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Implementing CLIL Snapshot Series: Teaching German in a Rural School Context

Implementing CLIL: Teacher snapshots from around the world

The papers in this series are drawn from coursework completed by Deakin students in a unit on CLIL pedagogy in 2021. The students’ diverse views and educational and teaching backgrounds led to vibrant discussion around the practicalities of implementing CLIL in different contexts. The content of the students’ papers was too good to keep to ourselves, so we’d like to share them with you to keep the CLIL discussion going.


CLIL: The 60-second summary

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is derived from the bilingual immersion programs practised in Canada, where students learn about 50 per cent of the curriculum in the target language. In 2004, the EU recognised that CLIL could boost their ‘one plus two’ strategy, which encourages people to be proficient in three languages: their national language plus two other EU languages.

However, immersive teaching focuses on content while learning through the medium of another language, whereas CLIL focuses on learning language and content at the same time. So, for example, a student in Australia might be doing a mathematics class in Italian, with a simultaneous focus on mathematics and Italian.

The key theory behind CLIL is that learning is based on a gradual and active construction of knowledge and skills—and if new knowledge is constructed through the target language it boosts the acquisition of both language and content, as each reinforces the other. CLIL has four key building blocks, known as the 4Cs:

Content: the subject or domain, e.g. maths, ICT, Spanish.

Communication: the language used to ‘create and communicate meaning about the knowledge, concepts and skills being learned’ (Coyle 2006).

Cognition: the ways we think and make sense of the world around us by remembering, evaluating, understanding, etc.

Culture: the ways that we interact and engage (adapted from Cross, 2014).


While CLIL has become an increasingly popular pedagogy in Australia, especially in the curriculum domain of Languages, much of the thinking and teaching behind it is based on Anglophone CLIL literature. So how does CLIL transfer to different educational settings? How do practitioners in contexts other than Europe implement CLIL programs? How do teachers adjust CLIL pedagogy to suit their own classrooms?


To find out, we are showcasing student reflections on the feasibility and value of CLIL in non-Anglophone contexts. In this contribution, Dr Petra Glover reflects on using CLIL methods to teach German at a rural school in Queensland, Australia.


Setting the scene

In this blog post, I am going to discuss the theory and practice of using CLIL to teach German as an additional language to a Year 6 class at Kangaroo Primary School (KPS), just outside Brisbane.

KPS has 252 students from Foundation to Year 6. German is taught as a compulsory subject from Year 4, with students receiving instruction once per week for a 2-hour session. The context for my reflection is a Year 6 class at KPS. The students’ German proficiency ranges across all achievement standards from Foundation to Year 6 (ACARA, 2015); one student speaks Swiss German at home.

Few of the Year 6 students are confident speaking in German, as they are concerned about failing to understand what is said, or being unable to respond appropriately. This is not unusual, as ‘most people can be placed somewhere on a cline between desire and fear’ (Harmer, 2015, p. 386) when trying to communicate in a foreign language.

In a CLIL context, students are not necessarily expected to develop native-like proficiency (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016; Turner, 2013). Consequently, they may find the learning objectives more achievable, which should help to create a productive low-anxiety environment at KPS. Combined, these features of CLIL should help provide favourable conditions where my students can develop their confidence to interact in German, thus creating opportunities for becoming successful language learners.


Key considerations for a successful CLIL program

The three key considerations for a successful CLIL program at KPS would be:

  • advocating for German language learning

  • balancing content and language

  • developing suitable learning materials.

Advocating for German

The limited history of bilingual education (Turner, 2013) in the Australian education context is challenging for the implementation of CLIL. The complacency towards language learning is accompanied by the belief that knowledge of an additional language has negative effects on the development of the primary language of instruction (Turner, 2013). This attitude is evident at KPS, where the German program is barely visible—and some teachers believe that it may have negative impacts on students’ proficiency in English.


Balancing content and language

German instruction at KPS begins in Year 4 with one 2-hour session per week. The KPS students have had few hours of language learning, and have not developed their basic language competence before the CLIL program starts. As a result, the CLIL program for Year 6 must match lower-primary language proficiency with upper-primary content to avoid overwhelming the students (Cross, 2014). This affects the way in which content and language are balanced throughout the academic year and within each lesson (Coyle, Hood et al., 2010; Cross, 2014).


