Why is Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Humanistic?
Y.L. Teresa Ting, Italy
Y. L. Ting is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in English at the University of Calabria (Italy). She merges her background in science and scientific research to research CLIL learning environments. She is also a CLIL teacher-trainer for various bilingual and CLIL teacher professional development programmes in universities in Spain and Austria as well as for Pilgrims.
What CLIL is and what it is not
Why CLIL can provide more humanistic learning contexts
How did it work? Walking through the CLIL activity
I write this at a moment where CLIL is receiving more attention than ever and yet, ironically, peered at suspiciously, especially by highly experienced teachers. It is so much in focus because many governments (including that in Italy, where I live) consider CLIL a panacea to the seemingly impossible European goal of having citizens speak not just one but two foreign languages (e.g Marsh 2002). Speaking as an EFL teacher, the logic is as follows: if we use for example, English (the target foreign language of CLIL in Italy) to teach maths, chemistry, history, art, geography etc. and etc., our students will be:
- exposed to more English and ergo learn more English and
- learning a new subject so they are authentically curious which, in turn means our students will be extremely motivated to use the FL to ask questions so to learn more about the world around them, just like when they were toddlers.
There is potential logic in this, especially if we ignore the fact that how we learn in school rarely instils intense curiosity. In fact, many moons ago, when I was an adolescent worrying about bad skin and not-too-bad boys, I could barely survive chemistry lessons in my own language (L1): if I had had to study chemistry in a foreign language, I am certain my skin problems would have gotten worse (and, as a result, no boys, good or bad).
I am therefore not at all surprised that seasoned teachers give us CLIL cohorts such nasty looks, especially if these teachers have understood CLIL to mean “instead of doing it in L1, do it in a foreign language”. Content teachers smirk because it is already quite challenging to interest their learners when they teach in a language they do speak, imagine fumbling through a language they do not speak? Why should these content experts wish to appear amateurish before learners simply because their foreign language competence is weak? All of us who have experienced being less-than-fluent FL-speaker can remember just how frustrating it was when others politely nodded in response to our attempts to use our poor A2-level language to communicate our wonderful C2-level thoughts and humour: their faces read, “who invited this illiterate to this party?” Asking content teachers to “do it in English” is asking them to operate outside their comfort zones. Likewise EFL practitioners. EFL teachers, who are actually the original grassroots pro-CLIL movers, are now wondering if an originally ingenious way for increasing FL-learning time will reduce us into “walking-technical-dictionaries” or even cause our extinction with content-teachers “teaching English whilst doing content”. And if we had opted for a career in FL-education because we love languages rather than history and physics, why must we now spend our extracurricular hours “studying a content I didn’t like so I can teach the FL which I love?”
If CLIL were simply “doing maths, physics, geography, history, chemistry etc. in a FL”, then we should quickly delete it from the archives of education. To start with, if we interpret the CLIL acronym mathematically, as a 50:50 ratio between Content:Language, we derive a [50/Language] component of this equation which begs the question “whose language?”. Clearly we are interested in the learners’ language, not the teacher’s language. This is the Core-CLIL-Construct (Ting, 2011) which, as shown in Figure 1, must be at the base of any and all CLIL initiatives. In fact, this focus on the learner’s language is how CLIL automatically advocates a learner-centred learning context. In attending to how and how often learners use the FL purposefully to access information, discuss ideas and construct knowledge, CLIL shifts our attention away from the act of teaching towards the process of learning. A Maths teacher blabbing about algebra in Oxbridge English is definitely not CLIL: if a lecture on electromagnetism in L1 is already boring (or deadly), imagine in a FL?
