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CLIL in Sitges, Catalonia: Interview with Lourdes Font Pont

CLIL teacher Lourdes Font Pont talks about the strengths of her CLIL project in Catalonia and gives advice to teachers who want to take the CLIL challenge!

Lourdes Font Pont

Tell us who you are and what you do.
My name is Lourdes Font Pont. I have been a teacher of English as a foreign language since 1999. I have taught all levels, from P3 to 2nd ESO, and I have been teaching Maths and Science in English (CLIL) for the last five years, in all the Primary levels, at Ceip Maria Ossó, in Sitges, Catalonia.

I have taken part in several Comenius programmes and I attended a three-month post-graduate CLIL course at the University of Nottingham, granted by the Departament d’Educació of the Generalitat de Catalunya. There I improved my knowledge of CLIL theory, and I also had the opportunity to visit English schools, to learn how teachers deal with subjects such as Science and Maths.

During my stay in England, I developed a teaching unit about shapes and space, addressed to  students in year 5. This material can be found at the CIREL website.

I have also conducted teacher training sessions for Primary teachers and I’m currently involved in CLIL teacher training addressed to teachers involved in CLIL innovation projects.

What are the highlights of the CLIL project you are involved in?
Maria Ossó school is a perfect place for the implementation of CLIL, due to its characteristics. Many of our students are immigrants, so they speak more than two languages.

Given that nowadays English is getting more important worldwide, and taking into consideration the different nationalities of our students, English plays a very important role in our school. Many different projects have been carried out throughout these years: a Comenius Project with three other schools from Italy, Romania and England; inter-level workshops in English and our CLIL teaching programme. 

The strengths of this programme are:

• English language learning starting at the age of three provides pupils with a base of English to start CLIL later on;

• the contributions from the few English-speaking pupils;

• the rich and varied linguistic diversity that our students are used to; and

• the opportunity given to two of the teachers to attend a three-month post-graduate CLIL course in UK.

Co-teaching in CLIL lessons, with two teachers continuously interacting, offers a very valuable linguistic model to pupils and allows for inclusion, personalization and differentiation in classroom management.   

As far as content organisation is concerned, this is done very carefully. Thus, if the student’s schedule has three hours of Science or Maths per week, two of them are taught in Catalan, whereas the other one is taught in English. Nevertheless, the content topic dealt with in Catalan is different from the content topic they learn in English, to avoid useless repetition of content in L1 and L2. The teacher implementing Science and Maths in L1 and in L2 is not the same. This organisation implies thorough coordination and commitment of all the staff members.

What professional development opportunities regarding CLIL have you taken and what implications has this had in your teaching practice?
One of the results of taking part in the three-month course on CLIL has been the opportunity to deepen my understanding of CLIL theoretical and practical issues. I was also asked to take part in the Train the CLIL Trainer programme to become a CLIL teacher trainer.
 
In this programme we had the opportunity to discuss and share our opinions about CLIL theory, and especially its implementation. Many different worries came up throughout the sessions, but being part of a learning community of teachers who were about to teach other teachers made things easy, and we could tackle our worries trusting and supporting each other, and sharing our ideas and feelings. As a result, our CLIL practice improved, as well as our confidence.

To sum up, the main implications that CLIL has had in my teaching practice is the improvement of teaching techniques in terms of motivation, finding other ways of assessing students, designing activities to foster the development of cognitive and communicative skills, including hands-on activities, and improving classroom management techniques. 

Our training sessions with the teachers are running smoothly, and we are getting very nice feedback from them. Additionally, I have given talks about TEFL in seminars organised by the Department of Education, and I have recently been asked by a well-known ELT publisher to help with CLIL teacher training. 

Can you say in a nutshell what have been the main challenges over the course of your work in CLIL?

- focusing on effective teaching-learning; 

- raising linguistic competence and confidence;

- challenging all learners thinking skills;

- offering  ICT opportunities;
 
 - designing a teacher training module based on the CLIL methodology and the 4c's learning framework

Tell us a little about the impressions you get from parents about ther children studying through the medium of English, what do they say about it?
Despite being worried at the beginning, about their kids not acquiring the right level and teachers dumbing down the lessons, now parents are very happy about the CLIL experience, as they see that their kids can follow the CLIL lessons exactly as if they were in L1. Moreover, students are spontaneously talking in English and little by little they are more capable to make hypotheses, give their opinions, draw conclusions and above all, to communicate and learn in English.

What advice would you give to teachers who want to take the CLIL challenge?
Although there is evidence that CLIL practice is effective and has many advantages, sometimes there are some concerns that have to be overcome, such as human resources, policy, material and financial aspects.

As far as materials are concerned, there are some difficulties in finding materials available in the target language that cover our curriculum. As a result, teachers need to devote additional time to material design.

Sometimes there’s a shortage of English teachers that have to cover both curricular English lessons and CLIL lessons.

Teachers should take the project as an opportunity, a turning point to improve their professional career. Supporting the pupils’ use of English and scaffolding the students’ learning is sometimes hard work and it definitely takes time. Nonetheless, and although at times the work is tough and demanding, a CLIL project can be seen as a challenge for both teachers and students, because what is important is not just a school project, but the education of our pupils.

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