Mis warm-ups favoritos para empezar las clases de/en inglés

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Feliz Pascua a todos. Hace unas semanas lancé una encuesta a través de mi Twitter @raquelffdez para que me sugirierais el tema del siguiente post. El elegido fue ‘Warm-ups’, y aquí lo tenéis. Saber empezar una clase en inglés es clave, y más todavía si la clase precedente se ha impartido en otro idioma, ya que hay que ayudar a los estudiantes a cambiar el ‘chip’. Estas actividades cortas que se realizan al inicio pueden ser también una buena oportunidad para repasar la clase anterior, motivar y enganchar a los alumnos en actividades significativas. Prohibido empezar la clase con un ‘Open the page… in your books”. Let’s go!


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Nuevo libro sobre CLIL: Planning for CLIL

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Codescarga-2n mucha ilusión y orgullo os hago llegar la noticia de la publicación del libro “Planning for CLIL:
Designing effective lessons for the bilingual classroom”, que he escrito con mis compañeros Josué Llull, Matthew Johnson y Eva Peñafiel. El libro, publicado por la editorial CCS y disponible en librerias físicas y digitales, pretende ser una guía práctica para el profesor que se inicia en la enseñanza bilingüe y CLIL. A continuación os cuento los contenidos del libro.


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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: https://blogthenewcenturyschool.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/nigel-holmes-graphic.jpg

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!

1st Meeting of Educational Teams

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On 29th May, our University will be hosting the 1st Meeting of Educational Teams. The central idea is that we are living in a society which moves very fast and requires of educational centres to change and adapt constantly.  Therefore, Head Departments of Educational Centres need to be flexible and creative to cope with these circumstances, looking at obstacles as if they were opportunities. In this context, this meeting aims to provide participats with the opportunity to think and reflect about the ways we can take advantage of educational change to keep on advancing in Education.

The Meeting is open to Head Departments and Teachers working at any educational level, and it will be held using Spanish as the vehicular language. It will run from 9 to 14.30.

Registration is free, but you need to book a place by sending an email to info@cardenalcisneros.es with the subject: I Encuentro de Equipos Educativos de Organizaciones que Aprenden. In this email you need to indicate your complete name and Identity Card Number.

If you need more information, you can access it here


1st Meeting of Educational Teams at Cardenal Cisneros University College. Photo: Communication Service CUCC


My experience with rubrics: all that glitters is not gold

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When I first heard of rubrics, I was thrilled to bits. Assessing students’ work is not my cup of tea, and I always found it difficult to provide students with enough feedback to justify my mark and to guide them to improve their work. Working with rubrics looked the perfect solution for this situation, and I started to use them with enthusiasm. I was a Practicum tutor, and I thought it was a good idea to use rubrics. I defined 30 items as assessment criteria and checked Practicum reports following it. It was hard work at the beginning, but once I knew what I was looking for in my students’ work, it became sort of automatic to mark their works. Once this assessment process was finished, I found out that most of my students didn’t come to my office to collect their works, hence, they didn’t have access to the wonderful rubrics I had written for them. Naturally, I thought that my assessment was better because I could justify the mark with detailed arguments, but I did not feel I was fulfilling the ‘formative feedback‘ I wanted to provide.

Using rubrics: pros and cons
Using rubrics: pros and cons

Once the new degrees (Bologna Plan) were implemented, it sounded natural to me to incorporate rubrics to my everyday practice. Every time I assigned a task, I included clear information about what I expected students to do (or be). I started using checklists, then went through assessment criteria classified into 5 levels according to the level of excellence, and finally I used level descriptors, explaining which outcomes belong to each mark for each assessment criteria. It took me a long time to find useful rubrics, and most of the time I had to adapt them or make them new from scratch. Even showing students rubrics in advance was not so effective as I thought, and many of them confessed they did not look at them when completing assignments.

My last stage in the use of rubrics has been somewhat ‘painful’. From the results I obtained using rubrics in different tasks, I realised that many students were obtaining passing grades, even when their work was not worth that mark. In other words, I considered that if I hadn’t used rubrics, students wouldn’t have had a pass. I discussed this with my colleagues. Some of them had stopped using rubrics, because they considered it was a waste of time (students don’t look at them, it takes longer to mark works and marks tend to be higher than they should; that’s what they told me); some others were adapting them to make them ‘fairer’ (or tougher). I then looked at my rubrics and discovered that I was giving 1 point out of 5 for an incorrect structure, or poor English. The trick was then to do some Maths and check whether works with poor learning outcomes could have a pass with that rubric, and Eureka!, I found out that many rubrics were making things too easy for my student. From a scale from 0 to 5, if you don’t have a 2,5, it is of no use to mark that work. You’re giving points for something which blatantly doesn’t meet the minimum requirements. 

