Language Learning through Tasks in a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Science Classroom 1 - PDF

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MAR PORTA VIÑA LINGUARUM ROUCO 11, enero 2009 Un notable antecedente del enfoque comunicativo en la enseñanza... pp Language Learning through Tasks in a Content and Language Integrated Learning
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MAR PORTA VIÑA LINGUARUM ROUCO 11, enero 2009 Un notable antecedente del enfoque comunicativo en la enseñanza... pp Language Learning through Tasks in a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Science Classroom 1 CRISTINA ESCOBAR URMENETA AND ANTONIO SÁNCHEZ SOLA Departament de Didàctica de la Llengua i la Literatura Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Received: 28 July 2007 / Accepted: 17 January 2008 ISSN: ABSTRACT: This paper presents the results of a pre-experimental study into language learning in inclusive Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) classrooms at secondary school, in which Science content was taught in English. The pedagogical experience lasted four weeks. The main pedagogical approach followed was the use of learning tasks carried out by students working in dyads. Through the use different indicators extensively employed in the field, the study attempts to measure the gains that students show in fluency and lexical repertoire in a pretest / treatment / post-test research design. The post-test demonstrated significant progress in the assessed indicators. The study also showed that improvements transcend purely formal linguistic aspects and that it is necessary to find other measurement tools which may help us to capture the extent of those improvements. The limited scope of the sample does not allow us to make strong claims about the suitability of pedagogical decisions adopted; however the outcomes encourage us to continue to explore how cooperation among students influences learning in CLIL classrooms. Key words: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), Foreign Language Learning, Inclusive Classroom, Science, Cooperation, Fluency, Lexical Repertoire, Semi- Immersion (SI), Tasks. Aprendizaje por tareas de lenguas extranjeras en la clase de ciencias a través del AICLE RESUMEN: Este trabajo presenta los resultados de un estudio pre-experimental sobre aprendizajes lingüísticos en aulas inclusivas de Aprendizaje Integrado de Contenidos y Lengua (AICLE) de secundaria, donde se impartieron contenidos de Ciencias Naturales (CN) en inglés, en una experiencia pedagógica de cuatro semanas de duración, cuya principal opción didáctica fue la realización de tareas en díadas de aprendices. El estudio tuvo como objetivo determinar los avances de los estudiantes en repertorio léxico y fluidez, mediante la utilización de diferentes indicadores ampliamente utilizados en estos ámbitos de investigación. Para ello se recurrió a un diseño del tipo pretest / tratamiento / posttest. El postest demostró progresos significativos en los indicadores 1 Our gratitude to the anonymous reviewers of our text, who helped us clarify obscure points and contributed to the improvement of the final text. Also our recognition to Ms. E. Moore for her linguistic support and to Dr. M.T. Escobar for her useful advice on statistical issues. 65 PORTA LINGUARUM Nº 11, enero 2009 evaluados. También puso en evidencia que el progreso transciende los aspectos puramente formales, y que se precisan medidas más mejor ajustadas, que puedan contribuir a capturar el alcance de dichos progresos. La extensión limitada de la muestra no nos permite formular conclusiones definitivas sobre la adecuación de las decisiones pedagógicas adoptadas; sin embargo los resultados nos animan a continuar explorando cómo la cooperación entre estudiantes influye sobre el aprendizaje en las aulas AICLE. Palabras clave: Aprendizaje integrado de contenidos y lengua (AICLE), Aprendizaje de lengua extranjera, Aula inclusiva, Ciencias Naturales, Cooperación, Fluidez, Repertorio léxico, Semi-inmersión (SI), Tareas. 1. INTRODUCTION The construction of European Union and the globalisation of information require that the education systems of member countries guarantee the training of citizens capable of functioning comfortably in more than one foreign language (Council of Europe, 1995). Complementing the teaching of foreign languages with the teaching of non-linguistic subjects using the foreign language as the vehicle in the classroom, that is learning in the foreign language, is one option gaining ground in our country in both social 2 and political spheres of education, as results of experimental programmes are made public. The process is advancing rapidly, and in Royal Decree 1513/2006, of 7 th December, in which the benchmarks for primary education were set, such practices, which were until now purely experimental, became official. In the study we present, which comes under the umbrella of the project entitled «Evaluation of collaborative tasks and the achievement of learning objectives in Science in Foreign Language CLIL classrooms 