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A Model for Quality CLIL Provision

Sandra Lucietto
Dipartimento Istruzione Trento; Università di Bolzano (Italy) 

Abstract

The paper illustrates a model for quality CLIL module planning and organization which has contributed to innovation in current CLIL practice in the Autonomous Province of Trento (Northern Italy). The model was developed by the author during consultancy work carried out in schools (2003-2006) while working at the local Pedagogical Research Institute (IPRASE). The framework was based on theoretical guidelines emerging from a trans-regional research project aiming at investigating the features of a quality CLIL approach. Model characteristics are illustrated; differences with local established practice and other models in Italy are highlighted; lessons learnt are revealed; results of model implementation are also given.

The model is tri-dimensional, and encompasses organizational, methodological and institutional (management) factors. Rather than a rigid rulebook, it is meant to be a theoretical and practical reference framework for teachers in schools to use as a set of guidelines for quality CLIL projects which need to take local constraints into account.

True to its aim, the model was applied slightly differently in five projects in three different schools - 6-14 yrs, one vocational (VET) - as teachers needed to adapt the framework to three differing contexts far-away from each other and markedly different in socio-cultural terms (two mountainous villages and the capital city). Evaluation showed that parents and children were almost always very satisfied, and wanted the innovation to continue. Teachers were also pleased with unexpectedly good results and with what they considered a school-based continuous professional development (CPD) process which enabled them to develop CLIL-teacher competence. When the model was applied rigorously or with minimal deviations, students’ achievement was found to be good to exceptionally good in both content and language. In two cases where some relative but significant variations of the suggested guidelines were applied, success was less evident.

Thanks to learning some clear lessons, the model proved to be largely successful and is believed to have a fairly high degree of transferability to similar educational working contexts in Italy and further afield. Two more schools are applying the model in 2008-09.

The model and the full report of the five projects as examples of good reflective practice in CLIL are contained in a volume published by IPRASE (Lucietto, 2008a). The materials developed by the teacher teams are accessible from (www.iprase.tn.it).

 

Keywords: CLIL; CLIL quality models; CLIL module planning and organization; CLIL reflective practice; CLIL institutional support

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1. Context and background

1.1. Modern Foreign Language (MFL) provision in Trentino

Trentino is an Autonomous Province in Northern Italy near Austria, whose local government, Giunta Provinciale, has authority to take different educational decisions from the rest of Italy. Trentino introduced a first MFL (German) in primary education (Y1-5, age 6-11) from Y3 in 1974 (only in 1991 was a MFL introduced in primary in Italy). The European Commission (EC) White Paper Teaching And Learning, Towards the Learning Society (1995) speeded up local innovation: Trentino introduced new MFL legislation (Provincial Law, LP11/1997) which brought in a MFL as an optional experiment in kindergartens, established the first MFL from Y1 and introduced a mandatory second MFL (English) from Y6 (only in 2004 was a second MFL introduced in Italy). Following parents’ continuing demand for English and EC Recommendations urging early individual plurilingualism (Action Plan 2004-2006, 2003), Trentino introduced a second mandatory MFL (English) from Y3 in 2004.

1.2. CLIL Models in Italy and Trentino

LP11/97 allowed Trentino mainstream schools (i.e. other than special-status Licei Europei) to start offering (portions of) a subject in a MFL, but it was only after local management of schools was introduced (DPR 275/99; DPGP 1999 n. 13-12/Leg) that the opportunity really took off. A survey (2001) conducted by the Italian Ministry of Education through questionnaires showed that CLIL in Italy was still very limited - only 300 teachers from 100 schools responded nationally – and that in most cases it involved a team-teaching approach to the delivery of short modules (10-20 hours a year) (Langé, 2007). From non-published sources (i.e. communications at British Council National Conferences and CLIL courses witnessed by the author) a variety of models emerged, including CLIL lessons interspersed with “content” lessons in the language of the school (L1), which allowed extra time for deepening and repetition of content if necessary. In that survey, CLIL practice appeared somewhat different in Trentino: 19 teachers (from 13 out of the 85 Trentino schools) responded, 16 being MFL teachers working alone and often doing CLIL in their own lessons (Ricci Garotti, 2004). Although no further data have been systematically collected since, some locally-funded MFL projects outlined a greatly unchanged situation (Zanoni e Schir, 2006). The reasons are manifold, among which: (i) CLIL is still perceived by MFL teachers as pertaining to MFL provision - therefore, they are not always ready to open up to “content” colleagues; (ii) most subject teachers still have insufficient MFL competence and widespread unawareness of CLIL methodology: they are generally convinced that CLIL means delivering lectures (still current practice in secondary schools) in a MFL. Consequently, CLIL is generally considered as a somewhat strange but interesting kind of MFL provision, with subject teachers often suspicious, detached and resistant, as they consider MFL teachers as usurpers of their own role (in Italy MFL teachers are only qualified to teach MFLs) and see their status and posts at stake.