Another issue is the one concerning the integration of content and language in rubrics. Most rubrics contain a section where the teacher can indicate if the students has a good level of English or shows good use of terminology. This ‘saves the day’ for most of us, but it is not a CLIL rubric. If we are integrating language in an appropriate way, we should be developing students’ language functions concerning the task in hand. For example, if we are working with experiments, and helping students to hypothesize, students should master hypothesizing structures such as: “It may…” “It’ll probably”, “It is possible that…”. A specific item in the assessment criteria should make reference to this type of language, and the learning outcomes concerning this. It is not just a matter of assessing, including this assessment criteria in the rubric means that we have integrated the learning of this language function in our lessons, and that students have had the opportunity to practise this language function inside (and/or outside) the classroom.

To sum up, my experience with rubrics is that of ‘constant learning‘, and I am now aware of many issues I have to take into account when designing a rubric (which I was not aware of before). All in all, I believe that rubrics are a great tool to assess students’ learning in a more appropriate way, and providing them with the feedback they need to do better next time.

What’s your experience with rubrics? Are you using them? 

New Postgraduate Course: Expert in CLIL – Virtual Learning

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After one hard year of work, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be co-directing a new postgraduate course: Expert in Content and Language Integrated Learning. This academic programme is focused on improving teachers’ profiles to cope with bilingual education contexts by using the CLIL pedagogical approach. The Course is on-line with 3 optional face-to-face sessions which will take place on Campus. It will run from February to June, and it is composed by 24 ECTS. Participants will take three compulsory subjects to establish the fundamentals of the teaching-learning process using CLIL, and they will have the chance to choose 3 optional subjects, which deal with topics such as Social Sciences, Arts, Science, Using Stories, Classroom Management, or Coordinating a Bilingual Project (this last subject will have a face-to-face module which will take place in Madrid).

Offering this postgraduate course is not a matter of chance, our University College has been training teachers to offer Bilingual Degrees for 10 years now, and I have been coordinating the methodological training of teachers from 2008. Also, lecturers participating in the Expert Teaching Staff are well experienced in the implementation of CLIL in their classrooms, and many of them are involved in research projects which revolve around bilingual education and CLIL.

 If you are interested in obtaining more information about this Postgraduate Course, you can visit our webpage (information in English will be available soon), and/or contact me via email: raquel.fernandez@cardenalcisneros. Thank you all in advance for spreading the word.

Cardenal Cisneros University College offers an Expert in CLIL Postgraduate Course - Campus
Cardenal Cisneros University College offers an Expert in CLIL Postgraduate Course. Source of Photo: http://www.cardenalcisneros.es


Wall of Fame- Selection of blogs

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Students' blogs
Students’ blogs

It’s been so hard to choose one single blog for the Wall of Fame, that I’ve had to pick up more than one this time. My students are doing a great job reflecting on the issues raised in the classroom. That’s the case of Eduardo Aguilar, he is good at selecting key points seen in class, but also at expanding them with more materials and resources. You can have a look at his blog here: http://belleslettresforchildren.blogspot.com.es/

One of the main topics these last two weeks has been POETRY. I consider that it is necessary to make a shift in the way we deal with poetry in class, so that children can find a way to enjoy it. Some students have been writing on this topic. For example, Nuria Márquez talks about the digital tool we are using to create a Poetry Book, Storybird. The main aims is to enhance their creative writing and to discover a digital tool they may like to use with their pupils in the future. You can see Nuria’s blog here: http://nuriatheexplorer.blogspot.com.es/

Rebeca has also been dealing with poetry in her blog, and she has linked the techniques and strategies seen in class with CLIL. We have also discovered that we can use poetry to make content lessons more dynamic, interactive and communicative.  You can see Rebeca’s blog here: http://wearewhatweread.blogspot.com.es/

If you would like to explore digital tools to create stories in class, Alberto Zapata knows best J. Visit his last post and you will get complete information about how to use digital tools to work with stories and creative writing:  http://theoasisofbooks.blogspot.com.es

If you would like to read more on the I Can Tell It workshop my students organised this week, you may like to visit Alberto’s blog and Leticia’s blog : http://whatsalbertothinking.blogspot.com.es/2013/11/i-can-tell-it.html   http://booksashooks.blogspot.com.es/2013/11/bilingual-theatre-aladdin-ict-project.html It is great to read about the contents of each workshop and how much they enjoyed the experience. 

Last, but not least, María has written an excellent post on Readers Theatre. She tells us about what we did in class, and she expands the information with useful videos and information on this drama activity. You can see her work here: http://letsblogliterature.blogspot.com.es/

If you’re visiting my students’ blogs, don’t hesitate to leave comments and participate actively in the activity. They will appreciate your comments and suggestions. Thanks for collaborating.