3» [ArtICLE], a series of investigations centred on a) determining the results of teaching-learning activities in terms of students progress in linguistic and curricular learning, and b) observing classroom practices in order to understand and improve teaching approaches in Catalan public schools. That is, in schools which do not select students on religious, economic or academic grounds, and in a context in which, at least, two languages coexist for day to day communication. The hypothesis from which the ArtICLE research projects depart is the following: Conversation between learners stemming from structured pedagogical tasks shapes a favourable environment for both academic and linguistic learning, in inclusive CLIL classrooms. With the aim of verifying (or refuting) this hypothesis, a task-based teaching sequence based on science curricular content was created. Consequently, the main requirement that the 2 For example, the promotion of curricular content through the means of English was incorporated as a «priority proposal» in the Strategic Accord signed by social forces business and workers unions and Catalonia s government, the Generalitat, in February, ArtICLE obtained public funding in the 2004 and 2005 calls for Educational Research and Innovation projects from AGAUR (ARIE and ARIE ). 66 CRISTINA ESCOBAR Y ANTONIO SÁNCHEZ Language Learning though Tasks... principle tasks in the sequence had to satisfy was that they were to be carried out by dyads of students working together. 2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 2.1. CLIL immersion and semi-immersion programmes CLIL Immersion and Semi-Immersion (SI) programmes which promote second language learning through non-linguistic 4 curricular areas are 5 endorsed by a long research tradition (Brinton et al., 1989; Cenoz et al., 2001; Crandall, 1992; Escobar & Unamuno, 2008; Gajo, 2001; Genesee, 1987; Genesee et al., 1986; Lantolf, 2000; Lüdi & Py, 2002; Mohan et al., 2001; Pérez Vidal, 1998; Swain & Lapkin, 1982; Siguan, coord, 1985; Unamuno, 2005; Vallcorba, 2005; Vila & Vila, coord, 1998). This abundant corpus suggests that the success of this approach depends on various factors, being quantitative greater and more intense contact with the target language cognitive, emotional, psycholinguistic and psychosocial. Some of the goals attributed to CLIL are (Escobar, 2001): 1. To introduce the real world into classrooms. 2. To promote the use of authentic texts and materials. 3. To open the classroom to different types of interaction by promoting the communication of authentic, meaningful information in which content is prioritised over form. 4. To favour the transfer of learning processes. 5. To encourage teachers not to take the comprehension of messages for granted, and therefore, to use of facilitating strategies that aid the comprehension of curricular content. 6. To facilitate contextualised metalinguistic reflection when obstacles to understanding and production arise. 7. To promote the practice of linguistic (comprehension, production and interaction in oral and written situations of use) and discursive abilities (description, argumentation, exposition, etc.). 8. To favour positive attitudes towards genuine plurilingualism. On the other hand, specific research into the learning of language and content, in inclusive classrooms, when the vehicular language is a foreign language with low availability in the learners environment, is in its beginnings and many questions remain unanswered. 4 The term «non-linguistic subjects» is clearly inaccurate as language is the most important medium for academic learning in any subject. However, the simplicity of the term has made it succeed in CLIL literature and it is currently used by researchers and practitioners alike. 5 CLIL programmes are also referred to as Content Based or Bilingual. This last term is clearly inappropriate in the context we are describing, as English is the third language of instruction. 67 PORTA LINGUARUM Nº 11, enero Interaction among equals Classic studies have highlighted the importance of discussion in pairs or small groups in learning in general and in foreign language learning in particular (Barnes & Todd, 1976; Fletcher, 1985; Griggs, 1997; Hoyles et al., 1990; Long, 1983; Mercer, 1995; Pica et al.,1996). Other more recent studies framed in the sociocultural tradition deal with the impact of activities carried out in pairs on the process of multilingual learning. In this research, the way in which verbal activities exemplify the relationships between linguistic learning and the process of socialisation, as well as the crucial role of verbal interaction in the acquisition of multilingual and academic competences, have been determined (Escobar, 2000, 2002; Gajo & Mondada, 2000; Masats & Unamuno, 2001; Mondada & Pekarek, 2001, 2004; Nussbaum, 1999; Nussbaum, Tusón & Unamuno, 2002; Nussbaum & Unamuno, 2000, 2001 & 2006) Tasks for language learning and CLIL ArtICLE adopted a task based approach, following the definition of «task» formulated by Skehan (1998), as it best fit the specific characteristics of the teaching of curricular content in a foreign language. Thus, it was concluded that the type of activities we required for a Science classroom had to comply with the four criteria described by Skehan in his definition of a «task»: Meaning is primary: This criterion is, per se, constitutive of a CLIL classroom, given that the point of departure in activity planning is the aims and academic content, and never a discreet linguistic form. 2. There is a goal which needs to be worked towards: each task designed should have a communicative and learning aim, easily identifiable for learners. 