Thursday, 25 April 2013

CLIL in HE: impressions of the ICLHE conference in Maastricht (April 2013)

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the ICLHE (integrating content and language in HE) conference in Maastricht. Over 100 participants from all over the world Spain, Oman, South Africa, Denmark, the UK, Belgium, Finland gathered to talk about CLIL in HE. But I should firstly point out that its not called CLIL in HE, actually. In HE, they talk about ICL (integrating content and language) or EMI (English as a medium of instruction) and not CLIL. I swallowed the word CLIL every time I was about to use it.

Below, I describe some of the interesting themes that sprang out for me related to ICLHE.

No agreed ICL methodology
There appears to be no ICL methodology for higher education (HE). In her opening plenary, Cecilia Jacobs from Stellenbosch University in South Africa pointed out that there is no consensus in HE about the definitions of language, content or of integration! There are multifarious approaches to ICL in HE all over the world, the goals and rationale of ICL are different everywhere. She called for a collaborative pedagogy to benefit everyone. One interesting presentation about lecturing in Spain did, however, actually reveal that many lecturers already do have strategies for helping students to understand their lectures – strategies that they already use when lecturing in their mother tongue. For example, when asked about adapting materials, lecturers stated that they do these things: clarifying concepts (using elicitation from the students), giving examples, making resource material available before class, focusing on essential concepts, repetition. They also used scaffolding strategies, such as giving reading guides, providing glossaries, checking understanding by using questions, using more body language, using graphic organizers and providing multimodal input.

Lack of training
Connected with the lack of agreement on methodology, many countries are struggling with lack of time and funds to provide training for either teachers or students. Training is sometimes implemented after a problem with student drop-out or failure appears, but mostly ICL methodology training is ad hoc and sporadic. Trainers at language centres offer courses, for example, in “English in HE” and then integrate ICL methodology into those courses.

Students and lecturers language level
The level of both students and HE lecturers is a major issue. Many institutions seem to throw their lecturers in at the deep end and give them no choice: Next year youll be teaching chemistry (economics, philosophy) in English. Others just assume that their lecturers English is good enough, whereas it actually isnt. Another issue follows on from these two questions:  how can lecturers really help their students to understand high level material when they themselves arent really proficient English users or even worse - if they believe they are proficient but they arent? Questions which are still buzzing in my head. 

Reasons for ICL in HE
The reasons for ICL in HE are interesting. HE institutions want to attract international students, so change policy and offer courses in another language, mostly English. Some reasons for ICL in HE that I heard were: to market courses internationally; to attract national and international students; to promote the institution; to develop economic and cultural collaboration; to improve students language skills; to promote academic research and professional networking; to help students to get better jobs. But its mostly about marketing, I fear.

Language policy a thorny issue
One theme that recurred throughout the conference was that there is a real need for language policy in HE. I discovered through chatting with my colleague that my university (Utrecht University) doesnt have one, and that developing language policy let alone implementing one seems to be a minefield. For example, Finland wants to promote a multilingual policy of working in Finnish, Swedish (a minority language spoken by about 6% of the population) and English. And some areas of Spain are also developing language policy which aims to respect three languages: Valencian, Spanish and English. How do you write and implement a language policy at a HE institute which includes respect for the mother tongue(s) and which satisfies everyone? A real brain breaker.

Resistance on the part of lecturers in HE to improve their own language skills is a further issue. Lecturers believe that lecturing in a different language is exactly the same as in their mother tongue.  There is some convincing to be done here, so that lecturers become more open to improving their own (academic) language skills, as well as to developing an appropriate methodology for working in a second or third language at a high academic level.

Linguistic objectives
Lecturers in HE do not formulate linguistic objectives for their courses. Doing so might improve their and their students awareness about language and the language they are learning while studying, say, physics or business studies.

Throughout the conference, there was an appeal for collaboration between language and content teachers. Success stories were those that told of subject (Economics, Business Studies) lecturers in Denmark really working together to improve both ICL methodology.
My impression during the conference was that Denmark is leading the field in ICL in HE. The University of Copenhagen, for example, has a really well-thought-out language policy (focusing on ‘parallel language use’, and thus identifying in which situations Danish and English are used). Students and lecturers at some universities are thoroughly prepared. For example, at a university where teaching through English resulted in student failure and drop out, the language centre helped both students and lecturers to learn about academic strategies. Students were given diagnostic tests, and workshops in strategies: academic listening, writing and reading skills. Lecturers are also learning, for example, about (a) how to help students understand their lectures effectively, (b) strategies for giving feedback and (c) creating crystal clear exam questions.

