Dance to language learning

“What I like most is seeing the excitement,” says Katja Kirsi of the language workshops conducted under the TALK project in comprehensive schools.

In the project, children are taught foreign languages with the help of dance, movement and concrete action. In addition to the school’s language teacher, the teaching team includes a dance artist. Kirsi offers an example about learning Finnish: “We used our bodies to create a human statue and went under, over and between it. Students were asked to go over, go under, to be under and to find a place where you’re between something. And then they spontaneously shout ‘I get it now! I’m here in place and now I’m underneath.’ The moments when you can make things just fall into place through concrete action are so rewarding.”

The TALK project focuses on developing a new kinaesthetic method for language learning. “The idea is that people learn by means of their different senses. For some people, hearing is really helpful in learning. Others must have visual clues, such as a diagram. Then there are also people who learn through experience, action and movement. These are kinaesthetic learners,” Kirsi says. She emphasises the fact that people are different and learn differently. This is why schools should employ a range of approaches to teaching. “Movement is hardly ever used as a learning method in schools,” says Kirsi.

The TALK project is developing new methods in comprehensive schools. In addition to developing teaching methods, the goal is also to examine the effects of long-term and systematic artistic work on the results of language learning and students’ motivation. Under the project, a dance artist collaborates with the school’s own teacher and the class for a period of three years. Katja Kirsi ja Zodiak have developed kinaesthetic methods for language learning before but the courses have been brief. Longer-term work will have more in-depth impact. “Development is easier when a working method is not entirely new to the group. Also, the group can get accustomed to the new way of learning. Most important is the opportunity to work with a language teacher,” says Kirsi. The aim is that the school’s language teacher will adopt new teaching methods and this will help spread the message.

The dance artist and the language teacher work as a multiprofessional pair. For the dance artists the language that is being taught is their mother tongue or a language they have learned while residing abroad. The project covers seven languages. Kirsi explains that they discuss with the teacher which sections of the curriculum best suit the teaching method. The creative process of the dance artists is also important. “Teaching is also artistic work. While we have some sort of structure, it is not like a gym programme where the same things are repeated over and over. The methods change and grow,” says Kirsi.

The three-year project has just started and some teaching groups are yet to be finalised. “Interest in our activities and kinaesthetic learning is growing. Teachers became interested in us when we received the 2012 Vuoden kieliteko (Language action of the year) award from Otavan kirjasäätiö (Otava literary foundation) and the Finnish Language Teachers’ Association,” Kirsi says. Even so, schools still sometimes hesitate when we offer them the new method. They fear that kinaesthetic learning is more time consuming than traditional learning. Kirsi knows from experience, however, that it is an effective way to learn new things and practise things you have already learned.

We want to share our experiences from the work being done in comprehensive schools to as wide an audience as possible. Towards the end of the project, when the kinaesthetic method has been developed further, the working group will make guidance videos. We will also organise workshops where the method will be taught to dance artists and teachers.