Friday, May 27, 2016

Inspiring through CLIL: Learning English through the Use of Content - Report on Jeannie Iskos's Session

“To CLIL is to communicate, to experience and to integrate” according to Jeannie Iskos who gave a very interesting talk on CLIL and how it can be embedded in our daily lessons at Tesol Macedonia Thrace annual convention on March 27th at ACT. Jeannie Iskos is an English teacher at Anatolia elementary school and also teaches Biological Sciences at Perrotis College in Thessaloniki, Greece. 

                                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Margarita Kosior

Her presentation started with a definition of CLIL( Content and Language Integrated Learning) which is an approach to language teaching where content, which is not language related (e.g. Science or Geography), is taught through a foreign language for students. CLIL involves a classroom that has a dual purpose: to teach a foreign language and a content area. At times the scales may bend towards language learning or towards content, depending on the needs of the students, the course design and the focuses schools may have. 

Ms Iskos went on to explain that CLIL is implemented in various ways. It can either be a collaborative endeavor where there is both a language and content teacher involved or it can be taught by a language teacher who is comfortable with teaching another subject area. It can also be a specific subject taught at a school in a foreign language or it can be small units that are introduced within the natural flow of a content area using a foreign language. Reference was also made to the schools where CLIL is implemented nowadays in Greece such as the Experimental School of Evosmos, some public schools which have done units in Environmental Education and at Anatolia within a STEM course on a yearlong level. It can also be taught as isolated units at different schools( a mythology unit or a geography unit) or during after-school or club programs at private schools. 
The countries in which CLIL is implemented in the school curriculum were also mentioned. These include :

  • Germany  where CLIL is very active due to many schools having a module educational organization
  • Spain where CLIL is state mandated and has immersion classes. 
  • Portugal where private schools carry on some form of CLIL
  • Cyprus where CLIL is starting to pick up with projects being implemented at a state level. 

Ms Iskos also mentioned why CLIL is not prominent in Greece; the main reason seems to be that it is not state mandated. Moreover, a lot of teachers are not aware of it or do not have the understanding or proper training to support it. 
Then, Ms Iskos referred to the four Cs of CLIL (Culture, Communication, Content, Cognition), explaining why it is significant. Firstly, students are driven to learn a language through content which adds to their motivation. In addition, CLIL teaches through experiencing topics which means that learning happens without consciously realizing it. However, CLIL is not only Language and content; it is also communication since students need to communicate and co-operate on projects and activities. Finally, CLIL involves cultural experiences as well. 
She went on to present the steps one needs to make in order to create isolated CLIL lessons, pointing out that it is essential to have carefully thought about what you will be teaching and what the students need to know so as to gain the most out of it. 

  • Step 1 : Teach the vocabulary beforehand so that it does not hinder the experience but augments it. 
  • Step 2 : Be clear towards the students on what your expectations are. 

These steps were clearly demonstrated through an example she presented of how she taught prepositions of place through the use of art. After pre-teaching the vocabulary and the prepositions of place, famous paintings depicting rooms were shown to the students who had to describe them, talk about them and how the paintings made them feel and finally had to draw a room inspired by an artist they saw including a description of it.

 She also went on to demonstrate how CLIL enhances cultural awareness by showing a project her students prepared on describing houses from different parts of the world.

Ms Iskos also mentioned that CLIL is effective with very young learners. Since children are naturally curious about their environment, learning vocabulary can become a new springboard for introducing a new world to them. It is also a fact that children learn and retain vocabulary by experiencing it. An example of this was illustrated when Ms Iskos showed the work of very young learners on a unit on insects. They went out in the yard, found some insects and then created their own in class. They also looked at insect cycles and read a book. The result was amazing; Not only had the students retained all the names of insects but also many of them wanted to learn more about other kinds of insects and their parents commented that their children were looking for insects at their homes.

If a teacher wants to implement CLIL as a whole course they need to carefully plan it and take small steps. One lesson needs to build on the previous ones and there needs to be an understanding of the level of the language that a certain group of students can use. 

A STEM course introduced at Anatolia at the 2nd grade level using the English language was later mentioned. STEM involves teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. In this course students are not only taught the content of these areas but also how to think critically and apply their knowledge. The teacher starts with the students’ prior knowledge (eg numbers) and moves on to other concepts like volume and mass. The vocabulary can be pre-taught through images and demonstrations. It is significant to remember that one needs to work with a level slightly above the students’ English comfort zone. If the vocabulary is too difficult or the concepts are too hard to understand, then the students will not learn either the content or the language. Evidently, there are many benefits in teaching STEM since the students learn the language by actively engaging in it and the language learnt is in a native-like environment. 

                                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Margarita Kosior

Concluding, Ms Iskos made reference to her experiences from a CLIL class mentioning its benefits. Students learn to co-operate because CLIL promotes projects and group work. Furthermore, the students’ perception of the world changes since they begin to wonder, ask questions and have the desire to learn more; they are excited and motivated to attend classes and they bring their knowledge to their home trying to demonstrate it by using the language. Ms Iskos ended her presentation with what a teacher needs to bear in mind so as to incorporate CLIL in the curriculum. You need a positive attitude and willingness to try new things and risk. There also needs to be openness towards collaborating with colleagues, specialists and students. One should be ready to learn from their mistakes and constantly assess various steps. Good planning is necessary but there should also be room for adjustments. Many teachers are hesitant towards this approach but it is definitely worth implementing either as a whole course or as separate units!

Report by Olga Ksenitopoulou

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