Subject lecturers where are you?
ICL at least at this conference seems to be dominated by language specialists. But where are the subject lecturers? I met a couple of inspiring women again from Denmark at the conference dinner who teach design, but the rest of the delegates seemed all to be language specialists.
As at every conference, the most delightful moments were meeting other delegates from all over the world. Our extremely interactive workshop on whether HE ICL had anything to learn from secondary CLIL went really well, so that gave us (me and my colleague Annemieke Meijer) a buzz. We made new friends and contacts, all concerned with CLIL (oh, sorry, ICL, oh - no - EMI)!  

P.S. Thanks very muchto Annemieke for her useful feedback on a first draft of this blog.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The importance of teaching learning skills

Just read this excellent article by Peeter Mehisto, Criteria for producing CLIL learning material, which puts forward ten principles to guide the selection, development and design of CLIL lesson resources.

According to the article, quality CLIL classroom material should:
  1. make the learning intentions (language, content, learning skills) & process visible to students;
  2. systematically foster academic language proficiency;
  3. foster learning skills development and learner autonomy;
  4. include self, peer and other types of formative assessment;
  5. help create a safe learning environment;
  6. foster cooperative learning;
  7. seek ways of incorporating authentic language and authentic language use;
  8. foster critical thinking;
  9. foster cognitive fluency through scaffolding of a) content, b) language, c) learning skills development helping a student to reach well beyond what they could do on their own;
  10. help to make learning meaningful.
I particularly like the three-sided focus on learning in a CLIL context - language, content and learning skills – and how these all need to be addressed in terms of specific learning objectives for lessons, through on-going assessment and the particular support a learner is then given.

Moreover, a focus on learning skills could be an effective way for teachers to think about how these skills cross-over between their different subjects, and this could then be useful for planning cross-curricular projects.

Teaching learning skills in an explicit way in a CLIL classroom could include, for example, ways a learner can be supported in taking a step back and thinking about what they are doing, reflecting on their learning from different perspectives. So having pupils plan, monitor and evaluate their own work should become an essential CLIL teaching strategy. Get learners thinking about their learning; get them thinking about their learning of a specific subject and get them writing and speaking in English about their learning of this subject through English. This focus on learning skills adds another dimension to how we can think about CLIL.   

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Creative with CLIL

This video caught my attention this week, especially since my New Year's resolution (yet again) is to "Slow down". Give students 10 seconds to perform a task, and they all come up with the same answer. Give them 10 minutes and their creativity explodes!

But what does this mean for CLIL? For me, it means that we can:
  • give students more time to work on CLIL projects
  • ask students to spend time on writing drafts and rewriting longer pieces of writing (instead of lots of small ones)
  • get students to think more about what they are learning (use the well-worn idea of think, pair, share)
  • use HOTS (higher order thinking skills) more than LOTS (lower order thinking skills)
  • plan fewer activities in our lessons: the activities which we do do can then really engage students
  • encourage and reward creativity in language use when students are writing or speaking, rather than punishing them or marking them down for making silly mistakes
If we do these things, maybe our students' creativity will increase and you will be prouder of what they make or perform.

And if you want to be creative with CLIL, are new or pretty new to CLIL and would like some attractive teaching ideas for your lessons, we'd like to let you know that our CLIL starters course in Utrecht is starting again on 26 February. It's definitely going ahead, but there are still some places free and we would love to meet you! Here is the Application form.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

How to EIOfy your lessons – four possible teaching strategies

European and International Orientation (EIO) is often an aspect of bilingual education that teachers find difficult to integrate with their subject. For example, some aspects of the EIO rubric are rather abstract, and the rubric does not offer concrete examples of its criteria put into classroom practice.

Of course, for some subjects (for example: social studies, geography and history) incorporating EIO can be as straight forward as identifying the relevant content of their subject. At some schools the approach has been to teach EIO as a separate subject. But what about other subjects in the curriculum? How does a science teacher, for example, add an international dimension to their lessons?

In order to try and offer teachers a concrete approach that includes examples for actual teaching practice for how to EIOfy a lesson, we have come up with four EIO teaching strategies. We would say that potentially every subject could use at least one of these.

Strategy one: Experiencing an aspect of another culture

This strategy is about finding lesson materials or ideas for lesson activities that use or adapt something from another culture. Physical Education teachers in the bilingual stream often offer a good example of this when they give their learners the opportunity to try out sports from other countries (for example, here in The Netherlands there has been a successful cricket league set up between bilingual schools). How about other subjects though? An example we’ve used in workshops is of games from other cultures that a maths teacher can use for teaching particular topics. For example, how about getting the pupils playing the ancient Chinese game of Nim as an idea for learning about calculating probability?

