Using Literacy and ICT to Implement CLIL with Infants, and the Role Families Can Play When Guided by Teachers
Introduction: The importance of teaching literacy skills when implementing CLIL in early years
Ever since CLIL was first defined (“The term Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) was originally defined in 1994, and launched in 1996 by UNICOM, University of Jyväskylä and the European Platform for Dutch Education, to describe educational methods where ‘subjects are taught through a foreign language with dual-focussed aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language” 1) and in all subsequent definitions, there has always been a systematic description of CLIL as an approach that integrates language and content learning.
Hence, the philosophy of CLIL lies in the teaching of both language and content to obtain successful results. “In CLIL the learning of language and other subjects is mixed in one way or another. This means that in the class there are two main aims, one related to the subject, topic, or theme, and one linked to the language.” (Marsh, D, 2000: 6). And in consequence these two aims should always be taken into account regardless of the age of the class in which CLIL is taking place.
CLIL presupposes, therefore, the need to establish the objectives to be achieved and the approach to be adopted when teaching content and also language. This is the reason why in CLIL, even when implemented in early years, it is crucial to address the teaching of the target language in all its forms (listening, speaking, reading, writing and communicating) simultaneously and from the very beginning, as it is usually at this level that children’s first contact with the target language and the written form takes place. Moreover, although most pupils starting school have had contact with print through stories read by members of their family, or by simply having watched adults reading any type of information from different sources, it is at school that this association between written form and oral language is to be consolidated.
Teaching both, oral and written forms of language, at the same time will help pupils eventually to be able to tackle all type of information related to the contents taught. In addition, these skills will be useful for the rest of the child’s life. Furthermore, working on pre-literacy and literacy skills will particularly help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to catch up and make progress.
CLIL and the target language in early years
The question is: how can CLIL teachers approach the teaching of the target language in early years? Oral and written languages are just two variants of the same thing and both need to be addressed synchronously. However, while oral language can be picked up quite naturally at these ages, written language needs to be taught in a more formal way, and for CLIL teachers this is sometimes easier said than accomplished.
One of the first premises when teaching any language to very young children should always be to enable them to understand the interconnection between oral and written forms. This can be done by using different types of texts in the classroom, such as stories, fiction and fact books, news, magazines, notes, letters, lists, e-mails, lyrics of songs, rhymes, etc., indeed anything that is meaningful to the children and which is also embedded in the non-linguistic contents taught at the time. The teacher should read the texts aloud using their finger or a pointer to convey the meaning that print carries. Teachers should also, and frequently, write slowly and in a place that can be seen easily, some of the things that are said in the classroom and which need to be remembered for different purposes. Eventually, pupils will be able to dictate to the teacher what they want to put in writing. Through guided writing, pupils will be capable to produce simple written texts in due course, like the title of a book, the name of the characters of a story, lists of materials, short notes, letters, e-mails, etc. Playing with both the oral and written forms of language and swapping from one to another will help pupils to realise that both forms are connected. Children need to understand that print is a means of communication and also that reading and writing are useful and intentional activities.
Reading is the process of decoding and understanding, and both aspects need to be approached at the same time to obtain successful readers, since one cannot work without the other. Learning to decode can sometimes be hard, particularly for CLIL students, if teachers lack the skills to handle it appropriately. For that reason it is very helpful to introduce a phonics programme. The use of a synthetic method will give the CLIL teacher a structure to follow in their everyday practice in a more systematic way. The fact that the author of this article supports the teaching of phonics at this age is because one aspect of language learning, learning letters together with blending and segmenting sounds, takes place in the early years. Learning phonics can be enjoyable if approached with the right methodology. Besides, it is good for CLIL students as it helps them to become aware of sounds which might not exist in their mother tongue and makes children hear, concentrate and reproduce them. In an infant’s CLIL lesson, phonics should become part of the class routine for up to 10 minutes a day, and always taking into account that it should be delivered through activities and games that young pupils can enjoy, allowing for all types of learners and their own pace of progress.
However, teachers should not expect phonics to be a magic potion which solves the teaching of reading and writing. Being able to read and write means much more than decoding or segmenting sounds. It has to do with understanding the meaning of the text we are reading and the author’s purpose. That is why learning phonics will not work on its own, as decoding is just an important part of a much more complex process. Phonics enables the student to map out letters and their sounds and thus be able to decode or segment words, which is essential when learning to read and write but which needs to be reinforced with other activities as well as the development of positive attitudes towards the language.
Reading and writing is like a spinning process which enriches the learner day by day through the different experiences offered in the languages spoken at school and at home. Coordination with tutors and families is also essential in CLIL since many of the skills that children need to achieve are common in both target language and mother tongue. This is one of the reasons why team work is crucial in CLIL.