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2. A new, quality CLIL model

In the report on the 1998 CEILINK Think Tank, Wolff (1999) discusses the need to involve subject teachers in CLIL provision, finding that their engagement was still marginal and CLIL issues were usually discussed by MFL teachers only. The team of a trans-regional CLIL research project coordinated by IPRASE (2002-2006), also stated the need to involve subject teachers in all phases, independently of actual CLIL delivery, which may vary according to teachers’ MFL competence constraints (Santuari e Senoner, 2006). The team went to the extent of saying that in CLIL one should not consider the advantages for MFL learning as prominent: “if one should establish a priority, this should be given to the subject, not to the language”(Ricci Garotti, 2006, 39, my translation).

The IPRASE research project, aimed at highlighting principles for quality CLIL delivery, focussed primarily on methodological concepts and issues. The author (a team member) was also a CLIL consultant in schools (2003-2006) aiming to develop a coherent, effective and sustainable model for quality CLIL provision that respected both the dual nature of CLIL and teachers’ institutional roles and status. Thus, she gave great prominence to two areas that emerged as crucial in CLIL practice, module organisation and institutional support, encompassing them in a comprehensive model as seen in Table 1 (Lucietto, 2008b). In the hope that the Table is self-explanatory, only some prominent features will be illustrated in detail.

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Table 1 – The Model for Quality CLIL implemented in assisted CLIL Projects in Trentino (2003-2006).

Organisation

Length of CLIL Module: no less than 20 hours

Module position within the curriculum: in the “Content” timetabled hours; in the period of the year when both content and objectives of the CLIL module fall naturally in the flow of curriculum implementation; 20 consecutive hours, thus implying no repetition in L1 but remedial work as needed within CLIL module

Module planning: T-Team (content teacher + MFL teacher ) (+ consultant as appropriate)

Materials preparation: T-Team (+ consultant as appropriate)

Definition of learning objectives: content teacher for “Content”, MFL teacher for “Language”, both teachers for cross-curricular formative objectives

Module implementation: at least in the initial CLIL phase (1st+2nd Y of CLIL in the school), T-Team all in class, with distinct but complementary roles

Actual Teaching: long-term aim: content teacher; present and short-term necessity: MFL teacher when the content teacher is not MFL-competent

Role of second T-Team teacher in class (where present): classroom observation, help in classroom management, management of the metacognitive and module evaluation phases with Students (SS) (outside CLIL hours)

Role of external consultant (where present): methodological support and guidance (CLIL, TBL and CL, see below), consultancy in planning + materials selection/production phases, MFL language consultancy (appropriateness/accuracy of classroom language and language of written instructions; ensuring language accessibility for SS), “critical friend”, classroom observation, feedback to T-Team, advice and/or direct involvement in CLIL module evaluation (SS, teachers, parents, head teacher).

