Author: teachingtoteach

My report on… XXXIX Aedean Conference

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Hi everybody!

I’m back to comment on the 39th Aedean Conference held at the Universidad de Deusto, in Bilbao (Basque Country). I was delighted to attend this conference in such a beautiful place. And to top things off, the weather was absolutely fantastic.  The Conference ran from 11th to 13th November and, as always, I participated in the Language Teaching and Acquisition Section, coordinated by Prof. Francisco Gallardo del Puerto (Universidad de Cantabria).

My participation revolved around students’ perceptions and concerns on the use of CLIL in Teacher Education Degrees. This study saw the participation of forty-three  4th year students from our bilingual Primary and Infant Teacher Education degrees. Information was gathered using a questionnaire and focus-groups. Our main aim was to find an answer to the question: “Do students consider that taking the bilingual itinerary adds value to their training?” The main findings were quite revealing: 100% of the participants stated that they would choose the bilingual itinerary if given the opportunity. They also perceived that they had learned more contents, competences and didactic strategies solely due to following this itinerary.

Apart from this, the students’ comments reinforce some conclusions drawn from a previous study, with students from previous academic years. These findings, presented at Franklin Institute (2014), lead us to think that the implementation of CLIL may enhance students’ growth mindset (Dweck). If this is the case, CLIL will not only help attain better language proficiency in an additional language and good-quality teaching-learning methods, techniques and strategies, but will also have an influence on how students envision their own learning capacity.


An infographic on Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset. Source:

There were some common aspects among the variety of topics presented in the sessions:

– interest in knowing how L1 positively or negatively influences L2 and to what extent this impacts and interferes with L3, L4, ETC.

I was not at all surprised, as this was a topic of interest when I was studying my degree (a long time ago now), and is still a matter of controversy. Why do elements which are similar in L1 become problematic when using L2? This issue has now expanded to a new scenario: speakers of three or more languages, as shown in the studies by Gutiérrez-Mangado & Martínez Adrián and Llinàs-Grau & Puig Mayenco. There is an interest in discovering whether learning one language helps the acquisition of specific language structures in other languages. However, to my surprise, Cummins was not mentioned at all. “Is the Interdependence Hypothesis out of fashion now?” I wondered.

– some talks aimed to describe the effect of task repetition in language acquisition.

I found this quite intriguing. It seems that some teachers have discovered that, if students are exposed to the same task time after time, the language used in the task tends to be more correct and the use of L1 is reduced. Also, it appears that when students are familiar with the content and procedure, they can focus on language. This suggests that they need to organise things first, and then they can pay attention to meaning.

It is evident that there is a cognitive component here. However, the word ‘cognition’ was barely used when dealing with these types of studies. It is necessary to make a stronger link between language and cognition. It is essential to have a look at the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) of participants, and their ability to use High Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to discover whether cognitive demands and cognitive level are influencing these results.

–  CLIL as a context and as a pedagogical approach

As I put forward in my last post about AEDEAN Conferences, I was quite frustrated with the fact that schools were being labeled as CLIL whenever an additional language was used to teach content. My concern arose from a lack of distinction between schools embracing a methodological shift and those simply continuing a traditional approach. I mentioned this in my presentation to highlight that CLIL is not  just a context, but rather a pedagogical approach which has certain tenets. I insist on the need to distinguish bi-, tri-,and plurilingual contexts from CLIL contexts which are confirmed to be implementing a methodological change fostering the 4 Cs . That’s my view.

I also had the opportunity to talk to several speakers about this, and they told me I was right in indicating that CLIL should imply a methodological adaptation to a bilingual context. However, this was very difficult to prove in a ‘real’ study, as teachers were not willing to give information about their teaching practices. This leads me to the next point.

– Researchers admit having difficulties when obtaining information from schools

Even though this was not part of any of the sessions, the discussion came up when one person in the audience talked about his experience. Researchers have the feeling that teachers don’t want to cooperate with them, and therefore, it is virtually impossible to obtain information from real practical experience. In my view, this is completely true, but I can understand the teachers’ points of view, as they are bogged down by timetables, lots of paperwork, families and a myriad of children with different learning needs. Therefore, our point of view as researchers should be: what can I do for them in the short run? If we want this collaboration to happen, we must think about how we can help them to work better, and how they can collaborate with our universities. See for example how Celaya and Panelli, participating in this conference, mentioned how they had changed their questionnaires because teachers had spotted several difficulties in the original model. Personally, I’ve had school teachers talking in my lessons, and these have been rewarding not only for them, but also for me and my students. A different kind of relationship, beyond “just giving information or data”, must be established for the benefit of both parties.

