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Language Assessment in CLIL

Language Assessment in CLIL

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Language Learning Journal, Summer 2006, No
Appropriate language assessment incontent and language integratedlearning
Carol Morgan
University of Bath
This article describes a smaii-scale research project in two schoolsusing content and language integrated learning (CLiL), cne Englishand one Austrian, where in both cases there had been considerablemisgivings about appropriate forms of assessment to match thedifferent kinds of language skill developed in the CLIL process.Teachers were interviewed, possible assessment instrumentsreviewed and a set of draft benchmarks drawn up. The CLIL approachinvolves using a foreign language (often English in mainland Europe)as a
for teaching a range of curriculum subjects as well as asubject in its own right.
Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) atthe moment stands outside mainstream forms ofteaching and learning in England. However, it is afruitful area to research for several reasons:it has become popular in mainland Europe as ameans of improving FL competence andincreasing pupil motivation (Masih, 1999; Wode,
Grenfell, 2002);it promotes particular learning skills;it was recommended by the Nuffield Foundation2000 in their inquiry as one way of motivatingstudents in the current situation of declininginterest in MFL in England. This decline has beenwell documented in the press (falls in A levelnumbers, university entrants and teachertrainees).One aspect of
initiatives everywhere which hasproved problematic is assessment, and at this timeMFL assessment in general is being challenged by anew framework of recommended guidelines forlearning, teaching and assessment issued by theCouncil of Europe (2001), and by new suggestionsfrom the government with its Key Stage 3Framework 'language learning ladder' (DfES,2003).
Subjects taught through the foreign languagemedium include history, geography and biology.Other terms for this kind of teaching and learninginclude 'immersion' (Johnson and Swain, 1997),'bilingual' (Baker, 2001) and 'modem languagesacross the curriculum' (Grenfell, 2002).CLIL teaching may take place in a strand within aschool (often called 'section bilingue' or 'bilingualsection') or in a whole bilingual school initiative.There are differences, however, between CLILteaching in mainland Europe and in England. Inmainland Europe the teaching of English as a foreignlanguage is extremely popular and often a statutorypart of the curriculum in primary and secondaryschools. Bilingual or CLIL initiatives are alsocommon in some European countries (see Grenfell,2002). In England there were some bilingual sectioninitiatives in the 1970s and 1980s which were part ofan enhanced interest in language awareness (Perren& Hawkins, 1978; Hawkins, 1988). However, in thecurrent context of declining interest in MFL(Chambers, 1999; Stables and Wikeley, 1999;Nuffield Foundation, 2000), there are only a fewinitiatives in England, mostly in private schools,although in Wales, Welsh-medium schools areflourishing (Giles-Jones, 1994; Nuffield Foundation,
Coyle, 2002).The CLIL context tries to recreate a bilingualexperience for the pupil, even if only for a shortperiod of time, which replicates some of theadvantages ofthe bilingual home (Cummins, 1984).Cummins' underlying proficiency hypothesissuggests that mother tongue (LI) and secondlanguage (L2) proficiency can be developed bothsimultaneously and beneficially (1984). Histhresholds level hypothesis also suggests thatbenefits occur, providing a certain threshold has beenreached, resulting in 'balanced bilinguals' (Cummins
Baker, 2001). The theorist Krashen (1982),although subsequently criticised (Mitchell andMyles, 1998; Brown, 2000), advanced the notion of
"The CLILcontext tries torecreate abilingualexperience forthe pupil
Address forcorrespondence:
Carol MorganDepartment of EducationUniversity of BathBath
Summer 2006
"Currently mostCLIL initiativesrely onstandardnationalsystems ofassessmentbecause thereare usually nospecific testsor syllabusesto cater for aCLILapproach."
