Number one for English language teachers

Conference report: CLIL 2008 Fusion Conference, Estonia

Aleksandra Zaparucha reports on the recent and highly successful 'CLIL Fusion Conference: Multilingual Mindsets in a Multicultural World, Building Quality Learning Communities', in Tallinn, Estonia, October 2008.

400 CLIL professionals in one place!

Conference goers chat and browse materials at the CLIL 2008 Fusion Conference in Tallinn, Estonia

Being a Geography and English teacher, I often take part in subject-related workshops, meetings, presentations or conferences. However, if I speak about CLIL there, many of the other participants seem indifferent, no matter whether they are Geography or English specialists. If they do express their feelings, they would often be worried I might be out to take their jobs! Thus, I am really grateful to the Tallinn CLIL Conference organizers for bringing all CLIL enthusiasts from Europe and elsewhere to one location. At last no one looked at me suspiciously when they heard me expressing my ideas, thoughts or concerns connected with CLIL.

Thanks and congratulations!

The main organizers of the event included the European CLIL Cascade Network (CCN), the Estonian Language Immersion Centre and the University of Jyväskylä (Finland), but the support also came from other institutions, such as the Canadian Embassy. The two leading personas of the conference were Peeter Mehisto and David Marsh, both members of the CLIL Consortium expert panel. The organizing team was led by Nancy Peuraharju who professionally managed all the mundane, yet indispensable, issues. Last but not least, I should not forget to mention a very well trained group of young Estonian volunteers and all who took care of us in the conference setting. All of them worked hard at their task in order to accommodate, entertain, feed, and, most of all, intellectually stimulate the participants. Bravo! Well done!

Plenaries

The plenary speeches delivered by the leading CLIL experts served an important task: to re-assure the listeners that this form of teaching is worthwhile and worth investing in. Something we had been aware of but it is priceless to learn others think alike.

CLIL expert delivers plenary speech to attendees of the CLIL Fusion 2008 Conference in Tallinn

The plenary speeches on the first day of the conference included the welcome address from Toni Lucas, the Estonian Minister of Education and Research and a presentation by Irene Kaosaar, also from the Ministry of Education and Research, on 'CLIL in the Estonian context'. The two other speakers were Hugo Baetens Beardsmore from Belgium, who spoke on 'Multilingualism, Cognition and Creativity', and Fred Genesee from Canada, who gave 'Insights from Immersion Research based on the Canadian French Immersion Programs'. The only presentation difficult to digest due to its complexity was the one about brain processes by Michael Ullman from the USA ('Memory, Brain and Second Language').

Workshops Day 1

Most of the workshops and presentations which followed, at least the ones I attended, were well-researched, illustrated with PowerPoint presentations and delivered in a listener-friendly manner. On Friday I joined Session 7 on Classroom Practice chaired by Phil Ball. The presentations varied from university-level CLIL (Antroula Papakyriakou, Cyprus), to English as an Additional Language and its relevance for CLIL classes (Penelope Robinson, the UK), a splendid idea of a CLIL Portfolio (Eva Poisel, Austria), and an interesting presentation on vocabulary scaffolding for CLIL (Michelle Guerrini, Spain). The evening Plenary Session featured Robert McConnell from Canada, who spoke on 'Implementing a CLIL Program: 40 Years of Lessons Learnt'. This was a vivid presentation, a kind of 'must' for all the decedents in CLIL, including my former head teacher and various ministers of education! I wish they had been there!

Workshops Day 2

On Saturday I joined Session 2 to listen to Keith Kelly who held a workshop on 'Perspectives of the Language of Content'. The workshops challenged the participants to actually do some vocabulary tasks and give a second thought to this aspect of CLIL. As a CLIL teacher trainer myself, I found this workshop very stimulating as it gave me some hints on what to do during the coming training sessions with active CLIL teachers. Thanks, Keith!

Anneli Morgenson teaches maths in Estonian to Russian-speaking children

This day also included a lesson of Mathematics taught by Anneli Morgenson to Russian-speaking children through Estonian, as well as Estonian Immersion kindergarten children, again Russian-speaking, presenting songs both in their mother tongue and in Estonian. Estonia's population of 1.5 m includes as many as 30% speakers of Russian. This poses a great challenge to the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research as such a large language minority deserves a decent education in the majority language, while maintaining the mother tongue and its culture at the same time. The Estonian Immersion Centre, thus, plays an important role in the country.

Closing up

The closing speeches during the Outreach Plenary Session included insights into political, economic and educational dimensions of CLIL programs, as well as Final Fusion by Peeter Mehisto and David Marsh. The conference also had a book-stand, which, besides regular language-course books, also featured the latest CLIL publications, such as Macmillan's Uncovering CLIL by David Marsh, Peeter Mehisto and Maria Jesus Frigols Martin, and Science in the Macmillan Vocabulary Practice Series by Keith Kelly. The organizers also prepared a poster session, but this extra presentation space attracted only a few posters.  

Summing up

All the organizational aspects of such a large conference were handled perfectly, and I am not saying this just to please the organizers! At numerous conferences I've witnessed technical problems with the equipment or even not enough food served to the conference participants! Here, especially considering the number of people taking part in the event, nearly 400, everything went smoothly as the staff was friendly, helpful and competent. Even the weather at that time of the year was favourable to us!

An added value of the conference was a chance to meet people from various countries, especially those where CLIL has become a widespread phenomenon at various educational levels. Due to the conference setting, Estonians were best represented (136 participants). Other well represented European countries included Spain (68), followed by the UK (35), Italy (23), Finland (22) and Belgium (18). Participants from other continents also arrived: 5 from Asia (Japan, China and Malaysia), 3 from America (Canada, the USA and Trinidad and Tobago), and 3 from Africa (South Africa and Nigeria). All the conference events, both formal ones, like presentations and workshops, and informal ones, such as breaks between sessions, meal times and a welcome dinner, gave a chance to exchange ideas and compare all various forms and shades of CLIL.

Panoramic view of Estonian capital, Tallinn, with St Olav's Church silhouetted against the sunset

Things to change...

All the above might seem to many too good to be true… Well, I need to stress two big issues which were a little bit disturbing. The number of workshops and presentations going on at the same time were more than 10. Although all the speakers followed the timetable rigorously and thus enabled people to move from room to room, there was a great difficulty in what to choose! There were so many interesting topics and ideas tackled, but you could only be in one place at a time. Another key issue is the financial one. Having spoken to some people I realized many covered all their expenses themselves. So did I. However, the relation of the fee, accommodation and travel costs to the salaries varies from country to country. In my case, it was well over a month's income. Thus, although I would be happy to attend another event of this type, I would have to carefully consider the costs!

Aleksandra Zaparucha
clilpoland@clilpoland.eu   

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