Figure 1. A mathematically-derived CLIL-Operational Flowchart (Ting, 2011)
Effective CLIL-teachers who recognize that CLIL focuses on learners’ language thus become more language-aware, aware that instruction is utilizing a FL for which learners have limited linguistic resources. The language-of-input must therefore be made comprehensible: ever experienced how science textbooks and teachers turned our mother tongue into a foreign language (Halliday & Martin, Writing Science, 1993)? CLIL-Operand-1 (figure 1) thus ensures that the language-of-instruction is I+1, not I+8. And once a teacher is sensitive to the comprehensibility (or not) of the input-language, it comes naturally to question whether the input-content is also comprehensible: am I presenting content information in chewable and digestible aliquots? This is CLIL-Operand-3. CLIL-Operand-2 is at the interface of both Operand-1 and Operand-3 and highlights the fact that CLIL uses a foreign language for content instruction: The reason we are using a FL for instruction is obviously so the learners can use the FL effectively in the entire gamut of communication, from understanding spoken language to being able to speak confidently and, very importantly and often overlooked, being able to write about knowledge, properly. Good CLIL-teaching thus moves FL-education from Cummins’ BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) to CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) (1981; 1984). CLIL is therefore definitely not about “doing genetics, hydroelectricity and quantum mechanics in a foreign language. The output of CLIL-learning which is filtered through these three Operands enables learners to not only understand the Content well, but also be able to Communicate about content knowledge effectively: that’s CLIL.
Let’s now see how the CLIL-Operational Flowchart looks in real life. Using a set of CLIL-science activities, I will attempt to convince those of you who are suspicious of CLIL of how CLIL, done well, can transform classroom dynamics and render learning extremely humanistic. The emphasis will initiate with Content but the crucial role of Foreign Language expertise will become evident. If not, you can also delete me from the archives of education. Let me utilize the CLIL-science activity and parts of a chapter entitled CLIL: towards brain-compatible science-education (Ting, in Quality Interfaces: Examining Evidence & Exploring Solutions in CLIL, edited by Marsh and Meyer (2011)).
First of all, before reading on, the reader should download the CLIL-science activity and do it completely and well, as if led by a teacher, so they can experience what CLIL-Science feels like before we take a philosophical walk through it together and reason about how CLIL has made an otherwise challenging science concept very accessible.
To complete Exercise 1a, learners must use their knowledge of elementary-level English to form grammatically correct questions. The answers to questions 1a are found in Exercise 1b and, upon completion of both parts of Exercise 1, the learners know both what experimental materials are needed for the experiment and also understand what they must do, the experimental procedure. Exercise 1c obliges learners to revisit these correctly formed question-answer pairs by rewriting them, in full, in the speech bubbles. While I am not familiar with any empirical research showing that writing out foreign language words facilitates the learning of that FL, rewriting these dialogues out by hand surely provides learners additional opportunities to reprocess the language and, if nothing else, notice how English words are spelt. In fact, despite even eight years of English, Italian university students still produce whit rather than with, and this is surely not for want of input since with is the 16th most frequent English word: giving learners opportunities to write out even simple English sentences within a motivating context of preparing for a scientific experiment obliges learners to ‘output’ these FL words.
Exercise 1d asks learners to instruct the teacher to perform the experiment. This reverses more traditional classroom dynamics whereby teachers instruct learners on what to do. If the teacher chooses a learner to substitute him/her in the role of ‘teacher’ then all the students can instruct their ‘teacher-peer’ on how to do the experiment, using language which they have acquired in the preceding exercises to give instructions.
While Exercise 2a seems to be a language activity, it covertly provides learners with the lexis they will need to not only language their experimental observations but also, and more importantly, know how to language correctly: learners are given the language and discourse necessary to give their observations a scientific explanation. In fact, at first glance, the exercise simply asks learners to correct the grammatical mistakes in each sentence. Since the number of mistakes are indicated in brackets, learners may need to re-read each sentence several times to ensure they have identified the grammatical mistake(s) which need(s) correcting. In so doing, learners are re-reading content knowledge – the scientific explanations of the Ink Experiment – and thus acquiring content knowledge implicitly (Reber, 1993).