Class activities with regard to Literacy
The contents to be taught in early years are based on the development of children’s autonomy and a positive attitude to learning. It is obvious that learning at this level is a blend of authentic content and target language learning which should be approached in the most “natural way” possible. That is why it is difficult to be specific about activities that can be done in early years with regard to language as most of them will be embedded in the content lesson.
Although most early years’ activities should be played-based and designed to benefit all types of learners, teachers need to bear in mind that pupils should be offered a mixture of free and guided play. Children need to have opportunities to play in what interests them but also to work under more formal conditions, following instructions given by the teacher.
To develop fine and gross motor manipulative skills in relation to Literacy, children should be allowed and encouraged to:
To develop a positive attitude towards Literacy, children should be allowed and encouraged to:
To foster a positive attitude towards the target language in all its forms, children should be allowed and encouraged to think by themselves, to make mistakes and to be aware of their own process of learning.
Information and Communication Technology
I.C.T. stands for Information and communication technology, and the first thing to be clear about is that it is not just about computers. Nowadays there is ICT everywhere and children of all ages need to see how different ICT tools are used in the classroom. On the other hand, schools` equipment and budgets vary a lot, and it is important to point out that there are many ways of embedding ICT across all areas of learning in a creative way without just using computers, interactive whiteboards or pc-tables, which are, no doubt, very interesting and useful, but not the only tools to be used.
In schools, there are usually many ICT tools that can be used to achieve the objectives of a CLIL lesson. The important thing about these instruments is that they must be simple to use and with very simple instructions to follow, so that children can manipulate them by themselves. They must also be within the context of their everyday experience.
Young children will love to use traditional tape recorders which will allow them to hear their own voice when producing sounds, words, rhymes or songs in the target language, as well as to become familiar with microphones and buttons to press. Tape recorders give pupils instant feedback and can be used without too much adult help, thus fostering children’s autonomy and consequently self-esteem.
Digital cameras are also a useful device as they capture the sequence of any activity done in the classroom or outdoors. This helps children to remember and review any experience. Photos are always nice to keep in albums, or to make posters, wall displays and so on.
Filming the children doing oral presentations, role play, singing songs, reciting poems or rhymes can be very helpful in our everyday practice. Children should get used to being recorded and also to watch themselves on film and observe their own practice and others´. Self and peer-assessment, when well guided, can be of great benefit to develop most of the key competences on the students as well as to become more aware of their own process of learning and personal progress.
Web cameras can be used to record any activity and to play it back instantaneously. They can also be used to do a videoconference with students from any part of the world. However, perhaps the easiest and most motivating thing to start with could be a videoconference with a group of students of a similar age in their own school.
The use of the internet and websites in the target language is highly recommended. Families can also be asked to watch DVD’s or programmes on TV at home in the target language when possible. Children will get used to the sounds of other languages and their listening and understanding skills can be extended.
Finally, E-books, CD´s, CD-roms are also materials of great benefit to CLIL students. Being able to listen to a story in the target language, a song, or playing a game as many times as they wish, will develop their listening and understanding skills.
The role families should have and how to guide them to support their children’s learning
The positive impact that support from families can have on their children’s education is well known. In recent decades, school authorities have agreed on the fact that it is obvious that parents need to take a more active role within the school. However, this might seem more difficult in CLIL schools when most families do not speak the target language. In this case, parents feel that they do not have the skills to support their children, which might also have a negative impact on kids of this age. Schools and CLIL teachers have a crucial role in engaging parents, and there are different ways to achieve this goal.
One of the basic needs is to keep parents informed about the specific aspects of a CLIL approach. This can be done through meetings, interviews, letters and information on the website of the school, school magazines, etc. Parents need to be aware of what the school is offering and what it is expected from the children and their families.
CLIL teachers, on the other hand, need to explain to parents how to help their children in the most appropriate way. This might start by teachers inviting them to school and allowing them to observe and be part of the lessons, which will give families an idea of the way CLIL lessons are developed in early years.
One way of engaging parents in their children’s learning process is by involving both parties in a task to be done as team work. To do this, the author of this article has designed a physical support called “Travelling Portfolio”. This device was created in the framework of a research in which one of the main objectives was to confirm the validity of families´ help and support of young CLIL students in their process of learning. The research was carried out during the academic year 2006-07 in the Atalía School which has delivered an Integrated Curriculum Spanish-English since 1996, as a unique experiment within the Spanish State Education System. The research included, amongst other issues, the using of the “Travelling Portfolio” with a group of twenty one students between four and five years old who would start their Primary Education in the next year and were already in their third year of their Infant Education. There was also a control group to compare the results.
The “Travelling Portfolio” consisted of a folder which was personalised by the children and used as a link between home and school. Every Friday the “Travelling Portfolio” travelled home with an activity to be done, based on the contents worked on during the week. Inside, there was also a letter written in the first language to parents in which the teacher gave information to carry out the activity. The pupils had the rest of the information based on the explanation given to them, in the target language, and the work done in class during the week. The “Travelling Portfolio” was to be brought back on Mondays with the mission accomplished. Every Monday, after going through the activities, they were kept on a box as they were something precious that needed to be treated with care.
