When content and learning join up, great things can happen

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If you are a language teacher, you may already be familiar with the initials ‘CLIL’. They stand for Content and Language Integrated Learning.

David Marsh, its creator, explains that this is a dual-focus approach which aims at developing language competences and content delivery at the same time. However, CLIL is often used as an umbrella term, referring to a wide range of teaching strategies which all place the learner as the real protagonist of the learning pathway.

According to the latest Eurydice report, CLIL provision is currently expanding in Europe. A previous European Commission report highlighted the benefits of CLIL for learners. Having researched CLIL for several years, I know that it can have an outstanding positive effect on teachers too. For instance, its introduction into the Italian curriculum has brought an enormous improvement in teaching practices and opened up a whole new world of material and resources for Italian teachers of non-language subjects.

CLIL strategies and deep learning

A CLIL approach does not only focus on language competences and subject delivery but can also enhance the development of transversal skills: collaboration, creativity, citizenship, critical thinking, and so on. These are essential skills for 21st-century learners and citizens.

CLIL lessons can and do adopt different strategies, as I know from observing teachers in action: project-based learning, task-based learning, pair and group activities, peer learning and peer evaluation, debate, and laboratory, simulation and immersive activities. 

Through such interactive knowledge-construction processes CLIL is a natural candidate in promoting deep learning. The “Visible learning meta-study” by John Hattie indicates that deep learning can be achieved through several high-impact, evidence-based teaching strategies, such as direct instruction, spaced practice, mastery learning, concept mapping, and worked examples. Use of these kinds of teaching strategies has already been reported in research, but also shown and confirmed by the large number of CLIL teachers I have been in touch with in recent years.

Technology-enhanced CLIL

Do your students have a smartphone? Do they use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or other social networks? I am sure they do, for 21st-century learners, often called “screenagers”, are constantly exposed to a screen by which they can access information and communicate with others.

As in other areas of education, learning technologies are also gaining ground in CLIL: integrating Web tools, apps, multimedia, social media and networks, and other digital features can enhance the students' motivation but also contribute to better learning outcomes both for language and content. Videos in particular, can be a highly useful medium for CLIL, for example in a flipped CLIL environment. Students like making their own videos and sharing them through their social networks, which can be an added value to a lesson, creating practical, meaningful and engaging tasks. Teacher-made videos can also be very effective in helping reflect on their own teaching strategies and rectify any possible weaknesses identified in the lessons

There are many online tools for CLIL lessons: repositories (e.g. Khan Academy, TED Talks, Tes); databases of CLIL lessons (e.g. CLILstore, TigTag CLIL); mind-map oriented Web tools (e.g. Instagrok, Snappy Words); tools for planning (e.g. Learning Designer); and tools for assessing (e.g. Rubistar). 

Being a CLIL teacher

Teacher training is crucial both to language skills and methodology. The European Framework for CLIL teacher education outlines a set of principles and ideas for designing curricula for professional teacher development. Some countries have set standards for the CLIL teacher profile. In Italy, for instance, CLIL has been mandatory at upper secondary level since 2010 and CLIL teachers must have a C1 level of competence of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and must have attended a 20-credit university course on CLIL methodology.

In my view, fostering synergies and cooperation among language, subject and mother tongue teachers - and indeed any other expert involved in language activities - can be the best resources for CLIL. A “CLIL team” made up of professionals engaged in a CLIL curriculum can take advantage of their different backgrounds, experience and expertise.

CLIL teachers can also find company online. There are a number of communities and activities for CLIL teachers. For example, Techno-CLIL is a community of thousands of teachers, moderated by myself and Daniela Cuccurullo. The Techno-CLIL Facebook group now has over 6500 members and is always active thanks to the members who keep sharing their ideas, materials, good practices and events. This is how knowledge grows, thanks to the interweaving of formal, informal, non-formal and social learning experiences.

About the author: Letizia Cinganotto has a PhD in linguistics and is a researcher at INDIRE. She is a former teacher of English, trainer, and author of digital content. Her main research areas involve e-learning, blended learning, CLIL, TELL, CALL, EFL, MALL, and teacher training.