3. The activity is outcome-evaluated: This is the level of efficacy in the resolution of a particular problem, in the communication of a message to a peer or to the rest of the class, which determines the level of achievement in the task. 4. There is a real-world relationship: The relationship is double faceted. On the one hand, Science, as a subject, is an unavoidable reality in the school world. On the other hand, news and documentaries about climate change and rainforests as thermo-regulators are frequent in social means of communication and attract the attention of adolescents. Moreover, it was decided that the planning of the learning activities should be based on the following axes: (a) The design of the tasks would take into account the results of studies into task types (Barnes & Todd, 1976; Long & Porter, 1985; van Lier, 2004), but the final selection prioritised the criteria of relevance and adequacy for the needs and interests of students; (b) The linguistic aims of each activity would derive from the communicative, discursive and formal needs of the specific task; (c) Awareness-raising activities and/or controlled practice of lexical items would precede the carrying out of the task, and were to be called enabling tasks; (d) Self or co-evaluation activities would follow the completion of the task, with the aim of strengthening the learners awareness of the language used. And (e) The sequence was to include a variety of tasks, in spiral organisation, that would offer learners rich comprehensible CRISTINA ESCOBAR Y ANTONIO SÁNCHEZ Language Learning though Tasks... input and which would provide opportunities to use and reuse the language in meaningful production activities. 3. THE TEACHING SEQUENCE The result of the application of these pedagogical principles was the design of a teaching sequence (Escobar, 2008) organised in three task cycles made up of main tasks, enabling tasks and follow-up tasks (figure 1) 6. Fig. 1. Task Cycle Main task Attributed pedagogical value Task 1 Information swap about the Amazons between experts, using the jigsaw technique. Those attributed to the Cooperative learning pedagogical school (Kagan, 1995): active participation and cooperation between learners. Task 2 Enquiry-based problem solving activities: formulate a proposal for sustainable development of the Amazons. Learning through the resolution of problems promotes the use of higher order cognitive abilities (Sellwood, 1989). Task 3 Oral academic presentation in front of the class. Task aimed at the activation of students cognitive-linguistic abilities (Jorba, Gómez & Prat, 2000). It also acts as the official assessment task, which gives school meaning to all the work carried out throughout the sequence The materials The materials were designed collaboratively by university researchers and teacher researchers based on the tasks types specified in the research project. These materials may be retrieved from: Apart from the creation of materials for learners, a «road map» for experimenting teachers was produced, which aimed to guide and standardise teaching actions, and locate the specific moments for data collection on the timeline. 4. AIMS AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS Once the design of the sequence was finalised, the evaluative research project was planned and developed. The study aimed at assessing the global grade of efficacy of the sequence in promoting the simultaneous learning of language and science. As mentioned previously, in this paper we will concentrate exclusively on linguistic learning, and more specifically on the improvement in fluency and lexical repertoire. Fluency is usually identified as the area in which semi-immersion programmes offer the best results. For this reason, it was included as one the indicators to evaluate. As regards 6 For more information about the sequence, please refer to 69 PORTA LINGUARUM Nº 11, enero 2009 lexical repertoire, the acquisition of academic knowledge in a particular discipline is demonstrated by a certain discourse competence: one which nears the ways of speaking and writing specific to the discipline in question. Traditionally, this competence has been defined on lexical grounds. Communicative approaches, on the one hand, and socio-cultural theories of learning, on the other, situate the individual s communicative activity as the motor of their cognitive and socio-cultural activity. This implies that research should concentrate on the observation of the construction of knowledge in and through