Success Elements in Bilingual Projects

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El pasado 17 de junio tuve el honor de participar en el I Congreso Internacional para Profesionales de la Educación Bilingüe organizado por Magister y celebrado en su sede de la Plaza S. Martín en Madrid. El encuentro contaba con el profesor Stephen Krashen como ponente plenario, y aglutinaba un buen número de propuestas desde los diferentes ámbitos y niveles educativos.


En esta ocasión compartí con los asistentes mis reflexiones e investigación acerca del concepto de ‘éxito’ en la enseñanza bilingüe. No cabe duda de que ya hemos pasado la primera fase de la implantación de proyectos bilingües en España, y que ahora afloran muchas publicaciones intentando demostrar si estas propuestas han sido o no eficaces. En este post voy a intentar resumir algunas de las ideas que comenté en la charla, y os adjunto la presentación PowerPoint que utilicé, por si fuera de vuestro interés. Let’s go!

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To be or not to be? Enseñanza bilingüe en Educación Infantil

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La implantación de los programas bilingües en España se ha centrado generalmente en la etapa de la educación primaria. Sin embargo, muchos docentes reclamaban que la inmersión se adelantara a la educación infantil, cuando los niños y niñas están más receptivos al aprendizaje de lenguas adicionales y están comenzando a desarrollar sus destrezas lectoescritoras. El pasado 28 de octubre la Consejería de Educación de la Comunidad de Madrid anunció su intención de implantar la enseñanza bilingüe en centros públicos de educación infantil en la etapa de 3 a 6 años. En este post os cuento cómo se presentó el proyecto, mi opinión sobre esta iniciativa y más. Let’s go!

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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!


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The English Teachers Association of Andalusia announces the celebration of its XXVII Curso Anual para la Enseñanza del Inglés (GRETA Annual Conference), which will take place at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, University of Granada on 17th, 18thand 19th of  October 2013.

The contents of our sessions will be organised in four main lines of work:

  • ·        Developing students skills successfully in the XXI Century: Practical examples of effective teaching and classroom management, use of new technologies and task based learning.
  • ·         Pragmatic proposals for the Infant, Primary and Secondary Classroom.
  • ·         English for Specific Purposes in Vocational Training Courses.
  • ·         CLIL Methodology in Bilingual Programmes, ELT and Content teaching, tailor-made courses for specific teacher training needs.

Registration is now open and available here:

2nd day at the Bilingual Campus: Cognition

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Tuesday, 2nd July was devoted to Cognition at the Bilingual Campus. The morning sessions started with Majda Knezic (Edelvives Training Coordinator) who presented a talk entitled ” Cooperative Learning in the Thinking Classroom”.  In her contribution she highlighted the usefulness of implementing cooperative learning in the CLIL classrooms as an opportunity “to produce knowledge rather than merely reproduce it”. To do so, she talked about the difference between cooperative learning and group work (Cooperative learning is not just taking students to work in groups!), and on the characteristics of good cooperative learning. Also, she tackled with the sometimes difficult question of assessing cooperative work by saying that “the group as well as each individual should be assessed”.

Cooperative Learning in CLIL
Cooperative Learning in CLIL
Majda's session
Majda’s session
Cooperative learning
Cooperative learning
Majda's session 1
Majda’s session 1

Morning sessions include a short break at midday so that our participants can have a coffee, tea or orange juice, and enjoy the wonderful views from the balcony of our brand new CRAE (the Educational Resources Centre)

Breakfast with a view
Breakfast with a view

The second morning session was held by Viridiana Barban, Director of National Center for Teaching Thinking in Spain (NCTT). In her talk, “Teaching Thinking – Why and How?”, Viridiana focused on the need to “infuse” thinking work in our classes. She talked about TBL, understood as Thinking-Based Learning, and how this can be developed in a series of layers, from pure knowledge to metacognition. In her view, we should go deeper in using thinking skills, as many of us are using activities which just let the students explore their thinking in a very superficial level. For example, just by making students comparing two objects, we are not fostering the thinking skills appropriately, the students need to reflect on why are they comparing, the variables implied, which differences or similarities are more relevant, etc. In other words, they should reflect on how they have cope with that ‘thinking task’.

During the afternoon, prof. Matthew Johnson, a colleague of mine, was in charge of Brain Games, a session where participants had to show their logical skills at the same time they were having fun with English in a natural context. After that, we all travelled to Ireland for a while, as we visited Whelans Irish Pub in Alcalá de Henares, our town, where our Language Assistants, James and Ana, had prepared a wonderful “Pub Quiz”. All teams performed wonderfully, and the session ended up with an Irish traditional music concert which had been prepared for us by a group of young musicians. We were proud to see our LA, James, play the violin and the piano in the concert.

James and Ana - Pub Quiz
James and Ana – Pub Quiz
Concert at the Pub
Concert at the Pub

Let’s see what comes from the third day at the Campus.

3rd Bilingual Campus

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Since 2006, I have been organising Summer Courses related to Bilingual Education and CLIL. It is my belief that teachers need to find time and places to share experiences and find out new resources and ideas for their lessons, and we, as teacher trainers, should provide them with these opportunities. As school schedules are too tight, we need to wait for the Summer holidays to  offer this courses which are targeted to Infant, Primary and Secondary teachers.

