One reason I haven’t been writing much in this blog lately is that I am quite busy with helping my daughter with her schoolwork. I know this isn’t how it should be and I totally support an educational system where students don’t even have homework.
But life isn’t ideal (except maybe in Finland) and here in Brussels at the European School both my daughter and me we become daily exasperated by the amount and level of homework.
Let me give you some background details: the European schools are organized around the International Baccalaureate system which is a prestigious certificate for secondary education that supposedly ensures access to the best Universities. But the years leading to this certificate are in my opinion exhausting, allowing little time for creativity or emotional development and hardly cultivating a love for learning. One feature that makes education in European schools different from average schools is that they promote multilingualism and that CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning) is part of the curriculum for most primary and secondary classes.
Maybe I am biased because my daughter has not been following this system since the beginning and now she finds it hard to get accustomed to it. But even for students that have been in it since their first year, I think something is intricately wrong. I will just mention that during both the parent–teachers meet-ups we had , the adage was how difficult it is going to be this year and how demanding it is and how we have to stress to our children to get serious. As if they weren’t serious enough. There was only one (1) teacher who mentioned as her objective “students should learn to love History”.
I am not going to bother you with all the ups and downs we have had this year. I have seen my daughter become a much more efficient learner than she was a few years ago and I thank her excellent teachers for that. But I have also seen her cry inconsolably because she thinks she is stupid and sees no light ahead of her. Now that the summer approaches I try to forget the latter and remember the former.
But I wanted to mention the pros and cons of a CLIL approach from the point of view of a parent this time. And give some tips to teachers who are already practicing it or thinking of engaging in it.
Firstly I must say that I am persuaded that CLIL helps improvement of language skills through the teaching of a different subject. I have read the studies that give the first results and the relevant criticism. What I am not sure myself is how long you have to do it to see these results and what CLIL does to the comprehension of the subject itself.
In any case this is what I think teachers should think carefully of, before starting their CLIL adventure:
– Make sure the linguistic level of the subject is only slightly above that of the students. If students have to face an enormous corpus of unknown lexis, this really discourages and frustrates them. Not to mention that it sets them back.
– Don’t take for granted that course materials created for native speakers will be appropriate for your students.
– Make sure you adopt a cooperative approach in class. We all know the value of learning in teams but in CLIL classes I think it is even more important. Students will feel less threatened when they see that others face the same difficulties as them.
– Try to explain your concepts in various ways: say them orally, paint a diagram or a drawing, ask students to explain them in their own words.
– Ask students to reconstruct information. Don’t ask questions that only rely on memory but ones that need some critical ability as well.
– If you expect your students to do some assignments try to explain these clearly at the beginning. If you think they will have to work at home, let parents know. In general explaining to your parents how you intend to work should be crucial.
– Explain the evaluation procedure up front. Surprises aren’t always happy!
– When parents come to see you worried because their offspring is not doing well in your subject don’t be arrogant and don’t try to persuade them that you are doing everything right and there is something wrong with their kid. Even if you ARE doing everything right, dear Teacher. Try a little empathy, as the song says…
Reading back what I have written, which is a compilation of things that went exceptionally well or badly in our situation, I realize that all these recommendations apply for any lesson in any school, not just CLIL classrooms. But there is one more reason that it is imperative to do everything right in a CLIL classroom: your students will already be anxious when they come into your CLIL class, try to remember that. If you, yourself are a native speaker of the language in which you teach, please remember they aren’t. Try to remember that every time you go into the class. Please. I promise you that they will learn more this way!