Estonia CLIL Conference and Training

CLIL events in Estonia - 'All teachers are language teachers'

I was invited to contribute a plenary talk and a day of workshops to an ongoing CLIL month of events in Tallinn, Estonia, April 6th and 7th 2016.

The Estonian Association for Language Immersion - Innove - organized the events as part of a whole month of CLIL events being organized by schools all over Estonia, and within a special CLIL week of events, to bring us to 'The CLIL Day' conference itself. Ave Harsing from the Innove organization explained to me that the participants would be mixed for the conference with teachers, trainers, school principles making up the audience.

Day One

I didn't know much at all about the context other than what I've learned from previous visits, namely that Estonians speak very good English generally, and that CLIL is of interest for 'other' languages including Estonian for non-native speakers (e.g., large Russian-speaking minority). I focused on the main principles in the book Putting CLIL into Practice, and set out ideas behind the three dimensions: conceptual, procedural and linguistic of the methodology for CLIL we describe in the book.

Conference audience gathering

This tied in perfectly with the previous speakers at the conference.

Estonian CLIL logo

Natalja Mjatlitsina, Head of the Centre for Curriculum and Methodology at SA Innove described the work of the organization and the events of the CLIL month.

Irene Kӓossar, from the Estonian Ministry of Education, spoke about the goals versus the processes of immersive education, the need for sustainability of both training and education so as to guarantee the long term success of the implementation of methodologies which develop multilingualism in Estonia.

Dr Ehala talking on Estonian problems with literacy

Professor Dr Martin Ehala from the University of Tartu spoke on the theme 'Every Teacher is a Language Teacher' and also acted as moderator for the discussions between talks and at roundup at the end of the day. Dr Ehala sent me the link to his project webpage:

My plenary followed Dr Ehala's talk. My brief was to do a plenary presentation on 'Putting CLIL into Practice - A Methodology for CLIL'. In other words, I described the three dimensions of CLIL and organized these principles into areas looking at guiding content input and supporting content output.

Margus Raud, a sales manager and trainer spoke about technical vocabulary and the need for supporting multiple languages in language courses for specific purposes.

Aarne Saluveer, Principal of the Tallinn School of Music, came to talk on the theme of 'Song Bridge - The story of song as a language' and spoke passionately about how music and song are 'bridges' for children in Estonia (from whatever background) to cross and meet each other. He stressed, 'all children need is for us to build these bridges for them', and so provide opportunities for children to do music and song together.
It was a fabulous programme, and I have to say special thanks to Ave for her continuous translation throughout the day for me, keeping me up to date with what was being said.

Another thing was special. All of the talks and presentations fitted perfectly well with each other. This is down to the very intelligent thought given to the programme by colleagues at Innove. Thank you!

I was particularly delighted to be among so many colleagues all working towards the same goals. It's quite rare in language teaching conferences to find such harmony of thought and direction. Here, the goal was one, 'there is a need for a whole-country policy and approach to language in learning'. Dr Ehala stressed the importance of careful 'language and literacy' training for ALL pre-service teachers, no matter what their subject, something, he argued, which is currently sadly lacking in pre-service education in Estonia.

From this outlining of 'needs', I followed and spoke about 'ways and means' of bringing this to the classroom. Dr Ehala and I are already in touch by email to discuss training for teachers on 'lanugage in the curriculum' and better equip them for working with all language needs when they become teachers in schools in Estonia.

Am always impressed by translators. We had two very competent colleagues sitting in cubicles at the back of the room translating English-Estonian, Estonian-English for my talk, and then for the entire day the next day. Thanks to you for your excellent work!

Day Two

The next day had me with nearly 30 teachers working with literacy. Some of the teachers work with English literacy, others with Estonian language needs. The aim of the day was for me to give them as many ideas as we could fit into the day about 'guiding learners through the content they meet in classes' and 'supporting learners when they are asked to speak and write content in school'.

Ave Harsing opens the training

I divided the day into the four skills: Reading, Listening/Watching, Writing, Speaking. The only reason for organizing things this way was to give equal weight to all the skills, important for language development in school.

Subject-specific terminology taboo!

The teachers working in Estonian (around half of the group) had to work hard to follow both the translators, and participate as well as they possibly could in my English-medium activities. Imagine carrying out a whole group activity where participants have to search for information from people while giving information when asked. Imagine this in English with colleagues who don't speak English. The strategically placed English speakers prompted the group they were in with quick translations into Estonian of anything not understood and they got up and got on with it. Well done to these colleagues for their continued energy and enthusiasm.

Colleagues in discussion

I was forewarned to expect a cool, quiet reception where colleagues would be hesitant to answer questions in a whole group setting. That wasn't the case, these teachers were totally involved and made the day a success.

I brought some tastes of Bulgaria with me and after the colleagues did some informal feedback, all of the participants got the opportunity to taste Bulgarian sheep's cheese, lyutenitsa, chubritsa and red wine made from the Bulgarian Mavrud grape. Everyone particularly liked the lyutenitsa.
By way of collecting some informal feedback, I asked the colleagues to discuss with neighbours 'three things they will take away with them from the day'.

These are my notes on the feedback they gave:

- natural speaking, don't be afraid of it
- question loop, trivia search x2, taboo x2, running dictation, paired surveys
- producing language support from texts
- structuring speech and logical discussion (how to find the repetitions from the texts, how to form sentences, how to use academic phrases and train learners in their use, and preparing speeches and presentations)
- the structure of asking questions within a particular subject, with support for learners how to answer
model phrases should be visible on the worksheets, prepared by teachers
- it's important to listen not only to academic native speaker speech, but also the natural friendly speech (interruption, cutting in, slang)
- activities from foreign language learning
- good to see that CLIL and FLL have so much in common, if you choose the correct content you can use the same technique with adults (the hidden text activity)
- different strategies for looking at language in texts
- facts about the English language
- gapped texts, in many forms
- authentic texts, teachers are used to textbook texts, it is quite artificial, we try to move to authentic text

Estonian Literacy trainers' group pic

These colleagues are working with practising teachers to support their work with learners who need support with their language in school. This is not just the English language, but also Estonian language needs for native and non-native speakers in education. Keep an eye on Estonia for developments in 'language in the curriculum'. It's a small enough population for the ministry, Innove, schools and teachers to be able to implement a workable and sustainable model of pre-service training. Once this is in place, maths, geography, science teachers will be coming in to schools with a grounding in strategies for working with their learners and their needs in the language of learning. It could well be something other countries could learn a lot from!

Follow up
I am linking my slides for the plenary here. You can find the presentation in the links at the foot of the page.
There was considerable interest in the resources for identifying curriculum language functions, so am adding some of these links here:
Language Functions Toolkit - cross-curricular general academic language along with diagrammatical structures for use with this language
Academic language functions for students in higher education -
Your CLIL - A language audit of some functions from secondary Sciences and Geography


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