Methodology

Classroom organisation: SS working mainly in Groups / Pairs (G/PW)

Approach to Group work: Cooperative Learning (CL) as far as possible (AFAP)

Main activity types during Group work: activities typical of the task-based approach to learning (TBL) and of Cooperative Learning; language-sensitive activities to make language accessible to SS’ MFL level; G/PW discussions, report writing, whole class presentations

Learning materials: authentic materials in the MFL AFAP, chosen taking into account SS’ prior subject knowledge and cognitive development (Vygotsky’s ZPD); worksheets to go with them prepared by the T-Team

Language/s used in class: Teacher: MFL AFAP (L1 only when unavoidable); SS: L1 or MFL during G/PW (tasks); MFL when reporting in plenary, when addressing the teacher (AFAP), in written reports

Class Test preparation: T-Team with distinct but complementary roles (content teacher decides areas to be tested, MFL suggests appropriate test format)

Test assessment criteria: T-Team agreed criteria; predominantly subject knowledge/skills assessed and evaluated in written tests (MFL progress assessed mainly informally or in MFL tests)

Test correction and marking: T-Team ; marks as a result of T-Team moderation

Institutional support

Recognition measures for CLIL success: CLIL as whole-school project - hence, whole staff, parents and governors’ approval, CLIL in the School Plan of Formative Activities (POF); head teacher’s allowance for T-Team joint planning time and remuneration of at least some planning +evaluation time exceeding contract hours; T-Team weekly timetable organised to allow contemporary presence in class, at least in 1st+2nd Y of CLIL in school; recognition of content teacher’s efforts to improve MFL competence (including achievement of language certificates)

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At the organisational level, the model insists on Teaching Teams (T-Teams), i.e. content and language teachers working together in all phases: module planning, materials’ production, implementation (when possible), assessment, and module evaluation. The T-Team was introduced to reflect the dual nature of CLIL, which is not “a foreign language lesson disguised as a content lesson” (Wildhage, 2002, 8, my translation) but a new learning environment where content and language interact and inextricably contribute to learning. The T-Team’s internal roles are clearly separated, as the model acknowledges teachers’ respective status, especially when the MFL teacher does the teaching because the subject teacher is not yet sufficiently competent in the MFL. So, the responsibility is shared, but roles are complementary; the subject teacher is the “content” expert, the MFL teacher is the specialist in language learning and teaching and the one (in Italy, at least) who knows a wider repertoire of task types. In the planning phase, for instance, their collaborative work results in selecting appropriate content objectives; clarifying and taking into account pre-conditions for new learning (greater responsibility: subject teacher); suggesting appropriate task-types for “content” objectives and language-sensitive activities (Clegg, 2001; Marsh, 2001; Clegg 2007) (greater responsibility: MFL teacher); sequencing activities/tasks (equal responsibility). The T-Team is essential in all conditions, including when the subject teacher is the CLIL teacher; the importance of merging complementary professional skills does not depend on who delivers the module, but is fundamental to CLIL epistemology.

The model also encompasses an external consultant, at least in the first year. Again, such expertise is complementary, as a specialism in both CLIL and Cooperative Learning (see below). This enabling role is also vital at an often overlooked level, i.e. professional dialogue within the T-Team. In secondary schools graduate teachers do not share a sound pedagogical basis but only separate, subject-specific professional skills. Therefore, teamwork is not common practice, and teachers find it challenging to TAlk To Each Other (TATEO) (Dahl, 2000:53-79), as their professional viewpoints are often worlds apart. A person from outside, neutral to in-school professional dynamics,  can be an appreciated enabling presence.

The model implies that when CLIL provision is organised within the curriculum, i.e. not as an additional/optional activity, it should be delivered during “content” time, and not in the MFL class, to reinforce the principle that a CLIL lesson is a “content lesson in a foreign language”, not a “foreign-language content lesson”. This avoids misconceptions, ensures greater visibility to the content teacher (also boosting his/her commitment), and naturally gives him/her a prominent role in the choice of the learning objectives, whilst the MFL teacher suggests process options and ways of making concepts accessible to the learners.

At the methodological level, the model suggests using a coherent learner-centred approach, where learners become responsible for their own learning and the teacher becomes a facilitator. Task-based learning (TBL) plus group work is a common approach assumed in CLIL literature, but the author prefers referring to Cooperative Learning (CL), a well-researched and coherent task-based approach from mainstream education which can be applied successfully to all subjects. Some major features of CL are; role distinction within non-homogeneous learning groups, complex learning tasks requiring complementary competences and skills, meta-cognition and individual assessment. In the author’s context, CL is new in most cases to both T-Team members. They are therefore in the equal position of learning together and from each other (in itself a cooperative activity at their own level). In systems where TATEO is not always a reality and where status- and role-conflict exist, wanting to learn something new (and therefore neutral) to either teacher’s previous professional skills can help establish fruitful professional dialogue (Lucietto, 2006).