communicative action, while the individual is participating in concrete tasks with specific interlocutors and in concrete circumstances. From this perspective, whereas lexical complexity may be considered an indicator of competence, it might not be sufficient for capturing the complexity of learning (Lewis, 1993). In line with this perspective, we agree that the lexicon may not be a sufficient indicator of progress. Nevertheless, it may not be refuted that one of the main linguistic features characterising each area of academic knowledge is precisely its specific lexical repertoire. Therefore, the identification of improvements in lexical competences is a relevant research aim. Also, lexical repertoire has frequently been an undervalued linguistic competence in research into language learning, in favour of the acquisition of grammar (Laufer, 1986, 1991; Laufer & Nation, 1995; Meara, 1980). Concretely, the aim of this study is to determine the possible improvement in fluency and lexical repertoire of the participating students when dealing with academic content in Natural Sciences, without them receiving specific linguistic instruction. This aim may be spelled out in the following research questions: 1. Can improvements in students capacity to use specific lexical items in academic reading and production activities be determined? 2. Can advances in participants fluency when they express themselves be determined? 3. In the case that improvements in students competences are identified, do these have any sort of repercussion for their school grades? 5. METHODOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK 5.1. Classroom research ArtICLE fits into the field of classroom research (Allwright & Bailey, 1991). Therefore, it is a research project developed in the framework of the intact classroom, without random selection of subjects or a control group. This design offers the advantage of facilitating an approach with low levels of intrusiveness, and therefore, one that is ecological and ethical. The fact that it involves low levels of intrusiveness facilitates the acceptance of the experiment by school masters, as it does not interfere with the normal activities at the school. Data collection, furthermore, does not provoke rejection from the school community: teachers, families or students Measurement vs. Interpretation In language pedagogy, the contra-positioning of quantitative and qualitative paradigms, in relation to the predominant data treatment methods in a given investigation, is frequent (Camps, 70 CRISTINA ESCOBAR Y ANTONIO SÁNCHEZ Language Learning though Tasks ). Both paradigms are often presented, simply, as antagonistic and irreconcilable. We agree with Camps that the instruments to explore «the reality of teaching and learning languages may be diverse and complementary» (Camps, 2001:16, our translation). ArtICLE has produced a series of studies (Corredera, 2007; Escobar & Nussbaum, 2008) formulated from an ethnographic-interpretative approach which centre on processes, based on the qualitative treatment i.e. identification and categorisation of conversational sequences of qualitative data i.e. transcriptions. However, it also aspires to complement this type of research with quantitative research providing data about the quantity and type of learning attributable to the teaching sequence implemented A pre-experimental quantitative study The present research has been developed based on a pre-experimental 7 design of the type 0 X 0 (Brown, 1998; Hatch & Lazarton, 1991; Leedy, 1997, for example), or of pre-test treatment post-test, with statistical treatment of quantitative data. The possible threats to the generalisability of the results attributed to this type of design, which lacks random selection and a control group, are offset by the context, the nature of the research and the limited timeframe in which the experiment was carried out. Figure 2 summarises the threats pointed out by Hatch and Lazarton (1991) and explains the way in which their impact is minimised or annulled in the study we present. THREATS TO THE GENERALISABILITY OF PREEXPERIMENAL DESIGNS (Adapted from Hatch & Lazarton, 1991: 86) HISTORY The interference of educational actions, apart from that which is under study, may cause differences between the pre- and post-test. MATURATION Subjects may have matured between the preand post-test. MORTALITY Some of the subjects disappear throughout the study, which may affect results. Fig. 2. CONDITIONS IN THE STUDY WHICH ANNUL O OR CONSIDERABLY MINIMISE THE THREAT During the period of time that the experiment lasted, none of the participating groups studied the topic of rainforests in another subject. The four largest of the six participating groups did not receive any other instruction in English. The two remaining groups (the smallest in number of members) did not cover any of the linguistic content assessed in the experiment. The short time frame (one month) between the administration of the pre- and post-test limits the possibility of maturation. Carrying out the exper
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