– Culture: towards transculturality

The 4th C, Culture, has been the main topic of several of my posts on this blog. As you know, simply put, I consider that an English teacher should not limit his/her lessons to show how English people or American people live, their traditions, beliefs and celebrations. I believe that if English has become an International Language (EIL), it is also a tool to access any culture. In that sense, one of the speakers, Karen Jacob, mentioned the need to adopt the term “Transcultural” to denote how you can learn from and interact with different cultures. In her words, it gives a sense of “multidirectional movement”. In this context, Clavel-Arroitia and Pennock-Speck presented an interesting study involving telecollaboration between two high-schools located in Spain and Poland.


I hope this quick review is both informative and interesting. I’d love to read your comments.


Me in beautiful and sunny Bilbao :)

I’d like to thank James Crichlow and Carolina Benito for revising the original version of this post. Thanks for all your suggestions!

¿Por qué CLIL? / Why CLIL? (Versión española / Spanish version)

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Feliz nuevo curso 2015/2016 a todos. Comienzo este nuevo año académico con una entrada escrita en español, la primera de la historia de este blog. La razón por la que he decidido hacerlo es que durante el curso pasado las diversas tareas que he desempeñado me han dado la oportunidad de conocer a muchos educadores, maestros y maestras, profesorado con diferentes perfiles, de diferentes lugar y con diferente formación. En muchas ocasiones he debatido con ellos sobre la enseñanza bilingüe, y en un 80% de los casos me han comentado que el término CLIL les era completamente ajeno o no habían recibido suficiente información sobre él. Cuando esto sucede no puedo evitar sentir cierta rabia, porque me parece un error privar al profesorado de la oportunidad de conocer una manera de trabajar que les va a ayudar a desempeñar de una manera más eficiente su labor, y que va a redundar en una educación de más calidad. En este post intentaré delinear las bases de estas cuatro letras.

Cuando en un centro escolar se decide apostar por una enseñanza bilingüe el primer paso suele ser el de asegurar que el profesorado tenga una competencia alta en inglés. Aprender el idioma se convierte en un objetivo fundamental y lógico, dado que se va a convertir en la lengua de comunicación con los estudiantes. No me detendré aquí en el tipo de lengua que los estudiantes de magisterio y profesores tendrían que adquirir (quizás en otro post, es un tema interesantísimo), pero a partir de ese momento, se puede cometer la mayor equivocación de todas a la hora de implantar el proyecto: considerar que la enseñanza bilingüe consiste en impartir lo mismo, del mismo modo y en otro idioma. Porque precisamente el lugar donde radica la magia de la enseñanza bilingüe es en la metodología. Impartir una asignatura en una lengua que no es la materna para los estudiantes requiere un cambio metodológico que, lejos de perjudicar, nos da la oportunidad de mejorar el proceso de enseñanza-aprendizaje. En este crucial segundo paso del camino se encuentra CLIL.

Continuemos prestando atención al significado de sus palabras: Content and Language Integrated Learning. Fijémonos que la palabra pone el acento en el proceso de aprendizaje (learning), mostrando así que se trata de un enfoque centrado en el estudiante. La primera palabra que encontramos es ‘contenido‘, porque es éste el que lleva la delantera. Enseñamos en inglés (o en otra lengua adicional), y lo hacemos para que el estudiante aprenda unos contenidos. Y estos contenidos aparecen ‘integrados’ con la lengua. No podemos separar el contenido de la lengua, van unidos. Por tanto, no se trataría de enseñar lo mismo que haríamos en español pero en inglés, y tampoco se trata de que enseñemos un tema como excusa para tratar un aspecto lingüístico.

En otro orden de cosas, muchos profesores temen aprender un enfoque o metodología nueva porque creen que van a ‘perder’ ese estilo de enseñanza que han desarrollado durante los años y que funciona. Lejos de que esto ocurra, mi experiencia es que la formación en CLIL hace que potencien los mejores aspectos de su docencia, y añadan otros que les facilitan tener herramientas docentes nuevas. El impacto es tal que muchos docentes a los que he tenido la suerte de formar me han confesado que su docencia en español, las clases que imparten en su lengua materna, también se benefician de este salto cualitativo.

