That was the buzzword at work in the run up to the holidays. New books were being evaluated and chosen for their CLIL-oriented content, syllabi were being re-written, seminars and workshops were being held and discussions were being had all focusing on this ‘new’ idea (I know it’s been around as a concept in the ELT world for a while of course but it’s new as far as the management goes).
Behind which magic window does the key to teaching English lie? Image by loungerie
Which is all very well except I couldn’t help get the feeling that I had been through this all before: critical thinking; blended learning; Cambridge YLE tests; portfolios; Common European Framework; communicative language teaching - these were all buzzwords (or buzzphrases) in years gone past. We had gone through the same process with them of re-evaluating all the yearly plans and curricula or chucking everything out and then starting again.
But that’s not really what happened now, is it?. All of the books we have used over the years have claimed to fit right in with the latest trends from coursebooks with built-in self-assessment pages and suggested portfolio tasks, or little ‘Cambridge YLE Practice’ stars next to activities, or ‘values’ and ‘real-life connections’ boxes tagged onto the bottom of pages. However, in truth, they were all very similar following a grammar-based syllabus with units themed around fixed vocabulary. As for the classes themselves, there wasn’t much change either. Everything revolved around exams before any changes were made and it still did afterwards. Portfolios were brought in but only focused on written work and just became a way to store the project work that was done before anyway. Speaking activities were much the same standard controlled affairs before and after CLT was the buzzword. Critical thinking was simply equated to end of unit reviews and even then often ignored…
Or, to quote a different song to the one in the title of this post:
(Note: double-necked guitars on display in both those clips - cool!)
And I can’t help but feel CLIL will be more of the same. The books that have been chosen to help with the ‘revamped’ skills programme are from the Longman Cornerstone series. The books themselves look decent enough but we are expected to cover them in just two hours a week when the teacher’s guide recommends at least three times as much!
(As a little aside, this is where dogme ELT really does stand out as something different for me - almost every other concept or idea like all those listed above, is easily incorporated into the existing mass-produced material/coursebook-driven system, where as dogme, by its very definition, rejects that… It’ll never catch on! )
So what will happen? Instead of exploring themes arising from the book, relating it to the students’ lives and going off on those tangents that can be so rich and really bring a lesson (and learning) to life, teachers will be ‘covering the ground’ as quickly as they can. Topics to focus on and others to skip will be decided on the basis of what will be featured in the exam. Any questions, tasks and quiet moments intended for critical thinking and reflection will be glossed over with a generic ‘ok, everybody got that?’
All of which means, the problems we face now of (some) students being unable to speak beyond short broken sentences or switching off because there’s just too much being covered too quickly will continue. Teaching to the test will be more rife than ever. Most lessons, whether we like it or not, will be teacher-centred. In short, I doubt it will be much like CLIL is supposed to be at all.
There were many discussions and meetings about how to cope with the demands of the new programme but I am never satisfied with those. The things that end up being agreed on often only succeed in making the situation more restrictive as ‘policies’ and ‘standard approaches’ are enforced. Personally, I always resist such restrictions. Suffering under the weight of material to be covered and then policies and guidelines to be followed, all I can think is ‘I Want to Break Free’. After all, we all, as teachers, travel to the beat of a Different Drum.
A nice quote accompanied this photo on flckr: “We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon” (Konrad Adenauer) - Image by Norma Desmond
In an ideal world, moments of great creativity can arise when we are placed under severe restrictions and have to improvise to get the job done. In reality, we often just try to crowbar in whatever we can (like someone trying to squeeze song titles and references into a blog post ). I hope I can achieve the former rather than the latter next year.
All teachers are different, all classes are different and each individual student is different. The sooner we realise that and give the time and space for our learners to grow, the better.