teacher education

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!

4th Day at the Bilingual Campus

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We finished our Bilingual Campus with a day on Culture (or Community or Citizenship, depending on the authors :)). We started the morning sessions with Edward Marks, from Building English Language School (Madrid), who gave a talk entitled “Art, Culture and Language Learning”. His motto for this session was: Your classroom is a canvas; your classroom is your world. And during the session he presented English as a ‘land’ full with possibilities, as this image show.

English is full with possibilities
English is full with possibilities

His was a very practical, dynamic and interactive session full with ideas to make the most of a work of art using TPR, Theatre, Music and Science as the main elements. Participants enjoyed putting his ideas into practice, and considered that his crosscurricular perspective of teaching was really interesting. Even though he admitted that his teaching conditions are very different from the ones a Primary teacher may have, as he is running a Language School, he also highlighted the idea of the teacher as an active ‘player’ in class which helps students think and speak as much as possible.

Edward Marks
Edward Marks

The second morning session was run by prof. Josue Llull, one of my colleagues, and the wisest person I have ever known 🙂 He works in the field of Social Sciences, and this time he concentrated on Heritage Education. In his talk he emphasized how important heritage is, and how heritage is linked to affection and respect. For this reason, heritage education should be included in Infant and Primary Education. He believes that teachers can introduce activities and projects working on Heritage Education in their classrooms, but that they can also benefit from the many resources which are available on the Internet. In fact, he presented some nice ideas from the Kids’ Council of the National Trust in England , and an experience he has conducted with University Students using a blog. Finally, he invited us to use his blog to find out more ideas and practical resources.

Josué Llull
Josué Llull

After Josue’s session, it was time for the farewell party. Josue and Matthew thanked all the people involved in the organisation of the event, our Student Helpers, Rebeca and Alberto, the Campus Secretary, Rocío, our Assistant teachers, James and Ana, and of course! they thanked all people participating for their enthusiasm and active role during the sessions. Then, they shared out the Course Certificates (Congrats to all of you!), and the American BBQ party was started (we joined Americans in their 4th July celebrations!).

American BBQ
American BBQ

We hope this was a nice experience for everybody, and see you next time, hopefully in the 4th Edition of our Bilingual Campus!

3rd day at the Bilingual Campus – Communication

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Our 3rd day at the Bilingual Campus was devoted to Communication. We started the morning sessions with Sheena Mitchell (Macmillan ELT Trainer) who presented a workshop entitled “Skills for CLIL”. Sheena went through four main skills she believes CLIL teachers should have and CLIL students should acquire and develop; these are a) activating prior knowledge; b) go for more cognitive language; c) work on more academic and subject-specific language; and finally d) metacognition (learning to learn). To put these areas into practice we worked with several techniques and resources, such as the KWL charts, mindmaps, etc.

Making questions with Sheena
Making questions with Sheena

From her session, I highlighted two main ideas. The first one is that CALP is a very important issue in the CLIL classroom, and it is very important to integrate it. We cannot teach the lesson as if our students were native English speakers and then stop the lesson to revise a language point, which may be disconnected from what they are doing. It is extremely important to support input and output so that students can develop their CALP while learning the content.

The second important thing I took from Sheena’s session is questions. It is very important to make the appropriate questions and I’m not just thinking about the teacher as the question-maker, students should learn to make appropriate questions. I loved how Sheena connected this idea to thinking skills, and talked about skinny questions and fat questions, based on Dale and Tanner’s proposal.

From a more practical point of view, she brought some interesting resources in the class. We learned how to use hulla hoops to make ven diagrams, how to make the most of wordwalls and eva foam :). Also, she shared how to make youtube work without having those disturbing ads around. Just by typing the word “quiet” after www. in the browser, these will disappear.

The second session of the day was conducted by my colleague, Matthew Johnson. His session was focused on Scaffolding input and output. What I loved most of Matthew’s session is that he not only talked about main issues concerning CLIL but put them into practice while explaining them. This is something I miss much in seminars. Many experts talk about how student-centred teaching-learning is very important, but they do it using a teacher-centred, lecture-based session!

Matthew's session
Matthew’s session

Matthew talked about the concept of scaffolding, how teachers may conceptualise it in very different ways, and how we can implement it in class. To do so, participants’ voices were heard and considered. After this, we reflected on why texts may be considered difficult in the CLIL classroom and we discovered that the difficult thing is really the task, not the text. Then, Matthew gave a wide range of ideas to work with texts in the classroom, activating schemata, and enhancing students’ comprehension. The session was so active and interesting that participants didn’t want to stop (even if it was lunch time!)

CLIL teachers scaffolding
CLIL teachers scaffolding
CLIL teachers scaffolding a text
CLIL teachers scaffolding a text
CLIL teachers creating a poster
CLIL teachers creating a poster
CLIL teachers enjoying presentations
CLIL teachers enjoying presentations

In the afternoon, participants had the chance to meet Joseph Parkin (Edelvives Phonics Trainer) presenting a talk on Pronunciation, and they also participated in an interactive Theatre play entitled “A tribute to Catherine of Aragon and the Fallen at Flodden Fleid”, conducted by Soirée Creations.

And today… let’s go for CULTURE!

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

III Foro Nebrija

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Last Thursday the 3rd edition of the Nebrija Foro was held in Madrid. This one-day seminar aims to provide participants with the opportunity of listening to CLIL experts and/or practitioners, and get to know trendy topics and shared concerns. I would like to share some of the conclusions I drew from the sessions I attended.