foreign language acquisition through continuousexposure to FL 'comprehensible input'. A CLILcontext is ideally suited to providing this kind ofinput.This approach to teaching a foreign language, byusing it as a medium, has been hailed by many ashighly effective (Cook, 1992; Dornyei, 1995;Johnson and Swain, 1997; Peltzer-Karpf and Zangl,1997;Nuffield Foundation, 2000; Baker, 2001;Bialystok, 2002). These researchers claim that theapproach results in improved metalinguistic skills,better mental flexibility, better fluency andinteractive skills, better strategic skills and a betterrange of vocabulary. However, although there hasbeen corroboration of these claims, there is littleevidence of work with CLIL teachers themselves toinvestigate their views of the nature of these skillsand their ways of assessing them.The benefits of CLIL teaching are not entirelyseparate from mainstream FL teaching, particularlywhere the latter is carried out with a high level oftarget language use. A CLIL approach can thus helpto improve general FL skills, including: the ability tomaster language collocations (Ellis, 2001; Nation,2001);and initiative and independence (identified aslacking by OFSTED, Dobson, 1998). The ongoingneed for pupils in a CLIL context to use the foreignlanguage frequently also helps to provide manyopportunities to practise (Naiman
et al,
1978;Dornyei, 1995) and should help to counteract thehigh level of 'forgetting' language items noted byMitchell and Dickson (1997). There are, too, moregeneral leaming benefits to be derived from a CLILapproach. Greene
et al
(1999) outline a range offunctional strategic skills in a general learningcontext where there is a 'move from an automatic toa deliberate level of analysis and action' (p. 145).These skills include seeking connections betweenideas, taking multiple perspectives and takingresponsibility for leaming, all of which have beenidentified as key skills developed in a CLIL context(Baker, 2001). A secondary school needs to preparestudents for life beyond school in today'semployment market, where it is necessary to 'multiskill and to use skills in a variety of contexts'(Brown, 2000; see also Handy, 1995 and 1999). Thismulti-skilling is also one of the demands made on theCLIL learner.
CLIL and assessment
There is, however, some problem with CLIL andassessment. Currently most CLIL initiatives rely onstandard national systems of assessment becausethere are usually no specific tests or syllabuses tocater for a CLIL approach. Here the concem is not somuch the assessment of the subjects taught throughthe foreign language (although this can beproblematic too), but rather the improved languageskills acquired by the leamer. Writers and researchershave commented on this difficulty. Cook (1992)remarks on the lack of an adequate syllabus formulti-competent L2 leamers. Umbel
et al
(1992) callfor new kinds of tests for bilingual pupils: 'Asyllabus that does not take the particular nature of L2users into account will be inadequate ... Newinstruments will have to be devised ... in order toassess total lexical knowledge in bilingual children'
1019). Rea-Dickens and Gardner (2000) challengecurrent assessment procedures for bilingual(immigrant) pupils: 'should we expeet significantlydifferent pattems of assessment in contexts wherepupils are working with a language of instmction thatis a second or
third language to them, and ... should[there] be a separately identifiable literature(research and praxis) from that currently availablefor language education?'
239). Even in the area ofcommunicative and strategic competence, which arekey benefits of a CLIL approach, there is a lack ofappropriate measurement. Read (2000) suggests that'the assessment of communication strategies, and ofstrategic competence generally, is an underdevelopedarea of study' (p. 71).There is then a general vagueness about how CLILassessment might be robustly constructed. Marsh,Maljaers and Hartiala (2001), in their overview ofCLIL praetice in European schools, provide apositive gloss on assessment (within what they terman 'environmental dimension') by citinginternational qualifications (the InternationalBaccalaureate, Alliance Franpaise and Goethe-Institut), but without referring to the real tensionsthat may exist between a system able to reflect newskills aequired and one which is compatible withnational qualifieations. In Grenfell's (2002) editedcollection of analyses and reports on different CLILinitiatives, where there is some mention ofdifficulties in assessment (Coonan, 2002: 110; Perez-Vidal, 2002: 126;
2002: 85), there is no realanalysis of
to evaluate the qualitatively differentlanguage skills which can result from a CLILlearning experience. The difficulties identifiedmerely point to the problem of deciding whether toassess content or language. There is recognition ofthe need for change (Wolff 2002: 85) but fewconcrete suggestions as to how this might beoperationalised. Coonan (2002: 110) mentions theCouncil of Europe Framework of Reference (dealtwith in more detail below) suggesting that this is'suitable for the specific characteristics of CLILleaming' but does not specify what thesecharacteristics are, nor how the new Couneil ofEurope suggestions will cater for them.One way forward in thinking about assessment inCLIL or bilingual contexts is a more detailedconsideration of the particular language skillsacquired in these eontexts, and in the projectundertaken this was a main focus with informationbeing gleaned from the teachers involved in this kindof teaching, followed up by eonsideration ofassessment systems.