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One distinctive element of the model is the prominence given to students’ assessment, an often overlooked aspect in CLIL. On this point, the European Commission Action Plan report states: “Another area demanding further work is evaluation: because CLIL is still in its early stages in most countries, evaluation of CLIL practices is not widespread” (EC, 2007, 11). Given CLIL’s dual nature, assessment is rather complex and seen differently by different authors (e.g. Marsh and Nikula, 1999; Clegg, 2003; Barbero, 2005; Serragiotto, 2006), some putting equal emphasis on content and language, some considering assessment mainly from the MFL teacher’s point of view. In coherence with its institutional-organisational characteristics, this model considers “content” achievement as principal; subject proficiency should not suffer from being delivered in a MFL, as this would lead to fundamental questions about the validity of CLIL provision. After the T-Team has selected essential objectives aimed at building conceptual understanding and subject-related skills, assessment should focus more on content than on language progress, which can be properly assessed during MFL classes. This implies the T-Team choosing task types that do not necessarily require much language production (Clegg, 2003), and moderation in case of poor “content” achievement clearly depending upon language difficulties.

Finally, the model emphasizes the role of school institutional support, a factor also frequently disregarded in Italy. CLIL is all too often considered an internal matter of MFL teaching and a private choice of the MFL teacher, whether or not aided by a compliant subject colleague. To be true to its nature, however, and to be effectively pursued, CLIL needs to be seen as a whole-school project, involving the work of a T-Team, the whole staff and the governors’ approval, parental agreement, and the T-Team’s recognition and remuneration. This last point is crucial, as head teachers generally regard CLIL as falling within teachers’ contractual duties. Far from it; due to its complexity and still relative infancy, CLIL is very time-consuming and requires solving many problems, including materials selection/preparation, as published materials are still scarce. It entails long planning sessions, continuous reflection and feedback, and careful evaluation involving all stakeholders. Therefore, a quality CLIL project, especially if newly-introduced, requires ‘noticing’ on the part of the school and additional budgeting to reward the T-Team’s extra work.

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3. Implementation and research methodology

This CLIL model was applied with the author as consultant in five projects started in 2003, 2004 and 2005 in three schools in different areas of Trentino, involving Geography (8 classes), Maths (2 classes) and Offset Printing (1 class) in English, and Geography in German (2 classes). Primary (Maths), lower secondary (Geography), and VET (Offset Printing) classes were involved. All the CLIL modules were planned in the first term (September-January) and implemented in the second (February-June) with on-going adjustments.

The T-Teams collected data from the class as a means of evaluating the projects’ on-going strengths and weaknesses and their degree of success at completion. Different tools were used in different contexts, according to T-Teams’ preferences and/or local constraints. In the first school, the consultant carried out regular classroom observation. The recording was through detailed field notes and digital photography, as filming was not allowed. Observation sheets were not used, as they were considered more appropriate for “selective” observation, whilst the T-Teams wanted to be able to record freely any emerging data. The notes were used to discuss positives and negatives during feedback meetings. Students reflected on their learning and on project evaluation in metacognition sessions, and through beginning- and end-of-project questionnaires. The T-Teams chose not to use control classes, but were able to compare student’s interim and end-of-year results with previous classes. At the end of each school year, the T-Teams sent evaluation questionnaires to parents, who could also write their views/comments (almost 100% return). At the end of two subsequent school years the consultant interviewed (1-h sessions) classes, T-Team teachers and the head teacher. The T-Teams presented the results to the whole staff and governors’ meetings.

