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!

What’s the role of English in Higher Education?

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What’s the role of English in Higher Education? This was the main topic of an event which took place in Segovia (Spain) last week, as reported by the University World News. The British Council, in collaboration with the IE University organised this international meeting where universities from different countries worldwide and experts from the British Council and the European Commission were involved. The key issue of the meeting was to discuss the implications of offering English courses and programmes at university and to reflect on the quality of this academic offer.

It is no surprise that most universities are pursuing EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) programmes as a way to increase their reputation. EMI programmes attract international students to their institutions, and improve undergraduates’ profiles to match the needs of an increasingly demanding labour market. According to the UWN article, many institutions are aware of the need to implement the ‘mother tongue + 2’ objective set by the European Commission, and consider EMI programmes to be an opportunity of improving the quality of university teaching. However, there is still much debate on how this can be achieved in a short period of time.

From my point of view, we are mixing two ideas. One is that English should become ‘a lingua franca’, and the second is that English should become THE language of higher education. In my opinion, all university students should be helped and trained to have a good command of English, as this will help them not only in their professional but also everyday lives. That said, the way we are going to improve students’ communication skills in English is another debate, however I don’t consider a completely monolingual programme to be a valid option. It is not how often you teach in English, it is how well you do it, and here we deal with the issue of methodology. Is EMI good just because we are delivering subjects in the English language? Are all EMI programmes successful? I’m afraid not.

Will English become the lingua franca in HE?
Will English become the lingua franca in HE?

From the meeting held in Segovia, issues were raised on two main areaspolicy implications for successful delivery of EMI courses, and “practical implications of EMI: methodology, quality and assessment’. In the first session, participants raised awareness on the danger of launching EMI programmes without prior training and preparation. Obviously, many institutions want to rush to offer the same academic degrees their counterparts are implementing, but organising a good EMI programme means a minimum training period of 1 year, according to my own experience. Also, participants mentioned the need to embed administrative and academic structures to support EMI projects. This is essential, as the EMI programme is a University academic proposal, in which everybody is involved in some way or another.

Regarding the second session, on the practical implications of EMI. Participants considered that this could be a ‘tool for improving the quality of teaching’. I couldn’t agree more. I consider that pedagogy has been disregarded in Higher Education Institutions. Many lecturers are leading experts in their fields of specialisation, but don’t know how to create knowledge in their classrooms. If we help these people to communicate more effectively, to work on higher-order thinking skills, to scaffold their input, etc, we are going to get better, long-term and more effective learning. Also, they will be provided with a set of teaching tools which are easily transferable to their classes taught in their mother tongue.

Another issue raised in the second session was the difficulty of establishing shared policies regarding language testing, and the need to compensate EMI teachers for this extra work they are doing. Bilingual projects in Spain have chosen Cambridge ESOL and Trinity Exams to assess students’ performance in terms of language competence. However, this is making many academic programmes suffer from the so-called washback effect. Besides that, I wonder what would happen if we measured the success of EMI programmes in terms of the 4Cs proposed by Do Coyle: Cognition, Content, Communication and Culture. Language performance is just a leg of EMI programmes.

All in all, I’m confident about the work Universities are doing to provide students with better instruction in or through English. The main issue that should be raised is that everything starts with the training provided to teachers. If head departments are happy just checking the English competence of their lecturers, EMI programmes will not be making the most of this opportunity of improving teaching-learning quality in Higher Education.

If you are interested in knowing more about how  our CLIL teacher training degrees are organised, please visit this link.

Note: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ http://www.freedigitalphotos.net.


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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: http://www.gretaassociation.org/web/guest/curso-anual-2013

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.

II Jornadas Internacionales de Lenguas Modernas (cancelled)

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Just a quick note to let you know that the II Jornadas Internacionales de Lenguas Modernas have been cancelled. I have just received an e-mail from the Organisation apologizing for this last-minute decision.

II Jornadas Internacionales de Lenguas Modernas

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On 21st and 22nd April, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid will be hosting a Seminar on Modern Languages organised together with the “Colegio Profesional de Lenguas Modernas”.

The programme offers the chance to attend sessions about the teaching of different languages such as: English, French, and Italian, and covers a wide range of topics and debate issues.

I’ll be participating on Saturday with a one-hour session on literacy in the bilingual classroom. The session has been organised thanks to University of Dayton Publishing (Grupo SM). My main aim is to raise awareness of the need to make a shift in our conceptualization of literacy in the classroom, and to provide participants with the opportunity to experience some practical activities ready to be used in their Primary Education lessons.

If you’re interested in attending this Seminar, registration is still open. You can find more information here.


Conclusions from TESOL-Spain Convention (Bilbao 2012)

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 Back to teaching again after a fruitful TESOL-Spain Convention. Congratulations on the perfect organisation of the event! It is always very difficult to organise a big event as this is, and TESOL-Spain Convention board always makes everything very easy. Even unexpected situations were dealt with sucessfully!

As always, I have met many teachers involved in the essential task of improving education. I doubt whether other professions will be ready to spend a whole weekend sharing their ideas and getting involved in reflecting together. It is rewarding to see that we are “rowing” the education boat in the same direction, but contributing to it with many different experiences.

It is in Conventions like this when you feel you are part of a Community of Passionate Teachers who are committed to sharing their views, giving their opinions, asking questions out loud, and responding with their ideas. It is essential to consider this meetings as a chance to improve our students’ learning. If you remain isolated from the rest of the teaching community, it will be much more difficult to progress (and much more boring!).

Last, but not least, I’d like to thank University of Dayton Publishing for giving me the chance to come back to TESOL-Spain. I enjoyed meeting the UDP team and hope to collaborate with them in the future! TESOL-Spain, see you next year in Seville!