A Long March with CLIL: An account of a three-year project to establish a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach to teaching art and design at a small progressive university in south

Introduction

 

The purpose of this project was to design and develop a learning resource aimed at enhancing industry specific language skills of art and design students, with the specific purpose of preparing them for employment with international or multilingual companies operating within the design industry, or further study. Such a project also responds to the development aims of mainland China, in that it is a stated goal that, as the country develops, manufactured products should not just be made in China, but also designed in China (Rawsthorn 2008, Hempel 2006, Cramer 2003).

 

 

The author of this paper is dually qualified, teaching art and design history and theory before studying and teaching English to speakers of other languages. On the first day of teaching art and design history the author was given a note of advice from his head of department:  ‘simply get them writing.’  From this beginning, I came to understand that visual learners,  are, when it comes to writing, expressing something in a second or third language, for, as Saorsa (2002) puts it  ‘...drawing is indeed a language in the same way that a “figure of speech” is’. He continues to state that, in his own practice, he is ‘using spoken language, recorded directly and manifested in written language through transcription, to generate drawings.’ (See also Mann 2002, Montague 1995, Dyson 1992, Vygotsky 1978).

 

Over two years ago, this author was engaged by a small progressive university in southern China to develop English language teaching courses and materials aimed at art and design students. The student population of around 7000 is small in terms of Chinese universities, but it is it’s progressive and reformist approach to education that does more to set this university apart from other tertiary education institutions in mainland China. Receiving considerable funding from a, Hong Kong based, private philanthropic organisation that seeks to develop the region, the university has adopted an internationalist approach to education that aims at teaching significant parts of the curriculum in English using contemporary western teaching methods.

 

It was explained, at the onset, that English language teachers struggled with the language needed by this specific group of students, and that the students were unmotivated by generic English as a Foreign Language teaching materials, which resulted in poor attendance and engagement. It was further elaborated that as a teacher of art and design history and theory, with English language teaching certification, that the materials developed should engage the students in meaningful ways, improve attendance, and engagement.

 

With the above in mind, I found myself in a unique position, able to straddle the fence between language teacher and content teacher. Drawing on my own expertise and experience in the discipline, I sought to develop content-based lessons and scaffold the language needed so that students learnt from the content provided and improved their English language communication. A methodology was sought that would benefit a dual approach to teaching English  and provide a pathway to integrating both skills and knowledge.

 

First steps

Upon taking up the position it became apparent that the English language skills of the students were in the range of 2 to 3.5 on the IELTS scale, 6 being the normal minimum required for study within an institution teaching in English. Each student takes a placement test upon entering the university and is placed at a suitable level. The English through Art stream (EA) is rated as sitting below the foundation level of of English Language Centre (ELC) courses. The placement test is generic and not specific to any discipline, resulting in a clear disparity between students enrolled in different faculties. For example, the English language writing skills of law students is eloquent and lengthy and of a high fluency level, while students aiming at a career in art and design, tend to write shorter responses that are of questionable grammatical structure and fluency but demonstrate greater imagination. This also tends to generate a prejudice toward art and design students, in that to many ELC faculty they are viewed as less intelligent and their writing gives rise to some mirth among markers.

 

Course Design: Level 2

A set of lessons was developed, amounting to a 15-week course, based largely around a general art history survey course, of the sort offered at an English language university (table 1 below). The course and individual lessons were framed utilising a methodological approach that would include the necessary scaffolding required by English language learners, that is by building in support for subject specific vocabulary, phrases and colocations and otherwise providing students with the linguistic support to enable content engagement and consumption, (See Meyer 2010; Forman 2008).

 

Despite substantial experience in the content and language fields, this author had not engaged with a CLIL methodology before, so gathered all the information available, beginning with Graddol (1997, 2006), Marsh (2002), and then other writers.

 

Both Marsh and Graddol present sound arguments for the implementation of a CLIL approach, in particular Marsh (2002, 15), stating that: ‘CLIL refers to situations where subjects or parts of subjects are taught through a foreign language with dual focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language.’  However, reports from the field, from language and content teachers, highlighted dilemmas in putting CLIL into practice, along with clear areas of dispute. For example, Mackenzie (n.d.), in response to reports from teachers in the field, takes a positive approach writing that ‘They are using the language but the context, theme and task are the driving forces’ and further that, ‘When the students are engaged and interested in the topic they are more motivated to use and learn the language needed to communicate’. It seemed that this approach was ideal for unmotivated students of English, an approach also supported by Dressen-Hammouda (2007), while more pertinently Ortuno (1994) points to the benefits of teaching English with the aid of ‘visually engaging, authentic materials,’ in this case slides of oil paintings. More recently, and with a clearer focus on the the field of art and design, Baik and Greig (2009) point out the benefits of content focused language teaching in their research on foreign architecture students studying in Australia.

 

A number of other respondents to the Onestop CLIL discussion site, such as Tenant (n.d.) recognised that subject teachers should not presume to teach language, while Dombeva (n.d.) approaches the debate from the converse perspective stating that the issue of ‘territorial trespass...reveals more about the insecurity of the language teaching profession during a time of wonderful developments in education.’ 

