Five Challenges of Planning CLIL Lessons
Leticia Moraes has been involved in ELT for over 15 years. During this time, she has worked extensively with teenagers and their teachers. She is senior consultant at the start-up consultancy, Troika; IATEFL YLTSIG’s Joint Events Coordinators; and member of the C-Group.
In the past years we have been seeing in Brazil a boom in bilingual education, with more and more schools offering bilingual programmes. This expansion had an impact on the English language teaching scenario in Brazil, and one of its consequences is that Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is becoming better known in the country.
CLIL has a number of advantages in the context of bilingual education. However, as this is still something new in Brazil, we cannot ignore that it also raises a number of questions, such as the profile of the teacher who is going to teach CLIL lessons. Should it be a subject teacher with a good level of English, or an English teacher with some knowledge of the subject? No matter the case, there will be challenges, especially in the planning and preparation for the lessons.
Being involved in different CLIL projects in Brazil over the past year, I had to deal with a number of issues, the most recurrent ones being related to planning CLIL lessons. These are the main challenges we faced:
Having enough knowledge of the content and the language
The balance between knowledge of the subject matter and the knowledge of the language is probably one of the most noticeable challenges of CLIL. In the current context in Brazil, it is difficult to find teachers who already master both. Thus, subject teachers teaching CLIL definitely know the subject but may have to work on their language skills. Similarly, English teachers know the language, but may need to develop their knowledge of the subject to be taught. This means that many times, planning a CLIL lesson also means studying the subject or the language to be taught, which increases the preparation time and effort.
Of course, this extra load is more significant when we start working with CLIL, but this cannot be neglected. Specific and consistent training is essential to minimise this situation for both language and subject teachers, be them experienced or not in their original field of expertise.
Knowing how to teach the content as well as the language
Once the knowledge of what has to be taught (subject matter and language) is balanced, we need to take into account how this is going to be taught. After all, foreign language teaching techniques can be very different from subject teaching. On the one hand, subject teachers know how to explain the subject matter, but are usually not used to dealing with learners who do not understand all the words they are saying, or who cannot understand the language of a text. Language teachers, on the other hand, are used to using strategies, such as body language, cognates and scaffolding, to help students understand the language, but may not know how to transmit the knowledge of the content.
Here again, training is key. Thus, language teachers have to learn how to teach a subject other than English in the same way subject teachers have to understand the specificities of foreign language learning and teaching.
Balancing the focus on language and content
When we plan a CLIL lesson, it is important to balance the teaching of theoretical knowledge and the development of communicative competence. This may sound obvious, since CLIL aims at integrating the learning of content and language. However, depending on the teacher’s background and on the institution’s focus, one or the other may be set aside even unconsciously. I have witnessed contexts in which so much effort was given to teaching the content, that it seemed that the language could not be tackled by the teacher. In other contexts, the language was so important that the content became just the context of the language learning.
An element that can contribute to successful learning of both language and content is the development of learning strategies, such as inferring meaning from context, using images and visual prompts to aid understanding and memory, etc.
Going beyond CALP
What I notice from practice is that, when we are planning a CLIL lesson, the need for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) tends to appear more naturally, since this is necessary for learners to be able to deal with the subject content. However, if the linguistic focus of the lessons is only on CALP, learners will be able to deal with academic issues in English, but not with everyday situations. Therefore, it is crucial to always keep in mind the importance of also developing learners’ Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) so as to allow them to use English in contexts beyond the classroom.
Language teachers usually know well how to deal with BICS in the classroom. However, this can be easier said than done, especially when teachers have limited time to deal with content, communication, cognition and culture (4Cs). That is why, when planning a CLIL lesson, it is so important for teachers to double-check the kind of language being developed in a lesson, and if there is a balance between CALP and BICS.
Finding appropriate materials
Finding appropriate materials for teaching CLIL lessons in Brazil is still a challenging task. The offer of materials that would suit the Brazilian context in terms of curriculum and linguistic needs is still limited. In this scenario, some schools adopt ELT materials and adapt them to a CLIL lesson, and others select materials used to teach the subject in English speaking countries. None of these two solutions is ideal. The former lacks the content and the latter is too challenging in terms of language. As a result, they end up making the process of planning a CLIL lesson more challenging.
The alternative for teachers would be to either find CLIL materials online or create their own. Although both alternatives can be time consuming, they would also result in more appropriate material.
As everything in life, CLIL has advantages, but also challenges that cannot be ignored, since being aware of them contributes to teachers being better able to deal with CLIL and, consequently, to a more successful learning process. If we look at all the five challenges described above, it is possible to notice that the planning process of a CLIL lesson has to be more careful and is potentially more time-consuming than a regular English-as-a-foreign-language lesson. After all, there are more variables and more content to be taken into account.
Coyle, D., Hood, P. & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL - Content Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge University Press.
Finardi, K., Leão, R. & Pinheiro, L.M. (2016). English in Brazil: Insights from the Analysis of Language Policies, Internationalization Programs and the CLIL Approach. Education and Linguistics Research, Vol. 2, No. 1. Available at: https://blog.ufes.br/kyriafinardi/files/2017/08/English-in-Brazil-Insights-from-the-Analysis-of-Language-Policies-Internationalization-Programs-and-the-CLIL-Approach-2016.pdf. Accessed on: 19 May 2019.
Pokrivčáková, S. et al. (2015). CLIL in Foreign Language Education: e-textbook for foreign language teachers. Nitra: Constantine the Philosopher University.
Please check the CLIL for Primary course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the CLIL for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.
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