The 2010 Ben Warren International House Trust Prize shortlist
Whenever I’ve approached the topic of CLIL in teacher development sessions in mainstream schools, I’ve invariably been greeted with groans of ‘It’s all very well in theory’, ‘I don’t know much about world geography, let alone how to teach it’, and ‘How do you expect our maths teachers to teach algebra in English, when they can’t even speak the language themselves?’ The authors of CLIL seek to address these and other concerns that teachers have with regard to this new thinking in education that has come a fair way since the days of total immersion in some Canadian schools in the latter decades of the last century. And this is the overriding purpose behind their book – to convince readers of the relevance of and need for CLIL as a radically updated approach to teaching and learning in a globalised, plurilingual and multicultural world.
Early chapters explain the background to the CLIL movement and stress there is no ‘one size fits all’ CLIL curriculum: they show examples of very small-scale projects, such as a fifteen-hour module for primary school children on climate change, to bilingual education, where a significant part of the curriculum is studied through the CLIL (or vehicular) language over a period of several years. However, the authors do make a clear differentiation between simple immersion teaching – which is traditionally and merely subject-teaching in a different language, and CLIL – which is an amalgam of both language-learning and subject learning. Notice here the shift in emphasis from teaching to learning, reflecting current thinking of the learner being more centre-stage in educational planning. To underscore this, the authors explore the need for interactive, ‘scaffolded’ learning involving cognitive engagement, problem-solving and higher-order thinking, with students being encouraged to articulate their own learning via collaborative group-work, so they can ‘make use of each others’ strengths and compensate for weaknesses’ (p29).
The middle chapters illustrate how teachers and planners can realise CLIL in their own context, working from a ‘Tool Kit’ – a detailed six-stage implementation plan, which briefly summarized, follows this order:
1 Vision: stakeholders discuss and decide on some global CLIL goals
2 Context: they situate the vision in their own context: their model for CLIL
3 Unit Planning: they use the 4Cs (see below) to guide planning a unit of work
4 Preparation: they decide on the rationale for creation/adaptation of materials and resources
5 Monitoring and Evaluating: they ascertain learner progress and effectiveness of classroom practice
6 Reflection and Inquiry: they consider the way forwards to ensure continued future success and sustainability
Of particular interest to me as a language teacher is the authors’ thinking behind Stage 3: Unit planning, and how CLIL differs certainly from the more conventional Communicative Approach, but also from the more current Task-Based Learning. In the former, language work is often centred around quasi-meaningful, non-authentic practice of grammatical forms, and while in the latter the importance of using critical thinking skills and various language structures to achieve particular tasks is acknowledged, development of understanding of a particular content area is not seen as equally important in the learning process. CLIL, on the other hand, seeks to do just this: provide an integrated, equal partnership between language and content development. This can only happen if course planners pay due attention to the 4Cs. Firstly, Content (what aspects of the content will be focused on? what are the learning outcomes?). Secondly, Cognition (what higher- and lower-order thinking skills are to be included to provide sufficient challenge?). Thirdly, Communication (what is the language of learning? eg key phrases, functions, structures needed to understand the content; what is the language for learning? eg exponents for agreeing and disagreeing, genre-specific language needed for writing up an experiment, to enable learners to operate in the vehicular language, and what language will be gained through learning? eg unplanned, emergent language). Finally, Culture (what links and references can be included to help promote tolerance and an interest in looking beyond the ‘self’?) This analysis is helpfully supported with several appendices of comprehensive global goals mind maps, a detailed lesson plan and CLIL Unit checklist, which the interested teacher/course planner is encouraged to adapt according to their specific circumstances.
The authors recognize the difficulty for CLIL teachers in dealing with authentic subject materials with learners whose linguistic competence in the CLIL language is below their cognitive competence. They suggest some ways of preparing learners for using such materials, as well as means of effectively adapting them without compromising the level of information included, or the specialist vocabulary required to understand and talk about the content.
The latter part of the book suggests ways of reflecting on and evaluating the relative success of CLIL programmes, and illustrates with some telling anecdotal evidence from learners in one UK context in particular. One learner in her second year of geography in French commented: ‘When you do geography in French it’s harder because you have to concentrate but then you learn it better.’ This quote mirrors research findings from other CLIL programmes that indicate that CLIL learners seem to work harder and achieve equal, if not improved, results because they’re trying to take on board content in a language which isn’t their mother tongue. However, this raises concerns about how to ensure the less able and less motivated are fully considered, and the consequent demands this places on the teacher to include a variety of appropriate learning processes and materials. This is something that the authors are aware of, but the area of differentiated learning within a CLIL curriculum is not fully explored.
And in my experience, this is another key objection voiced by teachers who deal with large classes with mixed language levels, learning abilities and challenging behaviours: ‘It’s difficult enough to juggle all these aspects in our regular teaching; how much more so would this be in a CLIL context?’ The answer, the authors would argue, is to plan initially for a small-scale CLIL programme of a limited number of hours and classes. Which leads onto the teachers’ other bugbear: ‘Where is all this planning time to come from and where is the support, both pedagogic as well as financial?’ For, as the authors acknowledge, CLIL cannot just be simply imposed by government policy-makers; ‘both top-down and bottom-up perspectives are essential for the success and sustainability of CLIL’ (p156). However, in these days of increasing cuts to public sector educational budgets, opportunities for appropriate training are being ever more restricted. Whilst the authors make a largely convincing case for the widespread implementation of CLIL as the way forward at various levels of education, it will be interesting to see to what extent the current downturn in the world economy will negatively affect its growth, or whether in fact this will make CLIL an increasingly essential approach in this brave new globalised world.