In the second school, the Geography-English T-Team chose metacognition, student’s and parents’ end-of-year questionnaires (100% return) with space for comments, photo recording and control classes (intended to record differences both in Geography and English), plus one-off classroom observation by a third party (another English teacher in the school). Informal feedback was also given by a fourth English teacher who prepared all Grade 7-8 classes for end-of-year oral language certificates (Trinity). In Maths, student’s and parents’ questionnaires had been prepared, but due to constraints (see 5. below) only class-teacher observations and end-of-year informal feedback from some parents were possible. The Geography-German T-Team collected data through student’s questionnaires and class discussions, photos, and a professional log (German teacher). All the T-Teams reported to the head teacher, whole staff and governors.

In the third school (Offset Printing), data collection was through photos, on-going metacognition and end-of-year students’ questionnaires. No parents’ questionnaires were used, but their informal feedback was collected at parents’ evenings. The T-Team reported to the head teacher, whole staff and governors.

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4. Results

In terms of students’ achievement, both content and language were assessed (see 2. above): “content” learning was very successful in three projects (Geography in English in two schools; Offset Printing), relatively successful in the fourth (Geography in German), whilst in Maths institutional and organisational constraints limited its success (see 5. below). As to the language, almost all children made from good to very good progress in four projects (only exception: Maths). As stated in Paragraph 3, project evaluation encompassed the views of all stakeholders. Notwithstanding some difficulties, all students and parents alike showed great motivation and commitment, clearly expressing the willingness to continue. The T-Teams were able to reflect effectively on success/partial success factors, develop language-sensitive methods and grow professionally to unexpected heights (recorded in the volume); head teachers and governors were supportive and very satisfied, with one exception (Maths). One unexpected spin-off was that Humanities (Geography + History + Italian) T-Team teachers in the first school adopted the framework’s core methodology in their L1 teaching.

5. Lessons learnt

The proposed model was not meant to be a straight-jacket - rather, a set of guidelines which teachers may use as a quality framework. Therefore, it was applied differently, considering local constraints. Where the changes were significant, however, success was not so prominent. Maths in English was introduced as a “revision” module within the ICT timetabled lessons, but only as a short (15 periods) and “diluted” module (one 50-min period every two weeks from September to May). Institutional support was absent. These factors had significant impact on learning progression, as students, who had started English as a second MFL only the year before, could not remember from one lesson to the next. Because of a learner-centred, TPR- and game-based approach they were motivated and had fun, but the learning objectives had to be incrementally reduced. The teacher lost motivation, realised that quality conditions were lacking, and suspended the project; although valuing her learning in the experience. In Geography in German the subject teacher was unable to be in one class during CLIL, so she did not do any metacognitive activities in her own contact time; in that class, the MFL CLIL teacher ended up working alone and changed the previously-agreed activities halfway through, due to some perceived difficulties. Results (both in content and language) were not particularly encouraging, and the children’s feedback stated they had perceived the module as being “German rather than Geography”.

In Geography in English (two schools) one similar Unit (European Union Institutions) was judged rather difficult and uninspiring by pupils, and learning was unsatisfactory. It was rather abstract, and most probably inappropriate to pupils’ cognitive development and prior knowledge. The teachers assured it covered the Geography curriculum, and had created no previous problems in L1. But Geography in L1 often implies rote learning, whereas those pupils were asked to connect and process concepts more deeply. This fundamental difference needs to be considered in order to find ways of making the experience more “connectable”. This was possible with one class; while in Vienna on a school trip, the pupils visited a decentralised EU Office, and were able to “connect” and respond proactively.

The very successful projects (Geography in English and Offset Printing - three schools) led to greater involvement (subjects, teachers and classes), with new plans made each April-June for the following year. In two schools they were changed in haste the following September, after some non-permanent teachers moved elsewhere: schools learnt the hard way that continuity is both a prerequisite and a constraint in successful CLIL.

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6. Conclusion

All the projects but one (Maths) are currently expanding and involving new teachers and subjects. Having been applied in different circumstances, the conclusion can be drawn that the model might be successfully transferred to similar working contexts elsewhere, provided its guidelines are generally respected. One major concern exists; is the model sustainable? It certainly is expensive if schools need to pay for the consultant (in this case free of charge), to allow two teachers in class, and to remunerate at least some of the teachers’ overtime. In the case of schools new to CLIL, however, these expenses seem to be unavoidable if what is aimed for is successful CLIL provision of quality.

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