Immersion? Content-based? Communicative Language Teaching? Or all – or none – of the above? Introducing CLIL into Australian teachers' professional learning

Year: 2012

Author: Cross, Russell

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In recognition that languages are critical for Australia's future, education systems have begun to engage with radical strategies to address long-standing problems of student attrition and poor outcomes (e.g., The Victorian Government's Vision for Languages Education 2012-2025 (DEECD, 2012)). “Content and language Integrated learning” (CLIL) is one approach to Languages education with potentially significant rewards for language gains and student engagement and retention if well implemented (Mehisto et al. 2008). A dual focused educational approach where additional languages are used to teach curriculum content (e.g., teaching Science through Italian), there is a significant body of international literature demonstrating CLIL's positive contribution to first language development, second language learning, and students' knowledge and skills across the curriculum, including higher-order thinking (Alberta Ministry of Ed. 2010; Lasagabaster & Sierra 2009; Dalton-Puffer 2008; Mehisto et al. 2008; Baker 2006; Wesche 2002).

CLIL's success lies in its framework for fostering conditions for language acquisition similar to those evident within the highly successful Canadian immersion approach (Coyle 2008). For this reason, CLIL has been especially popular for supporting the European Commission's Languages Framework, given the variability of school systems within the EU (Marsh 2002). For the same reason, however, there is also considerable variation in how CLIL can be realised in practice (e.g., the variation in CLIL programs in the EU; Marsh 2002). This has led to confusion and inconsistency in understandings about CLIL's fundamental concepts with teachers unfamiliar with the underlying pedagogical framework, as some CLIL practices appear superficially similar to teachers familiar with other language teaching approaches (Lasagabaster 2012).

In Australia, in particular, a lack of existing CLIL teacher education amongst teachers has resulted in misunderstandings about fundamental CLIL concepts, and their implications for practice. Through interviews (n=10) focusing on changes in teacher knowledge about CLIL with in-service Language teachers undertaking postgraduate professional learning in CLIL Pedagogy, this paper identifies some understandings and misunderstandings Languages teachers in Victorian schools have about the CLIL approach. With an interview at the start of the program focusing on teachers' background understanding of CLIL pedagogy, followed by a post-course interview on key concepts the teachers had noticed in applying CLIL ideas to a unit of work developed within the course, the paper presents implications for professional development and learning for introducing CLIL to Australian Languages teachers and the local education system.