading book which covers the sounds of letters and building blocks of the Finnish lanaguage. Finnish is entirely phonetic so all children go through the book at the same level and time. This can prove frustrating to some students who arrive at school already reading. Students not progressing cna be quickly identified. The Finnish teacher is very autonomous in the classroom and can direct the day and groups in anyway she/he chooses including taking them out of the school. The curriculum in the first few years of school is much more focused on maths, literacy and the local environment again with little testing. The most important aspect is that Finnish children enjoy their school days. There is more emphasis on children developing at their own pace and in their own time. Finns value education greatly and literacy is highly valued in the home at an early age.

    • ovanderpuye ovanderpuye


      Re : How the project went
      26 November 2006 - 06:39

      Since making the film earlier this year, as a school we decided to plan for such a project so as the pupils got the maximum benefit. Planning took a lot of time because of all the structures that were already in place, we had to change a lot of things even though it was only for one class. We only actually started the project this term (October) so I can't say exacty yet how well things have gone. However, I can say that the children seem to be enjoying the new way of working. When the project finishes myself and the other teachers involved will evaluate it to see if we should repeat it with other classes. Ophelia (teacher in the film)

    • Re : Finland Little Book Project
      26 February 2007 - 22:31

      How stimulating to see, but also how sad that the richness there is no longer here in the UK - or is it?

      It was how I taught in Hackney in the 1980's. It was what I advocated when an advisory teacher for English in the National Curriculum when it was introduced (1989-1993), it is what I talk to Early Years practitioners about now - making it meaningful - following children's interests, supporting children with the processes of writing. How did we manage to lose all that richness of the National Writing Project? When children can see that they can be writers and view themselves positvely as such they will have more success.

      I am off to Finland at Easter, leading a TIPD to look at Creativity over there - how lucky I am - I am so looking forward to it

    • Re : What age did they start writing?
      27 February 2007 - 19:01

      Would it be possible to find out at what age the children started writing? Was it as with other scandinavian countries much later than here in Britain? And is not the experience of the Finish that to get the basics of literacy, such as: knowing all letter sounds and how they blend, knowing how to form letters correctly, knowing how a story works, and being able to understand a story through drama and re-telling, the real reason why Finish children are able to see themselves as writers and have the confidence to have a go? And if so, would it not be a good idea to follow such methods. The quiet and confident way those children worked and wrote was astonishing and will make many a teacher envious. Well done the Fins - hopefully we shall learn from them.