Wednesday, 20 July 2011

CLIL - ready, steady, CHANGE !

After a short break, due to an accident (I fell from a sidewalk! I'm worse than kids... sometimes I think I shouldn't be allowed to travel alone!!!), here I am again sharing ideas, hints and doubts of my CLIL course.

That's how Dr Diana Hicks introduced the subject to us: you can't do something different (a CLIL lesson isn't monolingual methodology given in second or third language, remember?) and keep the same attitude. You've to make changes. So, that's it: feel confident enough to welcome the change and rethink our role and our strategies.

We need to make changes to

1) Teacher Language awareness
2) Student Language awareness
3) Tasks
4) Assessment strategies
5) Working relationship with colleagues
6) Relationship with parents
7) Our view of language "success"
8) Our view of what learning success is
9) Our view of how learning takes place
10) Lesson planning

We have already discussed some of these changes in other posts. Anyway, some of them deserve to be paid further attention. Of course, the first point is very controversial: we are working in two languages, MT and FL. But we can't take it for granted that students will only have problems with the Foreign Language. Maybe they'll struggle through the topic. Or maybe they don't have the host country language. How can we provide support for them? (burning question for me: in one of my classes I've 8 students out of 20 whose mother tongue is not Italian... and still no answer found).
Tasks and assessment: according to Dr Diana Hicks, most tasks should be shared and open - students should be allowed to bring their own ideas to add to the outcome and/or process. And as for the language, we have to make sure they know which language they can work in and what they're expected to produce.
Assessing (please note: the assessment part of the course was in my opinion the weakest... and for a very simple reason - we didn't have enough lessons and we had to rush through things) is connected to the lesson planning: when planning - and it will be a shared planning, subject teacher + language teacher - we'll have to discuss about assessment as well. What's important is to pay attention to the "how" more than to the "what": that means designing activities and tests that require thinking/understanding, not knowing. It sounds beautiful put like this, but don't ask me if I could do it in real life. I try.
We've been speaking about collegiality, and the challenge to work together, quite a lot now - so I won't examine this point again. What we can add here is a reflection on what "language success" means to us, both in MT and FL. We usually think in terms of accuracy, especially in MT, but maybe we have to pay some more attention to the students' awareness of the context: they should be aware of the differences between BICS and CALP. Language success may have to do with understanding when we can speak/write in a certain way, and when we have to change. Again, this has to do with thinking.

Enough for now... but just to keep you intrigued... I'll leave "characteristics of successful bilingual teaching" for my next post.

So enjoy your summer, but come back here from time to time!


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

structure of a (CLIL) lesson - start with the pupils

I really found the whole workshop to be great, but one of the most useful tools Dr Diana Hicks gave us is the “skeleton” of a (CLIL) lesson. I put CLIL in brackets as I ended up believing it could be a good structure for any lesson, even in mother tongue.

We started by examining the traditional, most common structure of a lesson:
1) Stage 1: presentation of subject by the teacher
2) Stage 2: activities/exercises (practice)
3) Stage 3: production – bigger activity
Well, forget this. Gone. Outdated. And – most important – boring! This top-down structure is teacher’s centred, while we need a bottom-up, pupils’ centred structure. Otherwise, we’ll end up losing 80% of the pupils on our way.

So, here’s the structure Dr Diana Hicks introduced to us.
“Start with the pupils” she said. I won’t forget this. Definitely.

1) TUNING IN: diagnostic, introductory activities (for the teacher to understand the students’ needs, their use of language, their knowledge of the subject pre-lesson, etc. / for the students to be introduced to the subject in a motivating and playful way).
2) FINDING OUT: this is the “meat” of the lesson – content
3) SORTING OUT: organizing information
She suggested to have the students work in groups, so as to allow each pupil to give their own contribution, and to use both English (or other L2) and Mother Tongue, so that they feel safe and do their best.
And she also reminded us of something we all know – but usually forget: we must take into consideration the different learners’ styles (visual, verbal, interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinaesthetic, manipulative, logical, auditory, musical, experimental). Our activities and tests are usually meant for verbal and logical learners: what for the others?

Enough for tonight. I’ll share an example of lesson in another post. Hope you’re intrigued by all of this as much as I am…

Saturday, 9 July 2011

CLIL: language teacher or subject teacher?

