Phil Ball, Keith Kelly and John Clegg
Oxford University Press 2015

met putting clil into practice book cover

CLIL programmes are increasingly being introduced – with varying degrees of success – in schools across the world. CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Teaching, and the purpose of these programmes is to teach school subjects (such as science, maths, social studies) through the medium of a language other than the students’ own – and, in the vast majority of cases, this means learning through English for speakers of German, Spanish, Thai,
Japanese, etc.

Thus, a methodological book such as this is both timely and helpful to guide and support teachers through the complex issues that are involved in transiting from teaching curriculum subjects in the home language to developing an effective CLIL programme. It contains much relevant advice and a wealth of useful suggestions. The book comprises ten chapters; a set of tasks for Chapters 2 to 9 (followed by suggested answers) is appended towards the end of the book. There is also a very helpful glossary of key terms, a list of references and a comprehensive index.

The first chapter, What is CLIL?, begins by distinguishing CLIL from other forms of second language education, such as bilingual education, immersion and English Medium Instruction (EMI). The authors then explore the important factors that determine the relative effectiveness of CLIL programmes.

Defining parameters, the title of Chapter 2, discusses key methodological approaches to building pedagogic bridges between content and language.

The theoretical underpinnings of this methodology are set out in Chapter 3, The content-language relationship. The notion of ‘content’ is defined as both conceptual and procedural; in other words, the knowledge of the curriculum subject and the way that this knowledge is constructed and conveyed. Language is itself a form of content, and not (as in Content-based instruction) merely a vehicle. Thus, there is a need for teachers to carefully examine the working interplay between academic language proficiency and the complex cognitive skills required in classroom tasks.

Chapter 4, Principles and practice of language in CLIL, explores the notion of ‘language’ more closely. The authors point out that language includes thinking skills as well as more conventional matters such as grammar, vocabulary and discourse markers. They suggest seven pedagogic principles for CLIL practice. These are carefully explained and exemplified to show not only what each means, but how they relate to, and build upon, each other.

The next two chapters consider approaches to providing appropriate language support to enable students to master the subject content across all four language skills. This requires a variety of task types not usually associated with learning content in the first language. In Chapter 5, Guiding input, explains several examples of tasks intended to facilitate the development of reading and writing, and the following chapter, Supporting output, does the same for the productive skills. Many of these tasks (information-gap, tree diagrams, information transfer, jigsaws, substitution tables, etc.) will be familiar to experienced second language teachers.

Building on the points raised in the previous discussions, Chapter 7 provides, explains and exemplifies seven principles for Designing materials for CLIL.

Assessment in CLIL is the title and topic of Chapter 8. After a preliminary review of evaluation vs assessment and formative vs summative assessment, the authors consider the objectives of assessment in CLIL: the extent to which, and ways by which, assessment can focus on language or content, or both. As previously, the explanations are well illustrated with sample materials. After a short discussion of the relationship between certification and assessment, the chapter concludes with how CLIL fits into the increasing trend towards competency-based education.

Chapter 9 turns to Managing CLIL in schools, and reviews the main issues that educational administrators need to take into consideration. 

Finally, Training teachers for CLIL is dealt with in Chapter 10. The authors begin by pointing out that it is difficult to propose a generic training model because of the diversity of contexts in which CLIL operates; thus, after a review of key variables (such as the linguistic vs methodological competence of teachers), they propose a set of options for developing teacher behaviours which could be incorporated in a training framework. They frame these options within three savoirs (French for ‘knowledges’): knowledge about key aspects of CLIL practice – pedagogical theories, subject content, assessment, etc; know how to plan, teach and assess – to design effective learning sequences and good visual aids, to use appropriate strategies, to provide effective feedback, etc; and learning to be – reflective practitioners, good chapter concludes with a general discussion of how these savoirs can be fostered, and a snapshot of what training provision might be available.

This book is very important because it is a practical guide to the way that English language education is heading. Many early- and mid-career language teaching practitioners need to take into account that conventional notions such as ‘general’ EFL, ESP, EAP, etc. will fall away, and their professional future will lie in collaborating across the curriculum with teachers in CLIL-type programmes, sharing their receptive expertise. The authors say that in 2006 ‘over half the world’s international students [we]re being taught in English’ (p285). A decade and more since then, the number has dramatically increased, and CLIL and EMI programmes likewise.

Whether the rapid development of CLIL is a good thing in many contexts remains to be seen. Books such as Putting CLIL into Practice are invaluable for teachers, but there needs to be similarly detailed practical advice for policy-makers, school administrators and educators (rather than ‘trainers’) of CLIL teachers. Establishing and maintaining effective CLIL programmes is a complex matter. There is evidence to suggest that many education systems are rapidly introducing CLIL programmes without undergoing sufficient contextual analysis, careful planning, appropriate professional development and adequate resourcing. If these are not done properly, educational authorities will be setting up teachers and learners for failure.

Roger Barnard is an associate professor at the University of Waikato, where he supervises PhD students and engages in collaborative research.