La enseñanza bilingüe es posible si hay un cambio metodológico
La enseñanza bilingüe es posible si hay un cambio metodológico

¿Y cómo ponemos en marcha CLIL? Existen varios modelos que pueden guiarnos para entender como funciona este enfoque metodológico, pero yo emplearé las famosas 4 Cs de Do Coyle. Esta autora, profesora de la Univ. de Aberdeen, presentó cuatro pilares fundamentales para desarrollar CLIL. Por un lado tenemos:

  • el contenido: es el que marca el camino, y por tanto no hay que reducirlo. Si estamos reduciendo el contenido, tenemos que reflexionar sobre nuestra planificación, y las estrategias metodológicas empleadas. Algo no estamos haciendo bien, así que es necesario detectarlo para mejorar la próxima vez.
  • la comunicación: la base de una enseñanza/aprendizaje activo. No se trata solamente de desarrollar las competencias comunicativas de los estudiantes, sino que es a través de ellas cómo se desarrolla el aprendizaje. Para hacer enseñanza comunicativa nos valdremos de recursos que faciliten la interacción, ya sean tradicionales o digitales.
  • la cognición: yo la considero esencial. No todas las tareas que sugerimos a los estudiantes tienen el mismo nivel de exigencia cognitiva. El cerebro no utiliza las mismas destrezas (ni energía) cuando piensa acerca de, por ejemplo, cinco palabras relacionadas con el mundo animal, y cuando pido al estudiante que compare a un león y a una ballena en términos biológicos. Reconocer esta dificultad y equilibrarla es fundamental. Muchos materiales trabajan con destrezas de pensamiento inferiores, o sugieren tareas complejas sin apoyarlas con el adecuado apoyo lingüístico.
  • la cultura: un concepto que ya he tratado en este blog y que ha suscitado más de una polémica en foros de expertos. Coyle sugiere que prestemos atención a los elementos culturales implícitos y explícitos que trabajamos. Muchas veces ni siquiera somos conscientes de ellos, por ejemplo, si trabajamos con la pirámide alimentaría, ¿creéis que contiene los mismos alimentos en España, Japón o Kenia? Una búsqueda en ‘google’ os puede dar una respuesta bastante sorprendente. Aprovechemos la ocasión para que los estudiantes puedan ser ciudadanos del mundo, y que el inglés sea la llave para poder acceder a él.

Esto no es nada más que un ligero barniz del potencial que el enfoque CLIL tiene para vuestras aulas. Mucho podríamos hablar sobre el andamiaje, BICS y CALP, la hipótesis de la intedependencia de Cummins, la integración con otras metodologías activas, etc. Si tenéis la oportunidad de conocerlo, no dejéis de aprovecharlo :)

La formación en el enfoque CLIL asegura la calidad educativa en la enseñanza bilingüe
La formación en el enfoque CLIL asegura la calidad educativa en la enseñanza bilingüe

Si te ha interesado este post, puede que te interese el Título de Posgrado ‘Expert in CLIL‘ del Centro Universitario Cardenal Cisneros, orientado a profesorado que quiere iniciarse en el conocimiento y práctica del enfoque CLIL. Formación Online con sesiones presenciales opcionales.

Imagenes cortesía de Patpitshaya y Photostock.

Culture in the CLIL Classroom: going beyond the disguise?

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It’s a long time since I last wrote a post to the blog. This doesn’t mean I’m not reflecting on my teaching anymore (is that possible, in any case?), but time flies and my new duties as Deputy Director are keeping me busier than I expected. I’m coming back to discuss about the role of Culture in CLIL.

When you start implementing CLIL in your classroom, the first three Cs are ok. Content… is clear. Communication… is obvious. Cognition… is a must! But what happens with Culture? When asked about this, some teachers claim that their subjects cannot deal with this; others state that they do it, but in an implicit way; and a third group keeps on wondering: Culture, which culture?

As far as I know, it seems that Culture was divided into two different concepts by Seelye (1984). These concepts are known as ‘Big C’ and ‘Small C’. The ‘Big C’ includes literature, music, film and symbols (Clandfield, 2008: p. 4); whereas the ‘Small c’ is focused on typical food, clothing, values, activities, manners and practices of a group (Seyle, 1984: 19). It is also possible to find “K culture” which is referring to behaviours or customs which may seem unusual or curious, mostly based on stereotype (Clandfield, 2008: p.4).

Image taken from stockimages,

Even if we now know which C or K we would like to use in our classes, we need to choose the ‘culture’ or ‘cultures’ of reference. When I was a child, I was instructed about how to ask for a white tea in English (among other apparently ‘British’ customs), but right now English has become a ‘lingua franca’. Clandfield makes an essential point about this when asserting that English may be viewed as ‘devoided’ of cultural content, if we consider that we’re using a “’supranational’ variety of English” (p.5). He proposes to make our EFL/ESL teaching rely on what Byram (1997) termed as “intercultural competence”, understood as “the ability to communicate and operate effectively with people from another culture” (p.5).