Well, I should say I’ve some experience in CLIL projects. I had the opportunity to attend different courses and conferences on the subject, I shared ideas with colleagues from lots of schools (in my area and throughout Europe), and I actually run with colleague & friend Sandra some CLIL courses, which turned out to be very successful (at least in terms of students’ involvement).
Anyway, I still feel uncertain. And whenever I start a new course, I feel I have to re-invent everything from the very beginning. I must say I’ve not found the key yet.

Dr Diana Hicks seems to help me here. First of all, she said we should understand what CLIL is not. 1) CLIL is not teaching the same things twice, in two different languages. 2) CLIL is not monolingual teaching in a second language. And this second point is just GREAT: it means we – I mean, subject teachers – still have a chance. Language teachers are not destined to delete us from the teachers’ list, after all. Just kidding – well, half kidding. We all know how burning the question is: subject teachers or language teachers for CLIL lessons?
Too often language teachers tell us our English (or French, or whatever foreign language we speak) is not good enough. We may even do some harm with our poor pronunciation and grammar. On the other hand, we (subject teachers) usually say language teachers just can’t have it all: even if they speak perfect British English (if such a thing does exist, after all), this doesn’t mean they know History, or Geography, or Science as well. They say our knowledge of the language is not good enough. We say their knowledge of the subject is not good enough.
So what’s the answer?

Maybe we should just work together.

As Dr Diana Hicks helped us understanding, we, as subject teachers, are teaching content through language, not the opposite. But language is still an important part of our lessons. This means there should be collegiality between us and the language teachers. And we should share responsibilities: for the subject specific vocabulary, for the language functions required by the subject, for the planning of the lesson itself, and so on. It’s important to be clear, and to plan in advance who is going to do what.

In my experience, the very best thing is to actually be together. In our most successful projects, there used to be the three of us in the CLIL classes: me (History/Geography), Sandra (Maths/Science) and Renzo (English). Unfortunately, fewer and fewer schools – at least in Italy – can afford to pay for more than one teacher at a time in the same class. So we should actually find a way to be “together” even being alone.

And this has to do with the lesson planning… that will be next time !!!

Hope I’m not being boring, but these days are a real challenge to me. And a great source of inspiration.

As always, I’d love to get to know your ideas.

Keep tuned for more :)


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

... did you know? English as a Lingua Franca

I’m attending a Comenius in-service training course organized in Cheltenham (UK) by International Study Programmes, dealing with CLIL in Humanities (History, Geography, Economic studies, Music, PE…). The course is great – unfortunately, the weather is not as great… and coming from sunny Italy it has been quite a shock!

Our first lesson with Dr Diana Hicks, our CLIL expert, opened lots of new “doors” in my mind: and one of these led to a new awareness regarding my English.

Ok, I’m definitely not an English teacher, and I’m definitely not speaking – nor writing – perfect British English. But I’m using English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).“It is often observed that English has become a global language, and the majority of its non-native speakers (NNSs) use it as a lingua franca among themselves rather than as a “foreign” language to communicate with its native speakers (NSs).” (J.Jenkins, “English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity”, Oxford Univ Press).
And what about these NNS? Well, they (we) are quite a lot. The proportion between NSs and NNSs is at the moment an estimated 1:4 (1 native to 4 non-natives).

What does it mean to us non-English teachers? Well, that means a lot to me as far as CLIL is concerned. It means stop obsessing over perfect English. It means relax, concentrate on planning a good balanced lesson and have the students speak. Choose sometimes fluency (as Dr Diana Hicks said, “let it out”) instead of accuracy (“get it right”). Accuracy cannot be forgotten, of course, but a CLIL lesson has to do with comprehension first.

And this leads to another distinction which was completely new to me: that between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). This controversial distinction (Jim Cummins), which may not be new to the Language Teachers, was very useful to me. It helped me thinking in terms of languageS and grammarS instead than seeing Language as a sort of monolith. Which means, put the correct language in the correct context.
And that’s extremely interesting in speaking – and teaching – my own language as well…

Ok, if you have any further knowledge about these subjects, any useful reading to suggest, or any idea of your own, they’ll be more then welcome.

Meanwhile, my CLIL pathways goes on…

[reflection in progress]

Friday, 1 July 2011

Teachers on holiday... in Edutopia

Just wishing you all a relaxing summer holiday !!! I know many of us will take advantage of the summer break to meet in person (great!).

For all the others, what about meeting in Edutopia?

Have fun, enjoy some time in the open air (we can't be glued to our pc 24/day) and come back with loads of new ideas !!!!