Number one for English language teachers

What about the students?

Are we more concerned about ensuring teachers are equipped to manage in the "CLIL classroom" than thinking about our students? Mina Patel asks us to stop and think about how the students are supported when CLIL is implemented.

I believe the use of effective CLIL has the potential to open many doors for students, linguistically, cognitively and culturally, almost like a Pandora's box.  However, in order for this to happen, the change process needs to be managed and students need support; support from their teachers, the school and their parents.

When we talk about change in education, like the implementation of any CLIL-type provision which is quite a big and sometimes controversial change, the students should be our bottom line. Their emotional and academic well-being should be at the core of the change process, yet often their needs are not given the priority they should be.

Let's take Malaysia as an example. Science and Mathematics has been taught through English since 2003. Since then there have been quite a few initiatives within the system to support this change. Schools and teachers have been equipped with ICT hardware and software; Science and Mathematics teachers have been given some language proficiency training; and a "Buddy Support" system has been implemented whereby the subject teacher has a critical friend who is a language specialist. These are not the only initiatives to have been put in place and yet there is a question mark over the continuation of the policy.

The focus on teachers is an obvious one, they are, after all, the main change agents. As they grapple with a whole new way of teaching including working with new resources and a new methodology as well as trying to maintain some semblance of their own identity, who is keeping an eye on the students? Who is supporting them through the change?

I am not for a moment saying that teachers aren't doing their jobs, what I am saying is that during  the initial period of change that occurs when a new way of teaching such as CLIL is implemented, the support structures that students may need to help them through the change sometimes seem to be lacking.

In the world of a student, suddenly being taught a subject in another language can bring about phenomenal change. On an individual level a student could go from being an expert to lacking confidence simply because their competence in the new language is not very good. Alternatively, if a student is good in the new language, then being taught the subject through it carries many benefits. In terms of the whole class, the dynamics will inevitably change both positively and/or otherwise, hierarchies will change, identities will shift, power struggles will emerge, while at the same time, learning is being negotiated.

The potential, as mentioned in the beginning, for positive change is huge but it needs to be managed right down to the level of the student. Students should not be seen as recipients of change but instead active participants within it. They are the major stakeholders in any CLIL programme and they need to be supported through the change in order to really benefit from it.

Mina Patel
The CLIL Debate, IATEFL Conference, Cardiff, 2 April 2009

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