It has been over a month since the International CLIL Research Journal Symposium was held with the editors and authors of the Special Edition of the ICRJ focusing on CLIL in Japan. This is a more in-depth review of the event with some details and follow-up information. It is intended to be useful to the many people who came (over 100 attendees, so many in fact that the event had to be moved to a larger room!) and also as a written record for the many more people who were unable to attend. The session was chaired by Dr Chantal Hemmi who began with a brief welcome and overview. She then handed over to Dr Makoto Ikeda who took the audience through a ‘Brief History of CLIL in Japan’. In this session, Dr Ikeda was especially keen here to define CLIL and not only present the difference between CLIL and Content-Based Instruction (CBI) and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) but also the differences within CLIL, specifically between what he calls “strong CLIL” and “weak CLIL”. For Dr Ikeda, even weak CLIL is distinct from CBI. He recommended a new book, Patsy Lightbown’s Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching which he had been asked to review by Oxford University Press. This book, although dealing with CBI, is relevant to CLIL as well. One of the major differences between CLIL and CBI is a regional or geographical association, much like the difference between a Typhoon and a Hurricane. However there are other fundamental differences in the approach, but of course there is also a good deal of overlap and therefore there does not need to be any great opposition or rivalry between these two methods.
In the below video, Dr Lightbown explains about the book which Dr Ikeda mentioned.
After the brief history of CLIL in Japan, in which Dr Ikeda mapped out the definitions and also his own professional journey into CLIL, Yuki Yamano from Ustunomiya University gave the first of the Paper Presentation, in which she succinctly summarized her article for the ICRJ entitled “CLIL potential for Primary ELT”. She outlined an in-depth experiment with a primary school which implemented CLIL English classes. Her results were very interesting, and due to the qualitative nature of much of her data, she was able to make some interesting conclusions about how students felt about the content and the language being integrated in the class. One very interesting example of these insights came from the positive or negative reactions. She only received a small number of negative responses to CLIL in her questionnaire, but further analysis revealed that these were not really negative comments on the approach, but rather they were reactions to the content which expressed sadness when learning about endangered animals. So, although these were coded as negative, they in-fact showed the students had really engaged with the content.
Next Dr Ikeda came back, humbly announcing “me again” which drew many smiles from the participants. He then outlined his own article which dealt with CLIL in secondary level education in Japan. His study took place over 35 weeks and involved 80 students, two CLIL teachers and two assistant language teachers. He found that under CLIL instruction techniques, students writing proficiency developed, especially in terms of fluency and lexical density. He went on to explain that CLIL success depended on support and training for teachers.
After that, I was given the opportunity to present based on my article for the ICRJ which dealt with the concept of authenticity in CLIL. I used the chance to summarize my article and also to expand on it with my current and ongoing research. In my study I asked the students what they thought authenticity was, and the picture that emerged was one of confusion. However, students generally felt authenticity was important. Following Andy Gilmore’s state-of-the-art article for Language Teaching (2007), I wanted to examine how authenticity could be based on learning aims. I was particularly interested in whether students enrolled on CLIL classes in order to learn more about the language or in order to learn about the content. Which part of CLIL’s dual aims was most important to them? My research found that both were equally important to students, which I found initially surprising since in EFL contexts I thought that language proficiency would be a higher priority to students. Following this brief review I then went on to explain my proposal that authenticity might better be viewed as being part of a dynamic continuum – a concept which I outlined in more detail in a later article for the Asian EFL Journal.
The next presenter was Dr Yoshinori Watanabe, who outlined his In-Depth Article dealing with Lexis in teacher talk. He found that there were differences in the lexical density of teacher talk in CLIL and EFL/EAP contexts. This difference was noted even when it was the same teacher working in CLIL or EAP. Dr Watanabe went on to suggest that a CLIL corpus, or rather content-specific corpora, should be developed in order to aid the teaching and learning of content subjects through other languages.
After a short break, all the presenters convened for the Panel Discussion. Working tirelessly through the break, Dr Hemmi had collected and collated questions from the audience, which were received through a printed question paper. This was an excellent part of the symposiums’ design I felt, because it allowed for all the audience to ask questions in a fair and measured way. The questions were categorized and a different speaker was assigned to answer each main theme or specific questions written for them. My ability to summarize all the questions I am afraid will be limited, but Dr Ikeda of course received the highest number of specific questions! I noted down in my journal that most of the questions were regarding the terminology of CLIL and EMI – it seems to be an issue which causes many teachers some consternation. Dr Ikeda usefully summarized the main difference, saying “In EMI you teach physics in English, but in CLIL you teach physics through another language”. Also, the main difference between CLIL and CBI is that in CLIL there is a definite dual focus, content learning is assessed just as language learning is assessed, whereas in CBI the content is another medium, but the main learning aims are language proficiency rather than content. There were also questions about the explicit teaching of language within CLIL, such as Focus On Form. Dr Ikeda stated that, as he found with his research, students do tend to make more language ‘errors’ in CLIL classes, but this is probably a result of their increased engagement and production, and does not necessarily reflect poorer quality learning. There was also a discussion on the use of L1 in class, which CLIL generally supports. All in all this was a very lively discussion, and one which involved the entire audience I felt.
After the Panel, Professor Philip Shaw who joined us from the University of Stockholm, gave an absolutely fascinating lecture on ‘Dimensions of integrating language learning and disciplinary learning at tertiary level’, in which he brought the issues of implementing CLIL to life through fascinating examples from his own teaching and research. He talked about the need for English in the global marketplace and the pressure on individuals to have a good knowledge of English and how this was symbiotic with the pressure on institutions to offer courses in English which could attract international students. He talked about language support systems which need to be in-place in international settings and outlined practical measures which would lead to better learning in such international contexts.
Overall I learned a lot from the event (even though I was one of the presenters!) and I think that it tried to be a platform for discussion, inviting questions and criticisms from the audience in order to engage them with the practicalities of CLIL and to help them to understand not just the research but also the implications of that research for their own practice. I sincerely hope that visitors to this site will continue that discussion using the comments features below.
Thanks to all the presenters, the organizers and especially the participants for making this a lively and successful event for CLIL in Japan!