In the same line, Chlopek (2009) indicates that for students to develop successful intercultural communication, “a through and systematic intercultural training” is needed. This training shouldn’t just encompass the English-speaking countries, in her opinion. Moreover, the starting point for this training should be to analyse students’ native culture, and compare them to other cultures. This initial step is also indicated b y Clandsfield (2008).

Some authors suggest practical ideas to take intercultural competence into our classrooms. Clandsfield considers that students can benefit from role-playing, and the analysis of cultural-biased elements in textbooks, for example. Chlopek offers a didactic proposal in three stages which invites students to reflect on the notion of Culture and its meaning for them (individually, and as a group). She also considers relevant to encourage student exchange or email exchange, organizing tasks as to share information with the rest of the class. Also, Chlopek mentions project work, as an opportunity to engage students in meaningful communication.

No matter what C/c/K we are teaching with, training on “intercultural competence” seems essential to help our students become global citizens. Are we making what is needed to develop it in our classes?What’s your view about CcKulture in your classroom? Are you supporting any of these views? Are you finding it difficult to integrate this C into your teaching? Have you carried out a successful project focus on the development of intercultural competence? I’d love to read your contributions.


Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Chlopek, Z. (2008). “The Intercultural Approach to EFL Teaching and Learning”. English Teaching Forum, 4: 10-27. Retrieved from:

Clandfield, L. (2008) “Culture in ELT: Which C? Whose C?” Teachers of English as a Second Language of Ontario, 34/3: 1-8. Retrieved from:

Seelye, H. N. (1984) Teaching Culture. Chicago IL: National Textbook Company.

2014 in review

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Hello everyone, it’s time to look back and check reports on all the work done in 2014. The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Have a happy New Year 2015, my friends!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Educational Assessment (part III) – Released items and thinking outside the box

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In the last two posts, Icommented on Educational Assessment from two perspectives; first, analysing the types of tests we can find, and second, reflecting on how the information obtained through these tests is used in media. In this third post on educational assessment I’ll be dealing with the so-called ‘released items’, that is, activities and questions included in these official tests anybody can access and explore. To narrow down the analysis, I’ve chosen the European Survey of Language Competences (ESLC). As I said in a previous post, this test assesses students’ language competences in two foreign or additional languages. In Spain, English and French are tested having students finishing compulsory secondary education as participants. I’m wondering: What do these questions look like? What type of structure do they follow? What thinking skills are they promoting? Are they fostering creative thinking? 

Released Items
Released Items

To start with, I’ve accessed the document ‘released tasks’, available on the Spanish Ministry of Education website (you can access it here). This gave me the chance to have a gut reaction towards the structure and content of this test. It quickly reminded me of those old tests I had to take when I was studying English in the Language School. I was 10 years old, and I hated them :). Also, they have the same structure as other tests, such as the ones used in the Official School of Languages or in examination institutions, such as Cambridge or Trinity. In other words, the format is quite traditional. Regarding content, if you have a look at page 5 in the document, you’ll see that the topics covered are also quite common: family, hobbies, holidays, etc.

Most tasks are following a multiple-choice response format, and are asking the student to spot key information in written and oral tests. Let’s see an example which has intrigued me. It is on page 16. There you can read a short text on Leo, a cat which has been lost. The text is thought to be a notice written by his owner, but it doesn’t contain common features of this type of texts, namely, a photo of the lost animal, and short and descriptive sentences. The text is not natural at all, and it is really clear that some sentences have been added to have some more ‘stuff’ to ask about.

Trying to see the brigh side of things, knowing the structure of the activity may be of use if students are very scared thinking about the test. In this way, we can make them see that tasks are very similar to the ones most textbooks and official tests are using. Also, it is interesting for teachers to see how the activities are scaffolded differently according to students’ level (even if they are not the ideal model for scaffolding, it may serve teacher trainees to reflect on how these tasks could be improved to be used in class in a more significant way.

And here it goes my question, what’s the place of creativity in all of this? How are we measuring divergent thinking? How are we checking that students are using compensational strategies which will not answer the question as it is required for them to do but will make them successful at the end? Are tests directed to students which feel at ease with Multiple Intelligences other than Logical and Linguistic? Is this type of learner we are looking for? Are these tests reflecting a spoon-feeding methodology which was useful in the industrial revolution when everything was structured, organised and measured accordingly? Is there a chance to design tests which are reflecting students’ full learning potential instead of making them say/do/match/point to what it is considered ‘correct’? Discussion is open.