Here, since the content is unknown, attention should be focuses on the content: the content-cognitive-demand (CCD) is high. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the language in which this new content is embedded is easy: language-cognitive-demand (LCD) must be low. This complementary equilibrium between the content-cognitive-demand and the language-cognitive-demand is schematised in figure 2. Scaffolding which equilibrates between the CCD and LCD of the input is in line with what we know about working memory (e.g. Bransford 1979; et al. 1999; Kandel 2006), a form of short-term memory which supports the rapid processing of input from various sensory sources, identifies which input is important and then codes these into a ‘piece of information’. Given the necessary conditions, such pieces of information are subsequently re-coded and stored into long-term memory (Kandel 2006). The important point here is that this ‘piece of information’ has a size-limit. For example, when we must remember a new phone number only long enough to dial it, we can easily do so if the number does not exceed seven digits (Bransford et al., 1999).
Figure 2. Cognitive-Demand Equilibrium of ideal CLIL-materials: Equilibrium between Content-Cognitive-Demand (CCD) and Language-Cognitive-Demand (LCD).
Although there is no empirical data to tell us how much ‘CLIL-information’ would fill a 7-digit working-memory space, common sense would suggest that, since learners must access new content through a FL, effective CLIL materials must consider that our working memory has a limited capacity, making it essential to equilibrate between content and language cognitive-demands. One may envision, therefore, a scaffolding process between known-content-to-unknown-language or known-language-to-unknown-content, much like what Coyle et al. (2010: 95) call the “content and language familiarity and novelty continuum” where new content is scaffolded upon familiar language so that “language remains accessible as new concepts are introduced”. Exercise 2a, asks learners to simply correct the grammar mistakes embedded within familiar language but, in so doing, actually exposes learners to the language they will need to explain the experimental observations: the implicit learning of new concepts comes through the explicit act of correcting language. This ensures that, even when the language-cognitive-demand is high, the content-cognitive-demand is quite low.
Exercise 2b calls upon several simple acts which involve specific cognitive processes. First of all, although this exercise appears to simply ask learners to ‘put the sentences in the correct space’, it actually obliges learners to now consciously evaluate content knowledge which, to this moment, has only received precursory attention in Exercise 2a: any understanding of how heat provides energy and thus increases molecular motion has only been implicitly acquired. Bringing such knowledge to their conscious-fore (Act 1), learners must then work through it so to embed their newly acquired knowledge into real-life observations when inserting the sentences into the corresponding space (Act 2). In using the appropriate language to complete the activity, learners not only confirm their content knowledge but also personally engage with the scientific language that is used to speak about this particular scientific phenomenon (Act 3): Learners are acquiring the language of the community of practise (Wenger 1998). However, since the learners are working with language they have already encountered and corrected in Exercise 2a, the language-cognitive-demand is very low while the content-cognitive-demand is increased as learners learn the content and become familiar with how to language their newly acquired content knowledge.
This entire set of CLIL-activities have therefore moved learners from what Cummins (1981) recognised as BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) into CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). While BICS can be achieved after 2-3 years of instruction, CALP is at the other extreme of the communication spectrum and can take up to double the instruction time. However, CALP is essential for academic success in the FL and must, therefore, be an objective in CLIL instruction (CLIL-Operand-2). In fact, Coyle et al., (2010) have adapted Cummins’ oft-cited Framework for Developing FL-Proficiency for auditing CLIL-tasks and illustrate how tasks proceed from those low in both linguistic and cognitive demands into those which are high in both linguistic and cognitive demands. Adapting such frameworks for science-education, we obtain a schemata which considers the concept-cognitive-load of the science concept at hand (figure 3).
Figure 3. A Science-Proficiency Framework for evaluating the efficacy of science-learning tasks: Adapted from that for the development of FL-proficiency (square brackets show original axial correlated proposed by Cummins 1984).