Strategy two: Experiencing how to resolve conflicts and negotiate solutions

With this approach learners are given co-operative learning or small group tasks, in which they need to work together to complete a task or solve a problem. The point is to also have the pupils focus on the ways they work together, and to encourage them to make explicit for themselves the different skills involved. A teacher needs to also draw attention to the link between these types of task and the international projects and/or exchange trips that learners will probably also participate in as part of a CLIL programme – the same skills that they use in the classroom for working together will then need to be applied in an international setting.

Strategy three: Learning about multicultural and intercultural content

This strategy is possibly the one that is the easiest to connect to the EIO rubric, and the rubric itself does offer some indication of ideas for lesson content. But teachers can also use the idea of EIO as a launch pad into a range of related topics – such as human rights, sustainable development, and citizenship – that all subjects in the curriculum could potentially connect with.  These topics could then become the focus for cross curricular projects that different subjects contribute to.

Strategy four: Looking at something from another (cultural) perspective

With this learners are asked to experience another or alternative (cultural) perspective to their own. Role playing activities are a good way to explore this strategy, coming up with controversial topics for discussion, for example, and then giving pupils a particular role to play in that discussion that could be related to a different cultural perspective to their own. Another example we used in a workshop was a poem written by a refugee in the UK, in which we took out some key words and asked the participants to complete the poem themselves (thus putting themselves into the position of the poet). They were then asked to discuss what they thought about the person who wrote the poem (cultural background, age, gender, job etc.) and were often surprised to then discover the difference between their own assumptions and the truth.

Taken together what these four strategies show is that implementing EIO is an approach that can involve knowledge and understanding of subject content (and which can potentially be linked between and across different subjects) but also a range of skills that different subjects can also work with.

We’d be interested to know what teaching ideas other people have in relation to any of these four lesson EIOfying teaching strategies. Or indeed any thoughts on adding an international aspect to CLIL in the classroom.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Winter Warmers for CLIL

Snow is upon us (at least it is here in The Netherlands) and the temperature is dropping! Even more reason to get learners warmed up at the start of a lesson.
Warming up is important in order to help learners make the transition from a regular lesson to a CLIL lesson – warming up in this case could focus on the use of English in the lesson.
Activating tasks are also essential to help motivate learners and engage their interest for a particular topic.
Warming up is also important for the transition between subjects in a bilingual stream – in this case an energizer might focus on subject content and activating prior knowledge, alongside activating language use.
Here’s a suggestion for five (winter) warming up activities for a CLIL lesson.

Balloon stomp
This can get very noisy! Choose a set of questions (Q) and answers (A). Write each Q and A on separate pieces of paper. Roll each one up and place it in separate balloons. Blow the balloons up. Learners walk around the room until the teacher says, “jump”. Each person then stands on a balloon to burst it and releases the paper inside. Each then looks for the person with the A to the Q they have, or the Q to the A. Alternatively, use collocations with different words that need to be put together. For example, one person has “fish” and has to find the other person with “chips”. Also possible to do this activity without the balloons!

CLIL beach ball
Write questions all over a beach ball. For example, what would you do with a million dollars? which famous person would play you in the movie of your life? which vegetable do you hate the most? Then throw the ball around the room to learners — wherever their right thumb lands, they answer that question. Questions could also be related to subject content – but then they need to be open-ended questions in case of people getting the same question.

Fat question
A fat question is an open-ended question that has no single answer and requires more than a single sentence in a possible answer. For example: Is there life on other planets, what do you think? Use a fat question at the start of a lesson to get brains into gear and to generate discussion, as well as motivating interest in the topic for that particular lesson.

Place pupils in pairs or small groups. They take it in turns to think of a verb. Others have to ask questions to discover the verb chosen using the word ‘’coffeepot” in place of the verb: for example, “Do you coffeepot at night? When do you coffeepot? Where do you coffeepot?” etc. until they find the answer. Verbs could also be related to a specific topic to connect with subject content.

Top Secret
Everyone writes something down which he or she knows about him/herself but that no-one else in the class knows. Gather cards together, then redistribute them. Everyone reads out their card, and guesses who it comes from. As an alternative, learners need to write a secret about themselves using different tense, for example, one sentence in the present tense, one sentence in the present perfect tense.