We should foster higher order thinking skills. Divergent thinking is a must
We should foster higher order thinking skills. Divergent thinking is a must

Image 1 taken from here.

Image 2 by 2nix taken from

One report, multiple perspectives. Educational assessment (Part 2)

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In this post I will deal with the PISA 2012 report as analysed by different media. It is my purpose to show how one single report can be interpreted from different perspectives depending on the source of information we are using. Let’s start!

PISA 2012 and the UK. I googled these words and came across a BBC article describing PISA results. The main worry here is that the UK is falling behind other countries and it is no longer a member of top lists. The Chinese educational system seems to produce more fruitful results and it is seen as a powerful rival. As the information is focused on top or bottom countries, Spain does not even appear…

What about top PISA country, Finland? Its interpretation of the test is very similar to the one carried out by the UK. They also consider their scores have declined dramatically and are concerned about the reasons why this has happened. In fact, the article I read mentions that it is important to get all the educational community involved in improving school quality, and highlight the importance of motivating students and making schools learning-friendly. No doubt their vision of education as something that goes beyond the classroom walls and their awareness of children’s needs and emotions make them be at the very top, no matter what PISA says this time.

And what about Spain? The digital edition of the newspaper ABC analysed the report emphasising that Spain is scoring below average in Maths, reading comprehension and Science. However, later in the article they mention that, in comparison with PISA 2003, students are scoring similarly in Maths and have improved in the other two areas.

In the same line, El Pais presents us with a ranking where Spain is in the bottom part of the list. Concerning the reasons why we are failing, and they state that improving is almost impossible, they report on opinions given by stakeholders who mention teachers and schools, although they do not indicate how to improve these scores.

Finally, the newspaper EL Mundo argues that Spain’s low scores can be explained because of the lack of investment in education. PISA results are considered a failure and a shame for Spain (literal words translated). They are also concerned about the educational level young people reach, as many of them only hold basic qualifications.

What’s my view after this analysis? Quality in education is a culture, and I consider that Spain has much work to do to make people aware of their part in this. It is not a question of blaming teachers or official budgets, it is everybody’s responsibility. We won’t change this in a day, but I bet that if we start the movement working hand by hand with educational centres, teachers and teacher education undergraduates, quality will be an everyday must-have.

What do you think about this? How is PISA viewed in your country? You can also follow this discussion here: @preguntasPISA


Image taken from

Learning about international educational assessment

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Hi there!
Today I’ll be covering the topic of international educational assessment. The reason is that I’m completing a MOOC on this issue, and have considered this info can be of your interest, apart from being part of the assignment of the course :).
Let’s start!
PISA is probably the best known educational assessment study. Its name is not honouring the famous place in Italy, but it is an acronym standing for Programme for International Student Assessment. Spain participates every three years in this comparative study. It is focused on measuring 15-year-old students’ competences in relation to reading comprehension, mathematics and Science. Next study will be carried out in 2015.

TIMSs stands for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. It measures learning progression in terms of Mathematics and Science. It is not only interested in learning outcomes, as it also gathers information about curriculum contents and implementations, methodologies used, resources and more.

PIRLS Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. It is intended to be used with children aged 9-years as this is a crucial stage in their reading development. Decoding is now fully automatised and students can enjoy reading. One interesting detail about the study is that it comprises both literary and informative tests.

From the myriad of tests left, I have chosen two I didn’t know which are focused on measuring students’ linguistic competence in a foreign language. The first one is the European Survey of Language Competences, which offers very useful information regarding the percentage of students reaching basic and independent user levels, according to the European Framework, in L2 and L3.

Finally, the ETLS is a computer-based survey on the teaching and learning of English as an additional language. It is not just focused on language competences but also in language use and attitudes, among other variables. It will be launched in 2017.

Once I’ve described the most relevant tests in my field, it is time to reflect on the use of these tools. Are they used for formative assessment? Do political stakeholders use correctly the information produced in the reports following these tests? Does the inclusion of these tests lead to a washback effect? If we are supporting a change in school practices, gearing towards more active and participative methodologies, shouldn’t we design assessment tools accordingly? Over to you…

My tweet for this module: Sabías que el estudio ESCL proporciona info sobre competencias en L2 y L3 en Europa? #preguntasPISA

Image taken from