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CLIL – The question of assessment
by Richard Kiely
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2. The dual focus of CLIL

CLIL is often implemented as a language pedagogy. The goal of the CLIL curriculum is effective competence in a second language (Mackenzie 2008). This has in the past been the situation in language maintenance projects, such as the teaching through Irish in English-speaking regions of Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s (my own initial experience of CLIL); and language imposition, where minority language users are educated in the dominant language (Coyle 2007). More recently, the basis of the communicative approach to language teaching owes much to the experience of people such as Henry Widdowson and Chris Brumfit teaching the school curriculum through English in contexts such as Bangladesh and Tanzania. For them the context of subject learning at school and college was the naturally communicative context in which language teaching and learning could be developed. Currently, as a response to the role of English in a globalised world, stakeholders such as parents, political leaders and employers are advocating the early integration of a second language – typically English – as core curriculum for the development of a 21st century workforce (Dafouz et al 2007). An additional motivation for CLIL is the development and maintenance of multilingualism in contexts where dominant and minority languages co-exist (Serra 2007). CLIL has emerged as a viable strategy for achieving such goals in Europe and beyond. A major element of the rationale here is efficiency in learning: two fields of learning – a school subject and the target second language can be progressed at the same time. The language development, viewed in a communicative framework as a means of understanding and sharing ideas, takes place through exploring concepts.

The theoretical rationale for CLIL is particularly clear and persuasive where the focus in on the target language. Subject learning activities provide a meaning context for the language use, and learning interactions push the developing language resources. In addition the reduced focus on language forms may assist with engagement and confidence. However, good language teaching is not necessarily good content teaching. Merrill Swain articulates clearly the potential tension of education in a developing second language:

Content teaching needs to guide students’ progressive use of the full functional range of language, and to support their understanding of how language form is related to meaning in subject area material.
(Swain 1998: 68)

For the subject teacher of science, geography, art, etc., there are two issues:
i) the extent to which the essential knowledge and concepts can be learnt as well by all pupils in the CLIL language as in comparable L1 classrooms; and
ii) the extent to which the same range of learning opportunities, including activities which develop enthusiasm, motivation and confidence can be engaged in the CLIL classroom as in comparable L1 classrooms.

In contexts where teachers are implementing CLIL, there are many views on these issues. Research into and development of CLIL in many contexts however, focuses on process and achievements in language learning (Lasagabaster 2008). There are two reasons for this. First, the leaders and developers of CLIL initiatives tend to be second language teachers and researchers looking for novel ways of enhancing L2 learning in schools. Second, the CLIL initiative is likely to be innovative in terms of the language of instruction. The subject learning is not itself the focus on curricular change, or a context of dissatisfaction with educational stakeholders. The assumption in CLIL is that the subject curriculum does not change.

This dual focus is a major challenge both for CLIL organisation at school and curriculum level, and for the work of the teaching in the CLIL classroom. This challenge is particularly important in assessment policy and practice.

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