Developing suitable learning materials

Given the discrepancy between language and content knowledge, the selection of appropriate CLIL materials would require much time and effort, which I must consider when planning. I would need to carefully source, adapt or develop materials for the Year 6 German class, as demonstrated by Kühn (2013) and Keast (2013), to meet the students’ needs in relation to both language and content.


Possible challenges for CLIL at KPS

Collaboration is beneficial for both content and language teachers to develop relevant knowledge and skills, and to build the confidence to implement a CLIL program (Cross, 2014). But given the low priority of German within the school curriculum, establishing such cooperation may be challenging.

While case studies demonstrate that many CLIL language teachers value working with their colleagues from the relevant subject area, they also acknowledge the complexities of such interactions (Cross & Gearon, 2013). Nevertheless, my colleagues at KPS may decline my invitation to cooperate because they are not prepared to align their content, learning outcomes and assessments with those of my language curriculum (Cross & Gearon, 2013). Others may be concerned about investing the time to cooperate (Cross & Gearon, 2013), especially when school management does not provide the appropriate support infrastructure. This issue is exacerbated by timetabling. The German classes for all year levels are scheduled on only one day per week, so I will spend most of that day in the classroom—which makes face-to-face collaboration with other classroom or specialist teachers impractical.

Further, without the school’s support, the onus is on me to convince my colleagues of the benefits of CLIL. Such advocacy is difficult because existing research focuses on outlining the positive effects of CLIL on students’ language development (Paran, 2013), which provides limited opportunities for content teachers to examine the prospective advantage of integrating language into their content-focused classes.

As a result, a weak CLIL approach (Paran, 2013) may be most suitable and practical for my Year 6 class initially, as it allows me to focus on language and cultural objectives in an authentic context that avoids the need for extensive collaboration.


Outlook: How CLIL could be used to teach German

Effective delivery of a CLIL program may require separating language from content. Cross’s (2016) example of a Year 10 Geography unit delivered in Japanese demonstrates how the focus may shift from language to content throughout a class while the different learning sections remain clearly integrated. In this case, the teachers frontloaded the required vocabulary through traditional language teaching so that the students were subsequently able to apply their language skills in context.

As a language specialist and classroom teacher in a primary setting, I anticipate that I would be able to integrate language with similar content learning, and use my pedagogical content knowledge across disciplines. At the same time, I expect that different sections of each lesson will have either a language or a content focus, as proposed by Cross (2016), as it is not feasible to focus on all learning objectives simultaneously all the time. Consequently, both content and language may serve as a vehicle as well as an objective for learning.

There are two key aspects I would need to focus on at KPS:

• lifting the profile of German

• using English systematically.


Lifting the profile of German

First, I would make German more visible in the school community. For example, displaying bilingual signage on campus or by incorporating selected German words into the weekly electronic school newsletter, such as ‘Week/ Woche 1’, ‘Student of the week/ Schüler der Woche’ or ‘Congratulations!/ Herzlichen Glückwunsch!’. Such regular use of German demonstrates its relevance and the value placed on using it. Normalising the use of German may also reduce the students’ embarrassment when using their language skills in class (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016).

Second, I would engage the entire KPS community in popular German festivals, such as Saint Martin (Frank, 2020) and Saint Nikolaus (Frank, 2016). These festivals provide relevant and authentic content for language instruction. They also raise cultural awareness across the school, and highlight the school’s commitment to delivering the German curriculum (Crozet, Liddicoat et al., 1999).


Using English systematically

The greatest challenge of CLIL is developing the language that supports the understanding of content (Coyle, 2014). Generally, in settings that have limited exposure to the second language outside the classroom, maximum use of that language is desirable (Streeter, 2016). However, as the students’ content knowledge exceeds their language skills, I will be systematically code-switching (Streeter, 2016), using English as a means of activating the students’ funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti et al., 1992), thus engaging them by valuing their experience and providing scaffolding (He, 2012; Horst, White et al., 2010). Explanation of content in English may be particularly beneficial for lower ability learners (Kouti 2012, as cited in Streeter, 2016).

This requires me to carefully plan all classroom activities in a way that relevant conversations are feasible in German, while allowing English when it is most effective for learning. Hence, the use of English is not accidental, but purposefully integrated into the lesson plan (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016). Overall, given the inherent flexibility of the CLIL approach (Coyle, Hood et al., 2010) purposeful code-switching is acceptable as long as it supports my students’ learning.


