Cafe CLIL Discussion 16: Hard and Soft CLIL Teacher Skills

Discussion 16: Hard and Soft CLIL Teacher Skills

This discussion revolves around the issue of dealing with more than one language in the CLIL classroom. It's a theme which is chosen specifically to contrast with a total immersion approach.

16.02.11 (17.00-18.00 Central EU time)

You can listen to the recording of this discussion at this YouTube link.

Participants in Cafe CLIL DIscussion 16:
KK - Keith Kelly (Host - Bulgaria)
JC - John Clegg (UK)
AB - Andreas Baernthaler (Austria)
WA - Wendy Arnold (UK)
N C-S - Noreen Caplen-Spence - (Qatar)
EW - Egbert Weisheit (Germany)
PB - Phil Ball (Spain)

Pre-conference prompts given to participants:
There has been some interest in us looking at hard CLIL and soft CLIL, as well as our discussing key skills v teacher language.
Is it possible for us to combine these two under one heading? While looking at the balance between key skills and teacher language, we might go some way about differentiating between hard and soft CLIL?

We might go with the following simplistic but provocative question:In CLIL, Is it more important to be good at English or to be good at teaching? (please feel free to alter this, but I think you get the idea)
While we discuss and share thoughts on this question, let's see if we can differentiate between soft and hard CLIL teacher skills.
- What are the main / defining characteristics / skills which differentiate soft from hard CLIL?- What are those skills?
- How much language is enough / too little?

There was recently a posting about Jeremy Harmer's blog where he writes a few things we might pick up on related to this theme:
Among other things Jeremy defines soft and hard CLIL:'... You can have soft CLIL (that's a bit of teaching physics and English together) and hard CLIL (delivering a lot of the physics curriculum in English and vice-versa)
Plus, Jeremy makes an important statement about teacher skills:
'And yet….here’s what someone said to me the other day, and it is the reason for this post: “I hear lots of people talking about the advantages for English that CLIL offers, but I haven’t heard anyone saying it’s a great way to teach physics (or geography or maths etc).'

One relevant point, I'd like to make about Jeremy's quote above is that I think CLIL does contribute to better Physics teaching and learning when an expectation of the Physics is that learners can communicate about the subject. For me CLIL is about developing Physics learning through communication in a foreign language. So, if there isn't any communication in the learning of Physics in the mother tongue, I think the opposite to the reader who wrote in those words to Jeremy's blog. CLIL specifically does improve Physics teaching in these contexts.

Notes and summary from the discussion:

‘Teacher Language’ or ‘Teacher Skills’

There is broad agreement that ‘it’s more important to be good at teaching rather than language’ Technical subject teachers in Austria need a wider range of methods, whereas the language comes quite naturally. There is some discussion about the amount of teaching happening which is very traditional and where teachers are getting by with their language skills without much of a focus on method.

‘that’s why I think there has got to be a lot more work done on methodology’

Students are still successful anyway despite the immersion approach, though this has been changing in recent years as teachers undergo more training. Andreas mentions research by Dalton-Puffer which suggests this, where students as graduates are asked - ‘Do you think you profited anything from CLIL?’ Most of them agree from the language perspective but it is not so clear when it comes to profits concerning the subject itself. This does not mean that they learned less, the question is did they learn  more.

Finnish research is referred to (link) where the results suggest CLIL teaches as well as and sometimes better, and similar research is described in the Basque country where research results show general cognitive levels, language levels (Basque, Spanish, and English), and Social Science skills (Basque curriculum in English) where CLIL students were tested against native speaker control groups and show that the experimental group got better results, not only that they had to do the exam in Basque and control groups performed better in basic skills, but the experimental group ‘got massively better’ results.

Austria, Spain, Finland then give success stories, and so what are those teacher skills which lead to this success?

‘it’s more about the student than the teacher’

This are changing in Austria, many of us had not really realized what CLIL was really about, we focused on English as a working language, and the focus was on language, and not so much on methodology, the approach has changed:

‘it’s not only language development, it’s development in methodology’

In Jaeppinen’s research, she describes 4 key differences, between CLIL and MT learning, one is ‘a large zone of proximal development’ and one result of this in the classroom given is ‘the need for more language supportive materials’ and this is a key to CLIL methodology.

‘this is different from teacher level of language, it’s about awareness of target language more than teacher language skills’

There is no point in providing support until you know what you are providing support for, teachers are not trained to do it, and subject teachers may feel that it requires a lot of them, and it is important, it’s basic, it’s crucial.

An extreme example is given of a teacher who had very low levels of English who learned the lesson (including the language of the lesson) prior to teaching it. The ETEMS (English for Teaching Maths and Science) project in Malaysia is mentioned where scripting was done on a large scale and where teachers were given whole texts to support their lesson preparation and teaching. There is an example script attached below for a Form 1 Science lesson on matter and mass from the ETEMs project.


The idea has already been offered of lessons which follow subject lessons, so that language teachers can consolidate what goes on in the subject lesson. This can be defined as Soft CLIL, a CLIL which involves language teachers working as facilitators to the content curriculum. This is very different from the idea of Soft CLIL being where language teachers bring in some content (Jeremy Harmer) opens door to criticism of just repackaging task-based language learning.

The Italian model of CLIL is mentioned where language and subject teachers work together, everybody likes it but it isn’t important for their subject learning, it’s more about the language development. 

There is a concern that English teachers who are being paid to teach language, start to dabble with content, using it as a vehicle to teach language and unless you’re very skillful you end of trivializing the content. There is mention of  Coyle’s 4 Cs, if your body of content falls into one of the four Cs, then it becomes CLIL.

How much language is enough?

Dutch TTOs (Dutch schools with bilingual streams) use C1 as the benchmark for recognition as a bilingual school. In Austria if you want to become a CLIL teacher, you don’t need any formal CLIL-related qualifications at all, it’s the management and the teachers who decide. Teachers self assess to find out their own language skills, most of them define themselves as B1-2. 
‘Personally, I’d rather have a teacher who was weak in language but with very good CLIL methodology than a teacher with strong language and weak method’.
There was a suggestion that there may be a need for a probationary period before teachers go on alone to teach full-blown CLIL. Schools differentiate in the Basque country as to the point of entry to CLIL, if they’ve come into the project with children at an early age, they can use this very fact to plan long term and put into place instruments which help the approach long term, secondary teachers can be prepared in terms of language and methods when they know the young children are already doing CLIL.

Attached files