A small-scale research project was carried out in twoschools currently using a bilingual or CLIL approach(the Vienna Bilingual Schooling First Middle Sehool(VBS) and the Bolitho School in Penzance) during
Language Leaming Journal
which was funded by the Society forEducational Studies. I had already establishedcontact with both schools, working with them in anadvisory capacity since the inception of theirbilingual teaching programmes (the VBS in 1994 andthe Bolitho School in 1997). In addition,
carried outan official evaluation of the VBS for the AustrianMinistry of Education 1998-2000. The remit ofthenew project was to explore with the teachers in thetwo schools the identification of the particularlanguage skills acquired by pupils in a bilingualteaching setting and to consider possible assessmentprogrammes which could accommodate anappropriate measurement of these skills.It became evident from the research in the twoschools that the question of assessment had differentramifications in the Austrian and English contexts.Although choosing appropriate assessmentprogrammes was problematic in both cases, theeducational contexts imposed different constraints.In England the National Curriculum is bothproscriptive and prescriptive and any lowersecondary assessment system needs to align withNational Curriculum descriptors. In Austria,although there is a national curriculum, there is farmore flexibility and more possibility of exploringradically different assessment programmes,although, of course, there are strong traditions ofassessment that teachers will be familiar with andperhaps wish to adhere to.The two schools are briefly described below. Boththese schools can be seen as pioneers in their owncontexts: the VBS being the first middle school in theAustrian capital to offer a curriculum taught half inEnglish and half in German; and the Bolitho Schoolleading the way by offering a comprehensive CLILprogramme from Year 3 to Year 13 with 30% ofthecurriculum taught through the medium of French.Also in both schools there was a real interest in theprofessional development of the bilingual sectionteachers, with HE input in terms of training days,courses and consultations. Therefore, the views ofthe teachers in schools on both bilingual skills andpossible assessment systems were likely to be useful.
The Vienna Bilingual Schooling First MiddleSchool
In this state school catering for pupils from eight totwelve, the 28 staff included, at the time of theresearch, eight native English speakers who taughtalongside subject teachers and took other lessons bythemselves. 40% of the curriculum was taughtthrough the medium of English. The students in theschool are local German-speaking Austrians andinternational students with a variety of languagesincluding many English speakers. The aim is to havean equal mix of languages in the classroom,
room and materials used. Most staff are competentusers of both languages. Interest in FL learning ishigh in Austria with all primary school childrenlearning English. At the time of the research therewere six bilingual middle schools and six bilingualprimary schools in the state sector in Vienna.In Austria there is no external national
examination until age eighteen (the Matura) and thenational curriculum lays down only broad guidelines.However, amongst the teaching community itselfthere are known, fixed, shared assessment criteriawhich are respected. The Austrian teachers who workin the school, some of whom also work part-time inother Viennese schools, are used to particularlyAustrian forms of language assessment from theirown schooling and their own teaching contexts.These take the form of classroom-administeredwriting tests (Klassenarbeiten) for a fixed number oftimes a term (varying according to age-level), whereeach pupil is assessed on a 'marks-off-for-inaccuracies' basis. Parents and adults inenvironments outside the school will be familiar withthese traditional methods and they therefore carryconsiderable credibility. These traditional criteria canbe seen as having a negative basis and thereforecontrast with some of the more positive methodssuggested by the teachers and available in otherpossible assessment systems. In the evaluation oftheschool that I carried out (1998-2001) for the AustrianMinistry of Education, current methods were deemedto be inappropriate for the CLIL context in theschool, and the main recommendation was that newsystems of assessment should be investigated.
The Bolitho School
In the Bolitho School in Cornwall, 30% of thecurriculum is taught through the medium of French.The school currently runs its bilingual programmefrom Year 3 (aged 7-8) with students taking theirlower secondary (GCSE) French examination earlyin Year 10 (ages 14-15). Pupils are taught history andgeography through the medium of French, usingnative French speaker teachers. One of the teachersat the time of the research was trained on the specialBILD-PGCE course for bilingual subject teachers atNottingham University. All pupils in Year 4 wereable to opt for bilingual section teaching. Thereafter,about 50% of pupils were planned for the bilingualsection. The school was able to institute theircomprehensive CLIL programme, incorporatingprimary and secondary levels, because of the statusof the school as an independent school whichincorporates all school phases.Assessments in the bilingual section are based ontexts that the teachers have written themselves, usingtranslations of history and geography GCSE textsand materials from France for teaching French as asecond language. Students return to the 'normal'GCSE subject courses taught in English in Year 9 andtake these subject examinations in English. In thisschool, then, the assessment for the subjects taughtthrough the medium of French is well catered for.The improved quality of learnt French in thebilingual sections is catered for to some extent byearlier examination entry, but for internal purposesthere was some dissatisfaction that the MFL NationalCurriculum criteria did not adequately accommodatethe skills acquired by pupils in their CLILprogramme. A recent inspection had also commentedon the need for the school to consider a robustframework of benchmarks for French, since the work
"In England theNationalCurriculum isbothproscriptiveandprescriptiveand any lowersecondaryassessmentsystem needsto align withNationalCurriculumdescriptors."

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