Conclusion

CLIL can be used to create opportunities for successful learning by providing an authentic and relevant learning environment. Although CLIL is likely to be most successful when realised through a whole-of-school collaborative approach, it is feasible to begin on a small scale, which means that neither teachers nor students should feel overwhelmed when the CLIL program starts.

Considering the status of German education at KPS, my best approach is to select the instances where content and language may be integrated most effectively without the need for collaboration. Once students have become used to such learning and teaching and positive impacts are evident, the CLIL program may be expanded. This approach is in line with a general strengthening of the German curriculum within the school, which should be beneficial to the students’ developing confidence in German and their future success as language users.


References

ACARA. (2015). Languages: German–Foundation to Year 10 sequence: Sequence of achievement. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). https://docs.acara.edu.au/resources/German_-_Sequence_of_Achievement_-_F-10_Sequence.pdf

Coyle, D. (2006). Content and language integrated learning: Motivating learners and teachers. Scottish Language Review, 13, 1–18.

Coyle, D. (2014). What is the 4Cs teaching framework? 4/7 [Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWzkYDiKQE4

Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL: Content and language integrated learning. Cambridge University Press.

Cross, R. (2014). Defining content and language integrated learning for languages education in Australia. Babel, 49(2), 4–15. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-30424-3_92

Cross, R. (2016). Language and content ‘integration’: The affordances of additional languages as a tool within a single curriculum space. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 48(3), 388–408. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2015.1125528

Cross, R., & Gearon, M. (2013). Research and evaluation of the content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach to teaching and learning languages in Victorian schools. Melbourne Graduate School of Education. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/teachers/teachingresources/discipline/languages/CLILtrialresearchrpt.pdf

Crozet, C., Liddicoat, A., & Lo Bianco, J. (1999). Intercultural competence: From language policy to language education. In J. Lo Bianco, A. Liddicoat, & C. Crozet (Eds.), Striving for the third place: Intercultural competence through language education (pp. 1–20). Language Australia.

Frank, D. (2016, 1 December). 6. Dezember: Warum kommt der Nikolaus? [6th December: Why is Nikolaus coming?]. Wort & Bild Verlag. https://www.baby-und-familie.de/Freizeit/6.-Dezember-Warum-kommt-der-Nikolaus-328895.html

Frank, D. (2020, 3 November). Sankt Martin: Laternenumzug und Martinsfeuer [Saint Martin: Lantern procession and camp fire]. Wort & Bild Verlag. https://www.baby-und-familie.de/Familie/Sankt-Martin-Laternenumzug-und-Martinsfeuer-193147.html

Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E. V. (2016). CLIL in context: Practical guidance for educators. Cambridge University Press.

Harmer, J. (2015). The practice of English language teaching (5th ed.). Pearson.

He, A. E. (2012). Systematic use of mother tongue as learning/teaching resources in target language instruction. Multilingual Education, 2(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/2191-5059-2-1

Horst, M., White, J., & Bell, P. (2010). First and second language knowledge in the language classroom. 14(3), 331–349. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006910367848

Keast, C. (2013). CLIL at Rolling Hills Primary School. Szene, 33(1), 7–8.

Kühn, J. (2013). Content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Szene, 33(1), 2–6.

Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132–141.

Paran, A. (2013). Content and language integrated learning: Panacea or policy borrowing myth? Applied Linguistics Review, 4(2), 317–342. https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2013-0014

Streeter, J. (2016). Code-switching and translanguaging in CLIL: Are we challenging our learners sufficiently? In K. Papaja & A. Świątek (Eds.), Modernizing educational practice: Perspectives in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) (pp. 235–256). Cambridge Scholars.

Turner, M. (2013). CLIL in Australia: The importance of context. International Journal of Bilingual education and Bilingualism, 16(4), 395–410. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2012.691086


About the author

Dr Petra Glover is an experienced educator with a Master of Teaching from Deakin University. Born and raised in Germany, she became interested in languages after being exposed to English, French and Spanish as additional languages at secondary school. After an initial career in business and management, Petra completed a PhD in tourism management. She then worked for over 10 years in Australia and the UK as a lecturer and researcher. Many of her students spoke English as an additional language—which prompted a further career change that would allow her to utilise her passion for languages. At the time of writing, Petra teaches academic English at a tertiary institution in Hong Kong.