Although Cummins’ original framework (1984) considered how cognitively demanding a FL-learning task is as a function of how familiar a communicative context is, figure 3 illustrates how this Science-Proficiency Framework can provide a theoretical framework for evaluating the efficacy of science-learning tasks by intersecting how accessible the language of instruction is for the learner with how familiar and tangible the science-concept can be rendered (van den Broek 2010). The nature of science is such that there are concepts which can be made visible, found within quadrants A and A’ while others are very difficult to link to real-life phenomena. An example of concepts which fall within quadrants B and B’ would be gluons and bosons, much appreciated by those researching sub-nuclear particle physics but difficult to grasp for those outside this community. While there are concepts in Zone B which we must study in school – concepts which are difficult to visualise (e.g. atoms, electrons, orbitals) – most concepts underlying scholastic-level science can be made visible. In addition, as represented by the dotted horizontal arrow, Zone A concepts are a requisite for Zone B gluon-physicists.
For the purpose of this paper, we will work within Zone A and discuss how the Ink Experiment was developed into a CLIL-activity. Commencing in quadrant A we conclude in quadrant A’. The language-cognitive-load is low when commencing within quadrant A, taking into consideration both CLIL-Operand-1 and CLIL-Operand-3, “do the learners understand the input-language and input-content?” (see figure 1). The result is Exercise 1 of the Appendix which basically informs the learners what materials are needed and what the experiment will be about. And how does this compare with a traditional non-CLIL approach? Excerpt 1 illustrates how the same information regarding the Experimental Materials and Experimental Procedures would be presented traditionally.
|Materials. For this experiment, you will need two glass jars, some hot water, some cold water and a syringe containing dark blue ink.
Procedure. Fill one jar with hot water and one with cold water and put a few drops of ink into each jar.
One may wonder if it is worthwhile to use up one entire sheet of paper and 15 min of CLIL-learning time to accomplish a message that can be presented in three lines of text and takes less than 2 minutes to read. If the purpose of doing the experiment is to do something different from reading a text, then the answer could be “no”. However, since the main focus of CLIL is ‘cultivating the learner’s language’ (the Core-CLIL-Construct), the CLIL activities in Exercise 1 transform an otherwise mundane process of setting up an experiment into a language-using task. Most importantly, it involves all the students. In fact, there is probably nothing more ‘science-alienating’ than sitting passively and watching the three best (favoured) students hovering around the teacher to set up an experiment while we others do nothing. In attending to the learner’s language, CLIL advocates a learner-centred context in which the teacher is not speaking the whole time. As a result, CLIL automatically optimizes the amount of learner-involvement at every moment of a lesson since, if the teacher isn’t blabbing non-stop, the learners must have to do something!
However, the most significant advantage of CLIL for science-education is illustrated in Excerpt 2, a text which shows how the concept of molecular motion would probably normally be presented in an instructional textbook. Again, the CLIL-activity covering this information uses a whole side of A4 paper and would require about 30 minutes to complete while the traditional text is comprised of 132 words and takes about 3 minutes to read. Yes, 3 minutes to read but many more to actually understand it. Or would it be more like memorise it? Actually, how easy are these 132 words to digest? Leaving aside the term kinetic molecular theory of matter, of the words in the first sentence, the words state and matter may be confusing since the everyday non-scientific connotation of these words correspond to quite different meanings (and thoughts). Likewise, if we take the sentence “In other words, atoms and molecules are constantly moving, and we measure the energy of these movements as the temperature of the substance”, it may be possible that Anglophone learners know most of the words which are not field-specific (i.e. except atoms and molecules), but it is unlikely that, encountering this for the first time, learners will find this sentence easy to digest: CLIL-Operand-3 is not implemented in such a traditional academic text.
