Saturday, 23 April 2011

Nagging Questions and Doubts about CLIL

Content and Language Integrated Learning CLIL is one of the 'Buzz' words in ELTing and mainstream education today. Many people, publishers included have a vested interest in CLIL. Jeremy Harmer wrote a piece on CLIL on his blog recently questioning it's worth. It got me thinking about CLIL and the problems on the front line. I've just checked my google reader and seen that the #ELTchat I missed last week was infact all about CLIL. I can't believe I missed that one!

I've been working in CLIL classrooms since 2007 as a language assistant and have seen firsthand how it's being implemented here in Spain. While some countries such as Malaysia are rejecting CLIL , the Ministry of Education here in Spain is pushing it through. 

It's much too early to tell whether it is a successful method of Language and Content teaching, but here are a selection of problems that I've seen at ground level.

1) I've heard many people in the staffroom asking what the point is in teaching Maths in English when there are children failing the subject in their own language. They may have a point here. CLIL supporters will probably tell you that these are teething problems which will iron themselves out, but I'm not sure.

2) There are children who resent learning other subjects through English. I've had children who are openly anti- being taught  content in English. I've encountered a layer of resentment about the priority being given to English.

3) It's difficult for English teachers to become content teachers and difficult for content teachers to teach in English. Teachers struggle planning lessons and finding appropriate material. It's very time consuming and often results in teachers preparing their own materials which is not easy, especially in a second language.

4) There seems to be a shortage of content teachers in secondary who are willing and able to teach in English. Teachers are expected to have a B2 level before they can teach content in English.

5) There doesn't seem to be much guaranteed continuity. One class who had music this year in English won't be having it next year. This begs the question when are they going to use the specialised language they learnt this year? I'm sure that in everyday English and in their English classes they won't see the words pitched and patched very often. Are we just filling their heads with useless vocabulary?

6) There is fierce disagreement about how to choose CLIL students. Do we choose the "best" English students to take part in CLIL programmes or do we have an open policy based on the students' interest? This year we had an open policy towards CLIL. I'm in favour next year of choosing students based on their English and on their willingness to participate. I don't think that it's enough that they're willing.

I've painted quite a bleak picture of CLIL which is not all true. Despite its problems I've seen succeses too. Its success or failure depends very much on the teachers and I've seen some excellent ones.

Is it the future? 

At the moment it seems that in mainstream education it is for the time being. I have a feeling that it may go the way of Malaysia and other such countries. It's an enormous undertaking for an education system that has so many other issues to attend to. Whilst I love the idea, I can't help but think that they've bitten off more than they can chew with this one.

Only time will tell, but while we wait are students loosing out?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

punctuation whats that

I readily admit that I couldn’t punctuate my way out of a paper bag. It wasn’t something that I was taught at school and I don’t seem to have really picked it up along the way. I remember when I first started teaching, I tried to memorize punctuation rules, but that didn’t go very well!

This week an advanced teenage student of mine asked me if she could use “however” in a mid clause position after a comma and before another one. I told her that my punctuation wasn’t up to much and that I’d double check with my friend Sally, who is most definitely, a punctuation “Stickler”.

I’ve just finished re-reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and, I can now safely say that the answer is a resounding NO. If you haven’t read this book I can heartily recommend it. It’s a witty, no-nonsense, zero tolerance approach to punctuation. I now know, that linking words such as “however” and “nevertheless” require a semi-colon.

The problem is, that I don’t think I’ve used a semi-colon since university, and even then, I think I may have just thrown the odd one or two in for luck. When was the last time you used a semicolon or a colon? Are they outdated and old-fashioned or are they the crème de la crème of punctuation?

Here are some facts from the Eats, Shoots & Leaves that tickled my fancy about punctuation:

• The earliest know punctuation dates back to 200 BC which involved a series of single points at different heights on a line.
• For more than a millennium the job of punctuation was to guide actors, chanters and readers-aloud.
• The first printed semicolon was in 1494.
• The exclamation mark was introduced by printers in the 15th century and was called “the note of admiration” until the mid 17th century.
• In newspaper circles the exclamation mark is known as a screamer, a gasper, a startler or a dog’s cock!
• The first word of a sentence was first capitalized in the 13th century but it didn’t become uniform until the 18th century.
• The question mark started out in the 8th century and was called punctus interrogativus.
• There is such a thing as an Oxford comma.
• The apostrophe dates back to the 16th century.

How many punctuation errors have I made in this post? Come on, you punctuation sticklers, I’m sure there are tonnes!


Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss - Profile Books - 2003