CLIL – The question of assessment
by Richard Kiely
Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), where a subject is taught through the medium of a second language, is a growing trend in all levels of education in Europe and in other parts of the world. CLIL has always been part of organised schooling systems. Sometimes it has involved children from minority L1s (first languages) where education is not provided in that language. In other contexts it has been in the context of language maintenance projects, for example, children from English-speaking families in Ireland or Wales learning in Irish or Welsh medium schools. The growing trend in CLIL in Europe now however, involves learning through English communities in communities which speak other languages. There are many challenges in implementing CLIL. In this paper I focus on the issues around assessment in CLIL classrooms, schools and education communities.
Assessment in CLIL is a complex area for a number of reasons. First, there is the dual focus – language and subject – which inevitably means there are two assessment processes involved. Key issues here are the extent to which language and subject assessment are integrated, that is, they are assessed at the same time and through the same tasks and activities. Where they are integrated, the impact of the mode of integration on the assessment outcomes needs to be understood. For example, if a child in a primary school assessment task in geography performs poorly, is it because of her limited understanding of the geography concepts or details, because she has not understood the question or because she cannot express her understanding clearly? Second, there is the purpose of assessment: a learning purpose which focuses on understanding and supporting learning, or an accountability purpose which demonstrates the success of the CLIL policy and implementation. Third, there is a complex set of practical issues, from tests, activities, standards, criteria and the teachers’ skills in bringing all these together in the classroom and in the wider school community. The key issue here is the basis on which a teacher, in relation to either the language or the subject, makes a judgement about achievements in learning (language and subject), or about a need for further work in a given area.
A further complexity is the innovative nature of CLIL and the range of ways in which it affects school life, and the work of teachers. This is particularly important in interpreting the outcomes of assessment processes: where the results are positive, we have a basis for continuing with the policy and practice. Where the results are unsatisfactory, a further set of questions need to be engaged: Are the results an outcome of unsatisfactory tests and assessment processes? Do they derive from problems in implementation in the classroom? Or do they reflect deeper problems with the CLIL policy in that context? In addition to these innovation concerns, there is a question of expertise in assessment in CLIL. In many contexts, practices in CLIL from lesson design to assessment are novel. This means that the ways in which established assessment practices are valid may not apply to CLIL.
In this article I examine these issues – the dual focus of CLIL, and its implications for assessment, both in terms of assessment purpose and practical issues in making judgement abut learning achievements and needs. I draw on perspectives from the field of assessment, teaching and learning, from the rationale and implementation of CLIL, and from personal experience, particularly as a team member and consultant evaluator of the Comenius-funded Pro-CLIL project (http://www.proclil.org/ ), which is currently looking at the implementation of CLIL at Primary and pre-primary levels in four European countries.
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