Before starting with the activities, and during the academic year, several meetings and personal interviews were held, in order to inform the families of the experimental group about our aims and the way they should cooperate with the school. Families were first asked about their knowledge of the target language, in our case English, and it was confirmed that all of them could only communicate in their mother tongue, in our case Spanish. Parents also filled in questionnaires which allowed us to obtain information about whether they had access to the internet at home, DVD player, access to digital television or school material that the children could use.
The next step was to inform them about the academic objectives their children needed to reach, as well as to explain the methodology used in class and how we intended to achieve these objectives. Families were invited to visit the school and assist to some lessons. In some cases lessons would be filmed by the parents who had the time to visit the school and then copies of the DVD’s were distributed amongst the rest. According to the families children loved watching the lessons recorded over and over again, which meant a constant revision of some of the contents worked in the school.
Families were guided on the use of different ICT tools which develop children’s literacy skills regardless of the knowledge parents had of the target language. Examples of these tools were the use of websites that children were already familiar with because they had accessed them at school or the use of CD-roms, E-books, or books with a CD. Those families who did not have access to the internet at home were informed about where they could get free access, like public libraries or in the afterschool clubs. The school provided children with a CD with all the songs learnt in class to be played at home, in the car, etc. Families were also encouraged to play DVD’s or to use digital television for children to watch, when possible, programmes in the target language which extended their listening and understanding skills.
The activities to be done at the weekend were designed in a way that made children use their knowledge of both target language and their mother tongue. In some cases, children were asked to teach their parents a song they have learnt in class and they all needed to sing it together and record it. In other cases pupils were asked to visit a website they had previously accessed in the school to show their parents how it worked or to perform a specific task. Sometimes students had to teach their parents about the sounds that specific letters make and were supposed to test their parents on the accuracy of their pronunciation. At other times parents needed to hear the sound of a letter made by their children and then write it on the child’s back. It was for the student to decide if the dad or mum was writing the correct letter. There was also focus on content and there were activities like ordering sequences of stories or traditional fairy tales with very basic captions, while the families had the right order or were already familiar with the story. Also classifying food into different categories like: healthy and not healthy; sweet and salty; liquid or solid, hot or cold. Children had to name the food items in English to teach their parents the names in the target language while parents advised, when necessary whether the food should be classified into one category or the other. At other times children needed to choose from a wide collection and decide what clothes they would need to wear for winter. In all cases the philosophy of these activities was always based on the cooperation between the child and their family.
Tasks were sent weekly and these are just a few examples. In all cases, parents were always sent a letter to guide them in the support of their child. The “Travelling Portfolio” has been a great help and an opportunity to foster family learning. It has been very well accepted, which shows that families are usually willing to help and to learn if given the chance.
At the end of the year and as part of the research a summative assessment was delivered to both groups of students. The assessment consisted of different activities that the children had to perform on their own as well as questionnaires for the teachers and the families assessing attitudes towards learning and towards the target language, which are also objectives to be reached by pupils of these ages.
The results of every student have been classified in three bands of attainment, following the system used in the school and according to the Guidelines edited by the British Council and the Spanish Ministry of Education. The bands are organised as follows:
Band 1: from 2.50 to 3.00 (advanced students)
The results reveal that the students belonging to the experimental group who have had strong and guided support from their families obtain better marks than the pupils belonging to the control group, in all the different areas of learning.
On the other hand, both students and families from the former group have confirmed that their attitudes and expectations towards the target language and CLIL education in general are now much more positive and optimistic than they were before.
In conclusion, it can be confirmed that families respond well to the school demands when they have the precise support and that this affects the academic results of the students.
Bilingual Project MECD/British Council (eds): 2004, Pedagogical Guidelines for the Infant Stage of the Official Integrated Curriculum BOE May 2002.
Conde Morencia, G.: 2002, Desarrollo del Portfolio Europeo en España, Mosaico.9, 8 -13.
Marsh, D (Ed): 2002, CLIL/EMILE- The European Dimensions: Actions, Trends and Foresight Potential. Public Services Contract DG EAC: European Comission.
Marsh, D.: 2000, Using Languages to Learn and Learning to Use Languages. An Introduction to CLIL for Parents and Young People, TIE-CLIL, Available at http://www.tieclil.org/html/products/products_E.html
Marsh, D. and Langé G. (eds.): 1999, Learning with Languages 1999, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä.
Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia: 1993, Escribir y Leer. Materiales curriculares para la enseñanza y el aprendizaje del lenguaje escrito, de tres a ocho años. Volúmenes I, II y III. MEC y Edelvives.