|To understand the different states in which matter can exist, we need to understand something called the Kinetic Molecular Theory of Matter. Kinetic Molecular Theory has many parts, but we will introduce just a few here. One of the basic concepts of the theory states that atoms and molecules possess an energy of motion that we perceive as temperature. In other words, atoms and molecules are constantly moving, and we measure the energy of these movements as the temperature of the substance. The more energy a substance has, the more molecular movement there will be, and the higher the perceived temperature will be. An important point that follows this is that the amount of energy that atoms and molecules have (and thus the amount of movement) influences their interaction with each other. www.visionlearning. com/library/module_viewer.php?mid=120
Although there are no direct empirical studies based on academic texts, there is ample neurobiological research to indicate that such academic texts are probably not highly ‘brain-compatible’. Using surface electrodes to record evoked response potentials (ERP), sentences such as “He spread his toast with butter and socks” elicit a neuroelectrophysiological response called the N-400, an electrical negativity 400 milliseconds following the semantically incongruent input, ‘socks’ (Kutas and Hillyard 1980). Likewise, sentences such as “the horse raced by the barn fell” elicit a P-600, an electrical positivity 600 milliseconds following the completion of the reading of an syntactically opaque text, input which must be reprocessed so to be understood (Hinojosa et al. 2001). In fact, if one were to simply underline the words in Excerpt 2 which may cause some N-400 or P-600 blips in the brains of learners who are encountering molecular motion for the first time, it becomes clear why this way of languaging knowledge is probably not very brain-compatible: it would not be surprising at all if the reading of Excerpt 2 would elicit various neuroelectrophysiological blips as learners struggle to assimilate the meaning contained in 132 words. Unfortunately, this way of languaging scientific understandings is the staple of science-education – read, read and read some more “alienating” text.
The CLIL activities presented here make it possible for learners to not only see and understand the scientific concept, but also provides them with the necessary language for putting into words (scientifically correct words) the fact that molecules move and do so faster when given more energy in the form of heat. From here, understanding the few new notions and terms in Excerpt 2 is much easier as the amount of information which would otherwise elicit N-400 and P-600s has been reduced: content information has been re-dimensioned into chewable aliquots, CLIL-Operand-3.
CLIL which occupies content-lesson time must take the content-curriculum forward: better a monolingual surgeon who knows her anatomy than a multilingual one who doesn’t. Therefore, content expertise is obviously essential for establishing the learning objective of such CLIL endeavours. In this case, the learning objective was the conception of heat as a source of energy which, when increased, increases molecular motion. The ink experiment upon which this CLIL activity was developed is a very standard chemistry experiment and probably familiar to most Content experts as “an experiment” which is fun to do, but, as explained above, could be rather passive, thus providing much less understanding than the excitement it causes. However, as a CLIL-activity, not only is content-understanding achieved, the activities involve all learners actively in cooperative learning processes during which learners are continuously engaged in purposeful language use. Most importantly, being learner-centred and focused on learners’ ability to also use the FL academically, CLIL moves FL-usage from BICS to CALP. And who more suitable to do this than EFL experts?
All approaches that systematically scaffold between Content-education and Language-instruction provide for literacy development (Pearson et al., 2010). Done well, CLIL is not only not immersion (Lasagabaster and Sierra, 2010) but provides a pragmatic means for establishing high-level and humanistic contexts for both learners and their teachers: By embedding FL-learning opportunities within content-driven tasks which have been designed to prompt the collaborative attainment of content-learning objectives, CLIL not only allows content and FL experts to work within their comfort zones, CLIL also provides for the systematic cultivation of learners’ content and FL-literacy. Admittedly, while all this is very exciting, it still does not beat skin-care and bad-boys. However, I hope it is now clear that CLIL is not about students listening passively to a teacher lecture about an unknown topic in an unfamiliar language. I hope I have shown that CLIL can be much more...but if nothing else, CLIL makes learning more humanistic and less stressful on adolescent skin.
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Please check the CLIL: Content and Methodology for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the CLIL Materials Development ( Advanced Level) course at Pilgrims website.