CLIL Conference
The British Council School
Madrid
02.02.13

Building bridges between content and language


The British Council School, Madrid

When I was asked to contribute to the recent event organized by the British Council in Madrid which came to be entitled 'Building bridges between content and language' little did I know that I'd be about to experience a revelation in pedagogical thinking, that I haven't felt in several years.


setting up, people arriving

I kicked off the event

The title of the event came from a brainstorm between Mark Levy (Head, English and Schools at BC Spain), Phil Ball (ball.philip6@gmail.com), and myself. We had the initial working title 'things language teachers need to know about content and things content teachers need to know about language'. We'd met in a conference call to talk about potential participants all coming from schools in bilingual programmes in Spanish schools, the working title and what we might prepare given our backgrounds in CLIL.

Fairly quickly we rejected a host of terms which we'd met before for CLIL meetings where groups of teachers were brought together, concluding that we didn't really see  what the real-life meaning was of the terms in practice: CLIL Synergy was one title we rejected. Phil and I began to talk about scaffolding, a common term in CLIL given the relationship between supporting learning and this metaphor, which led us to construction and language in this field. It made a lot of sense to talk about 'bridges' between the worlds of language and content education since both subject areas are relevant entities in their own rights, and we wanted to avoid descriptions which focused on 'something missing' in either field. A bridge brings two sides together, and offers a shared medium for communication once its built - So 'Building bridges' it was. It worked in terms of pedagogical thinking AND in terms of interaction between the two areas.


introductions and working in Plovdiv

what can content teachers pinch from language teachers?

We also fairly quickly decided how we would share the presentation time. Phil has a long recent history in writing resources for language teachers based on the content curriculum. You can find many examples of his work and the work of the (Ikastolas Schools in the Basque country) on the internet. There are links to two of their books here in FACTWorld.

Here, (take a look at the English in projects on the Eleanitz website) ground-breaking language teaching resources have been written for English language learners where the language and content come directly from an investigation and analysis of the content and language that is being taught in the content subject curriculum. I have highlighted directly above because this has to be stressed: the English language curriculum is based on what is being taught in the Geography, History classrooms. This kind of approach is very rare in my experience, and is both a 'left-field' approach to language education, to use a term Phil is fond of (he's right too), AND is an extremely sensible way of offering learners their foreign language curriculum.


the room was packed out

we were building bridges

The language they learn supports the content they learn and at the same time, the learners are 'doing something' while learning the language. The language lessons are sequenced conceptually as opposed to linguistically or thematically as they tend to be in ELT textbooks on sale on the market today. As Phil described in his talk, sudents of EFL are used to goin in one chapter from 'climate change' to 'Britney Spears' in the next while in Geography, they may look at 'The weather' in one unit, and move on from this to look at 'Agriculture' (and how this relates to weather patterns). With this background, it made sense that Phil talk about 'what content teaching can offer to language teachers'.

For my part, I've been involved in writing resources which 'make language salient' and these resources are largely written using ELT techniques and methods. VPS Science and Geography, Your CLIL (www.onestopenglish.com). In my work with subject teachers in a variety of contexts, most recently Technical High School teachers in Austria (HTL CLIL) I work at providing subject teachers with a 'tool box' of language teaching techniques and instruments that they can exploit in their work teaching their subjects through English. My job, then, was to talk about what language teaching can offer subject teachers, or as I subtitled it, 'what subject teachers might pinch from language teachers'.


what English teachers do

Phil speaking on the content teacher perspective

I went first too. This made a lot of sense, as most of the audience, I think 70%, were language teachers. I spoke about two things that are important characteristics of the ELT tool box, first, identifying and highlighting language, and second, principles of task design. I won't describe the talk here, you can take a look at the presentations when they are uploaded to the British Council website. Suffice to say, language teachers are very good at 'making language salient', making it visible for learners and this technique is useful for content teachers to try to adopt, and language teachers have in their repertoire a vast array of activity types to draw on which I strongly encourage subject teachers to 'pinch' and adapt to their content teaching needs through English.

There were 250 teachers at the event, and I'd like to take my hat of to the British Council in Madrid, particularly to Mark Levy for his foresight in offering this event. Mark sees a clear need to bring these areas of teaching together in Spain (and abroad). In Spain, nearly all of the Communities now have bilingual programmes, and despite the devastating economic climate, it is testament to the success of CLIL that these programmes still exist and interest in them is still growing. Among job cuts, and general budget cutbacks in education in Spain one might expect CLIL to be an easy sector to get the chop (I do hope that I'm not speaking too soon!)


things subject teachers do

 

... and the revelation I'd experienced in pedagogy, I can hear you asking.

It was this...

 


3 dimensions of CLIL

feedback to do

Effective content and language integration, whether it is 'English language teachers doing content' or 'content teachers teaching in English' depends on a 3D perspective of CLIL, let's call it 3D CLIL.

These three perspectives, or dimensions are: concepts, procedures, and language. Phil talked about these three dimensions in his own very intelligent yet down-to-earth style. I think it also helped that he is fluent in Spanish, so he could pepper his wit and insight with 'hacemos cosas', for example, while explaining that the content curriculum offers 'something to do' to language teachers in a content desert.


Mark does the raffle, many thanks to Eleanitz and Macmillan for the freebies!

questions and closing

Phil also brought this consideration of CLIL as three-dimensional down to making teaching objectives both 'transparent' and 'specific' and that when content teachers have an object, they tend to 'front' the concepts with some attention to procedures and when language teachers write objectives, they are interested primarily in the language with some attention to procedures. What we need is a CLIL that gives objectives to teaching with a focus on all three: concepts, procedures and language.

 

I know Phil is writing about 3D CLIL. I know because I'm lending a hand, and so is John Clegg.

Watch this space for more on 3D CLIL!

 


Me, Mark and Phil

 

04.02.13

 


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