First, in my view, there is a huge concern about the ‘digital component’ in education and, more specifically,

Digital tools in Bilingual Education seem to be a major concern
Digital tools in Bilingual Education seem to be a major concern

in CLIL. Almost all sessions mentioned the key role digital tools can play to develop cognition, interaction, collaborative work, etc. I admit I’m also exploring this, as I’m now getting training on the use of different digital tools in education, but I also think that we should be cautious: it is not the tool we use, it is what we do with it. Using Twitter in my lessons won’t make my students use their HOTS (High Order Thinking Skills) automatically. Hence, the tricky point here is not digital tools but PLANNING. If we train teachers how to plan effectively, they will make the most of any resource (digital or not). In any case, it is true that new generations are digital-native, and we should find ways to learn ‘the language’ they feel more comfortable with 😉

Second, there is a progressive tendency to replace Culture (one of the four Cs put forward by Coyle) with Community (which was proposed by Mehisto, Marsh and Frigols (2008). This does not come as a surprise, taking into account what I have mentioned in the paragraph above. That is, the word ‘community’ is linked to the digital world everywhere. Also, I guess that Culture may be a misleading concept for practitioners: “is it the Culture of the English-speaking cultures?” “my culture?” This is a clear shift towards ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)

Third, believe it or not, I gather that there isn’t consensus about what CLIL is. I still consider that there are many experts talking about EFL or ESL and labeling this as CLIL (and this is not so!). In one of the talks, CLIL was defined as “the term for the European version of bilingual education”. In my opinion, this is not a fair definition. First, Teaching in a Foreign/Second Language is not necessarily CLIL. There are ‘bad’ bilingual practices, and CLIL tries to make the most of bilingual education. Second, I really think that there isn’t a unique European version as such, many models coexist, and this is not CLIL all the time.

The following point I’d like to make is a warning note on the ‘search for’ recipes to implement CLIL. Even if I agree on the need to establish common ground so that not everything is labelled as CLIL, I also see that some people try to ‘sell’ ‘the CLIL didactic sequence’, and this can be a disaster if it is applied literally to any classroom. In fact, sticking to a foreseeable structure will spoil the ‘variety’ factor CLIL plays with. The student should be constantly challenged and engaged.

And last, but not least, some Bilingual Projects are in urgent need of an integrated curriculum encompassing integrated objectives and a major shift in the English language subjects. It is paradoxical that CLIL content teachers are applying innovative techniques and strategies whereas EFL teachers are still dealing with the present perfect with the same group in the next hour! Literacy should be included in the English Language Curriculum, as the projects set by the British Council/Ministry of Education have been doing for many years now.

Nebrija Foro Bilingual Education
Nebrija Foro Bilingual Education

Regarding the more practical workshops, I believe that some work should be done to provide Primary Teachers with tools to support their students’ reading comprehension. Some tips I can think of is to use colours for keywords, add pictures to reinforce understanding, and show alternative terms for a concept or idea. We shouldn’t forget that there are less able students that need to have clear scaffolding when dealing with texts.

Once again, this Foro is a great opportunity to meet people, exchange ideas and experiences and start up new projects with colleagues from other institutions. I’d like to thank the organisers for this wonderful opportunity to talk about Bilingual Education and CLIL.

Images have been obtained from: http://actualidadnebrija.com/2013/06/28/educacion-bilingue-estrategias-y-nuevos-retos/

BEDA Prize

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The federation of Spanish Catholic Schools in Madrid, together with Macmillan, and Cambridge ESOL celebrated its Bilingual English Development and Assessment (BEDA) Annual Contest last week. The contest accepted articles dealing with educational experiences carried out in Bilingual educational centres of any level. My contribution, entitled “Identified CLIL in every day practice: an experience with teacher trainees”, was awarded with a BEDA PRIZE. I’m really thankful for this recognition to my work and effort.

Due to the nature of this experience, this prize is has not only be awarded to a specific activity, but also to the teaching-learning model we are implementing in our teacher training degrees at the Centro Universitario Cardenal Cisneros (former Escuela Universitaria). It is our belief that good CLIL teaching-learning should start from training University lecturers appropriately. This naturally takes time, money and effort, but no good-quality teaching can be guaranteed if lecturers have not been trained to find their way to CLIL. Another key component of our Bilingual Project is that we are pioneers in implementing CLIL as our methodological approach. Students are not only told about CLIL (as the awarded experience explains), but also are helped to identify CLIL components, and later to work with them. This helps them find their way to CLIL from practice. As Benjamin Franklin said:

Tell me, and I will forget
Show me, and I will remember
Involve me, and I will learn.

You can access the full version of the awarded experience here.

Cardenal Cisneros Bilingual Campus (3rd edition)

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Dear all,

A Summer course on CLIL
A Summer course on CLIL

I’m enclosing information about the 3rd Cardenal Cisneros Bilingual Campus to be held from 1st to 4th July, 2013.  It’s been a pleasure for me to launch the first and second editions, and this time prof. Dr. Josué Llull and prof. Matthew Johnson are in charge of this great new edition, together with the publishing house Edelvives.

The Campus is an ideal opportunity to refresh your teaching and perfect your English without moving from Spain. It is a 4-day course with CLIL-specific training provided by 10 different CLIL experts and trainers. It offers integral training on Content, Cognition, Communication and Culture, with an emphasis on a cross-curricular approach. As a novelty, this year we offer a special social and cultural programme in the afternoons. As a guest speaker, we are proud to welcome Dr. Linda Gerena, from the City University of New Work.

This is also a great opportunity to show the new logo of our University College, which has been presented to celebrate its 40-year anniversary (available in the leaflet attached).

If you would like to register or have more information on this proposal, please click here. Remember that there are limited posts