Amanda McLoughlin is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer who specialises in CLIL Methodology. In this interview we find out how Amanda became so interested in CLIL and learn more about the contexts where a CLIL approach can be beneficial.
Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you have come to be a CLIL expert?
That’s a great question to start with, actually! I was offered a job teaching in a primary school in about 2008 in which, along with some other teachers, we set up and ran an immersion week for each class. So each class in the school would spend a week doing their lessons in English instead of in their first language, Spanish. I taught geography, natural science and art and craft and I worked on the program for about 5 years. A friend was organising a conference at this time and asked me if I would speak about CLIL, so I did a bit of background reading and find out about the theory behind it. At that time, CLIL was pretty new. Most people in the teaching world didn’t even know what it was, to be honest! So I began to present regularly at conferences, read more, got more experience in the classroom and so on. A few years later a publisher approached me to write materials for primary science books and since then I have been steadily involved in the materials writing side of things too, initially in Spain, and more recently for other places too. From there I was approached by various people to deliver teacher training for CLIL teachers, including observing and mentoring primary teachers across Spain, from which I have learned a great deal about what goes on in a CLIL classroom, what works, and what doesn’t and why.
Why do you believe that training in CLIL methodology is so important these days?
As I said above, I’ve been working in various roles in the world of CLIL in Spain for some years now. Like many countries, Spain jumped into offering CLIL classes in schools without pre-training the teachers, and, inevitably, ran into some pretty big problems fairly quickly! Admittedly nobody really knew much about CLIL then, and throwing teachers into the classroom with no specific training is similar to throwing a child who can’t swim straight into the swimming pool and hoping they learn quickly. What I mean by this is that in many cases, teachers learned good methodology because they had to. But there were also some pretty big failures too! The government realised that training was needed and began to invest heavily in training the teachers. Having worked with many teachers in Spain and around the world, they generally find that although they might have been doing an acceptable job of teaching before training, training was key to making sure that they were doing the best possible job they could for each and every student in their classrooms.
How would you describe the IH Introduction to Teaching CLIL course to a potential course participant?
I would say that this course starts right from the very beginning, so it is suitable for teachers with lots of CLIL experience but also for teachers with little or no experience, or even language teachers who are curious to find out more about what their CLIL colleagues are doing in their classrooms. It is a practical course with lots of real-life examples too, so not just lots of theory but also examples of how to put the theory into practice in a variety of contexts. Teachers completing the course will feel more confident in planning, delivering and assessing their lessons and will have a more solid understanding of what the theory that backs up the practice is. So they will not only be able to plan and deliver excellent CLIL lessons, but will be able to explain and justify their choices of tasks and activities too. The course presents theories such as task sequencing, or writing lesson objectives and assessment criteria. Teachers will learn how to analyse tasks and activities for linguistic complexity and will learn techniques for scaffolding language, procedures and content. All of these will help teachers develop their teaching knowledge and skills to become more efficient and more competent both in and outside the classroom.
Who can benefit from taking the CLIL course?
As I said above, clearly the course benefits teachers who are already working in a CLIL context. I believe that even experienced CLIL teachers will take something away from this course. Certainly less-experienced CLIL teachers, and teachers who are completely new to CLIL will benefit greatly from the course. I also believe that language teachers can benefit from the course as it gives a valuable insight as to what happens in a CLIL lesson. Language teachers will learn about the linguistic skills and 21st century skills CLIL students need for their CLIL lessons and will be better placed to be able to support their CLIL colleagues by developing these skills in the language classroom too. Language teachers in after-school academies can also find out more about what their students are doing in their lessons at school. This will help them understand which areas of the language they may need more help with and which they are already getting lots of input and practice with. And finally non-CLIL subject teachers can also benefit from the course as it presents a new way to approach teaching subject-content which is student-centred and includes active learning methodologies. Both of these are not just requirements of a good CLIL lesson nowadays, but requirements of any lesson!
In what different contexts could teachers use the skills they will learn on the course?
When we talk about CLIL, we tend to think of teachers teaching in schools. So state teachers or private school teachers teaching subjects through a language which is not the mother tongue of the learners. We think of teachers teaching the national curriculum. We call this ‘hard CLIL’ and the course is definitely aimed at teachers in this teaching context. But I got into CLIL through a slightly different route. I was teaching on an immersion program where the students spent only one week of each school year studying subjects in English. This is known as ‘soft CLIL’. Soft CLIL also refers to any teaching where the focus is not on the language, but on the understanding of concepts presented through a second or other language. So a language teacher who sometimes does projects with their students or subject teachers who decide to cover one unit or topic in another language, would also be considered ‘soft CLIL’. Any of these teachers would also benefit from the course, and the course is designed to cater to them too. So whatever type of CLIL you are doing (or thinking of doing), this course has something for you!
What are the most challenging aspects of teaching CLIL classes?
This depends a lot on the context any given teacher is working in. For a state school teacher, it may be dealing with mixed ability classes or large class sizes. For a language teacher it may be understanding how to present abstract concepts clearly so that learners can understand them, and for a subject teacher it may be identifying the language their learners will struggle with and providing sufficient scaffolding to help them communicate their understanding through the language of instruction.
Are there any recent developments in CLIL have you noticed or feel are significant?
I think for me the most important recent development is the spread of CLIL around the world. When I first started working in CLIL as a teacher, materials writer and teacher trainer, very few countries had implemented state-wide CLIL programmes. Today more and more countries are adopting CLIL in mainstream education, which means that more and more teachers around the world are affected by it, either directly or indirectly. For me, this is overwhelmingly a positive development, although, inevitably, it will create new challenges for trainers and materials writers like me (and for the teachers who are at the chalkface too, of course!)
Find out more about the new OTTI course starting on 6th November 2021 'IH Introduction to Teaching CLIL'.