In April, I'd like to reflect on the integration of language and curricular content learning in secondary education in foreign language contexts (CLIL, CBI, CBLT, you name it).
This time, I’ll be sharing with you some relevant aspects that were discussed in 2008/9 in Argentina in a conference for teachers of English. This post is based on my initial PhD explorations.
In 2008, the English Teachers Federation of Argentina (FAAPI in Spanish), organisation which covers all the different English Teachers Associations of the country, organised with one of these associations the XXXIV FAAPI Conference around the integration of content and language in English Language Teaching in the Argentinian context. In the conference proceedings (examples below have been taken from the proceedings) it is stated that this integration could have two broad types:
1. The inclusion of curricular content into the EFL class (language is still prevalent), and
2. The teaching of a curricular subject in English (content is prevalent).
As regards, CLIL explorations in secondary education, López Barrios offers an enlightening view of content and language in state secondary education in Argentina. The author acknowledges that this trend is relatively new in foreign language teaching and that coursebooks which claim to adopt a theme/topic-based approach for the integration of content and language usually resort to topics which are not directly connected with the school curriculum. Furthermore, topics are usually chosen depending on learners’ interests and language ability shifting CBI/CLIL experiences towards the language end of the continuum. Together with this choice, it is essential to acknowledge the fact that there is no communication between English and content teachers as the system does not offer hours devoted to systematic cross-curricular work among areas, leaving teachers of English with the option of merely reading adapted material which is barely connected with the core content present in Geography, for example. We’ll come back to the issue of team teaching in another post.
This investigation of non-language content in coursebooks is followed by semi-structured interviews in which teachers are asked to mention what they actually do with this material. Most teachers acknowledge not only the fact that they use this content for translation, reading aloud and focus on vocabulary but also admit that content remains in the periphery of their ELT agendas. Therefore, López Barrios concludes that the treatment of content is not ranked as a relevant component. What is more, he suggests that publishers should include content which calls for reflection, motivation and even controversy instead of presenting a picture composed of bland reading material.
In relation to material development towards CBI/CLIL (my main interest), Orce and Llobeta ,and Schander and Balma report on the use of film trailers and complete films to teach the target culture. In their view, similar to the one we explored in teacher education programmes, the target culture is a powerful content to incorporate as core subject matter in learning English. Film watching, authors suggest, could be followed by brainstorming cultural aspects around the film, which could be broken down into subtopics learners may choose to carry out an internet search and prepare oral group presentations. Throughout their articles, the authors put forward the belief that it is language what prevails, that is, the incorporation of cultural topics as it were fulfils the function of context for skills integration. In their view, they recommend that such a procedure should be explored with secondary school students whose level of English is not at an elementary stage.
The examples above only serve as a sample of what is being done in Argentina. But…let’s carry on reading a little bit more.
In 2009, FAAPI organised its annual conference around the so-called latest trends in our field. A highly controversial talk, one of the event plenaries in fact, presented a critical view of the latest trends in ELT. It was felt to be controversial as it criticised all the trends that other presenters promoted as effective. The aim, undoubtedly, was to encourage reflection towards a more critical pedagogy since Paz and Quinterno hoped to question the ELT agenda itself as related to the Argentinian context. In their publication we find the following questions:
“Who decides what is best for Argentina in connection with language education? Why is it that we welcome with open arms what experts concoct behind closed doors far away from our realities? What mechanisms are used to convince us that any given ‘latest trend‘ is the epitome of effective language teaching? How do local experts and authors contribute to the spread and implementation of these new fashionable methodologies?” (Paz and Quinterno, 2009: 27).
From those rhetorical questions which they do not intend to elucidate, they move on to refer to CLIL by saying that even though it has been a trend for many decades, it has ‘landed recently’ in Argentina. One of the dangers they perceive is that teachers may run the risk of content superficiality. They truly assert that EFL teachers do not have the necessary knowledge to teach Mathematics or Biology to name a few. What they propose instead is collaborative work where the English teacher helps the subject teacher since they firmly believe that learners need to acquire knowledge in their first language. That is their second concern. The authors assert that when a subject is taught in English, learners are being deprived of contact with the academic side of Spanish. In addition, Paz and Quinterno remind us that language teaching does not need content from other areas to become meaningful as it already has inherent content such as grammar, pronunciation and skills development. Therefore, what these authors conclude is that teachers should structure language around grammatical and skills content.
I wouldn’t like to finish this post with my conclusions. Instead, I’d like each of us to ask ourselves the same questions posited by the authors above. Is it the same in other countries?
Looking forward to reading your reflections!