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?

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