3 Bilingual Campus
3 Bilingual Campus

In 2011 I decided to give a major shift to the Summer course format, and invented what I called “Bilingual Campus”. My main idea was to have a practical course, full with workshops and hands-on activities, and with a specific section on language improvement, carried out in the afternoons. In 2013 we are proud to host the third edition, this time directed and organised by my colleagues Prof. Matthew Johnson and Prof. Josué Llull, and in collaboration with the publishing house Edelvives.


The 3rd edition will be running from 1st July to 4th July. The person in charge of the plenary was prof. Linda Gerena (York University, NYC). She has presented the findings from a research carried out thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, and in collaboration with the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Even though hers is a small-scale research, it was interesting to know

3 Bilingual Campus - Prof. Linda Gerena
3 Bilingual Campus – Prof. Linda Gerena

that the secondary students participating found that Bilingual Education was worth the effort, and asserted that they were not afraid of using English. This is a significant gap if we compare it with previous generations, which will run away just on thinking about how to answer a simple question in English.

Prof. Gerena has also talked about the main ‘ingredients’ of the CLIL salad. She has gone through Multiple Intelligences, Thinking Skills, Scaffolding and Resourceful materials, to name such a few. These are items we can put inside our teaching ‘toolbox’ and use in our classes, but we need to provide teachers with them first. In my opinion, it is also necessary to have the tools to know when and where to apply one or another, which is not always easy.

Next session was run by Prof. Jesús Aguado, one of my colleagues at the University. He is a Doctor in Theoretical Physics, and it is always a pleasure to see him work. In an entertaining session full of resources

3 Bilingual Campus - Prof. Jesús Aguado
3 Bilingual Campus – Prof. Jesús Aguado

and good humour, he has put forward the idea of ‘every place is a lab’ and ‘every person is a scientist’. Following a CLIL scheme, he has put Science down from the pedestal, and has given us many ideas to teach Science with hands-on experiences we can all bring to our lessons.

The afternoon session was a mystery tour around our town, Alcalá de Henares, a historical place full of hidden places. My colleagues Josué Llull, Ana Reina, James Crichlow and Matt Johnson had prepared a wonderful itinerary to discover the most beautiful places in our town. Participants have had the chance to meet historical characters 🙂 and

had to solve riddles to know where the next stop was, until they finally reached the famous façade of the historical Universidad de Alcalá. The tour has been really nice and enjoyable, and I’m sure the participants have learnt a lot about Alcalá, its places and famous people.

Mystery Tour 3Bilingual Campus
Mystery Tour 3Bilingual Campus

Let’s see what happens tomorrow!

3 Bilingual Campus - Univ. Alcalá
3 Bilingual Campus – Univ. Alcalá

Seminar: Learning through a foreign language

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We are working towards Synergy in CLIL
We are working towards Synergy in CLIL

On 21st and 22nd February, the University of Alcalá hosted a seminar entitled “Learning through a foreign language”, organised by the British Council in collaboration with the University and the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.  People responsible for educational policies in different regions in Spain, inspectors, teachers, coordinators of Bilingual Projects at different levels, and University representatives were invited to participate in this initiative. It was a pleasure for me to receive the invitation from the organiser. I would really want to thank the British Council and the University of Alcalá for their kind invitation, as this was a great opportunity to exchange views on educational policies regarding bilingual education, both at a micro- and macro- level.

Although I was unable to attend the Seminar on 21st, I very much enjoyed attending the sessions on Friday, representing the University College where I work, Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros. These sessions were conducted by Prof. David Lasagabaster (Basque Country University), and Prof. Ana Halbach (University of Alcalá). It is my purpose to briefly comment on these two sessions and the main ideas I took with me from them.

The first idea I would like to put forward is one Prof. Lasagabaster highlighted in his session and afterwards in the round table time. It is true that teachers are very much obsessed with the “triumph” of bilingual education, and this will take time. If we think about how English was taught twenty years ago, we can affirm that this subject was considered a doss subject. Classes were teacher-centred and devoted to the learning of grammar and sets of vocabulary without any contextualisation. The result was that students were able to pass the subject without opening their mouths. Pay a visit to a bilingual school now and you will see that things have changed a lot and, obviously, they will change even more if an effort is made to push this opportunity of changing education a little bit further. Even so, this is a long-term process, and it will take time.

A second issue I will be mentioning is related to teacher training needs. Prof. Halbach was asked about the biggest need of teachers who are train to become bilingual teachers in Spain. She mentioned “Planning” as the most evident need. I agree with her up to a point, as a consider that a difference should be made between Primary Teachers and Secondary Teachers. Until now, Secondary teachers could well be teaching in a High-School without having to take any subject related to teaching during their university studies. Things are different for Infant and Primary teachers, who have many subjects regarding this issue during their studies. Even so, I agree with prof. Halbach on the need of providing with better training regarding CLIL planning (which is not necessarily what students are receiving in most universities). The integration of language in their teaching plans, and their training on scaffolding techniques is absolutely essential to reach these goals.

All in all, it is great news that institutions working on bilingual education are hosting debates like this, which offers us the opportunity to share what we are doing, and to work together in the same direction. As it was said during the Seminar, we should create the kind of SYNERGY we need to improve education standards in our country, and bilingual education has open a door for us to seize the chance.