 

From a theoretical view there is some dispute, as alluded to above, regarding the suitability of a CLIL approach to low skilled EFL learners. See Graddol and Marsh for differing opinions. There, are also different ways of configuring CLIL courses or utilising a CLIL methodology, that all involve the use of content in teaching English, or using English to teach content, depending on one’s perspective. Such approaches are often referred to as soft CLIL and hard CLIL, the former being the teaching of content subjects as part of a language course and the latter being the case when a significant amount of the curriculum is taught in a foreign language (CLIL Glossary 2009). For excellent detailed accounts of the application of both models see the following authors: Mehisto, Frigols and Marsh (2008), Hoenig (2010), and Cambridge English’s Teaching History through English - a CLIL approach (2011).

 

Which configuration is best is largely down to the individual teacher and institutional structure they are working within. Given the grounds upon which this author was engaged, it seemed that the first version -soft CLIL- was the most suitable and one that is supported in reports from the field, in which a school engaged English language teachers with a knowledge of the subject, at least an undergraduate degree in the content area they were assigned to teach (Mackenzie, n.d.).

 

Being largely convinced that CLIL is the future of language teaching and following Meyer’s (2010, 20) CLIL Pyramid structure (See Appendix B), in which he states that teaching input should be ‘Meaningful, challenging and authentic...’ And that those three descriptors ‘...should be the main criteria for selecting appropriate classroom materials’. and further that:

 

SLA studies have shown that meaningful and challenging input is one of the main pillars of foreign language acquisition. Classroom content should be meaningful in a sense that it focuses on global problems mankind faces while connecting with the daily lives of our students and their areas of interest.

                                                              (Meyer 2010, 13)

 

The approach taken by this teacher also took into account the cognitive abilities of students and recognised that the conventional subject matter of EFL lesson plans failed to provide a meaningful or authentic engagement and cognitive stimulation. Advice given by the then ELC director confirmed that ‘art students are a challenging group for our regular teachers’.(Kunschak, personal communication, 8 Jan 2009.)  Upon taking up the position this was elaborated as poor attendance and motivation on the grounds that they were unlike traditional English language students, being ‘more creative than academically oriented, more orally communicative rather than literal in expression, more divergent than linear in task completion.’ and furthermore ‘traditionally, they have been grouped apart, with lower expectations and less resources than mainstream college English students’. (Kunschak 2010)

Table 1 English through Art Level 2 (EA2) course schedule
Table 1 English through Art Level 2 (EA2) course schedule

Lessons were slotted into a linear sequence, based on the historical development of western art and design (table 1). Some lessons sourced, mostly from famous museums and art galleries, needed to be adjusted to cater to the low-level language learners.  For example a lesson on Classical Greek sculpture sourced from the Getty, Perfect Bodies, Ancient Ideals (J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff,  n.d.) was far too complex from a language perspective and overlong for a two hour session. Designed for museum visitors, or a post visit study session for school students, I assessed that the cognitive level of most of the tasks was suitable, but that the language input needed to teach it was excessive.

 

However,  it was possible to extract highly suitable tasks and develop a lesson that provided students with a knowledge of the balance of the figures and an appreciation of the active poses, when contrasted to Egyptian and early Hellenic sculpture. At its core was the basic language found in a number of generic foundation EFL texts, being body parts, while the format and indeed colocations required to complete a museum of gallery label demonstrated the desired outcome.  This lesson also took into account Roman sculpture, and amounted to the first lesson in the course.

 

From a language teaching perspective the aim was for students to learn how to write a list, lists being a common approach to building related vocabulary and confidence in low level language learners. In this instance, it took the shape of museum and gallery tags, using the conventions of those institutions. See resultant student works below (figs. 1 and 2.)

Vocabulary building was the initial focus, which was sorted according CLIL methodology, being Specific or Obligatory, Academic and Ordinary or General, (See Darn 2006) which was then framed within the communicative approach fostered by the English language centre.

 

Initially a vocabulary and knowledge check was carried out and students were assessed for their understanding of body parts, then locational and positional instructions, such as ‘bend your left knee,’ or ‘right arm up.’  The list titles were also checked in gallery format

 

A selection of statues from the period were projected on the screen and students asked to copy the poses. Attention to detail was bought to their notice, normally by the teacher making deliberate mistakes, such as the wrong foot forward. Discussion about the ease and natural feel of each pose was elicited, as was the sureness of balance. Some slides featured incomplete labels and students were asked to complete them.

 

Outcomes: Lesson One

This lesson worked very well with students engaging in a task-based exercise, in which they took a photograph of a classmate imitating one of the statues they had been introduced to. Instructions on achieving the pose were given in English, such as: left arm up, right leg forward. At the conclusion of the class students labeled their work according to museum and gallery conventions (material was substituted for media as students struggled to separate physical media from electronic or digital media) and a public exhibition was held of their labelled photographs. The aim of this being to provide students with a meaningful concrete artifact, that is their labelled and printed photograph, from their language learning and to extend their engagement with English by sustaining interest in the topic. As can be seen above students were encouraged to use their computer skills to enhance their photographs.

 

Follow up: Lesson 3

A further lesson in a similar style was framed as the third lesson in the sequence. Once again the aim for this lesson was to produce a public exhibition of work generated in class and mounted by the class. For the sake of variety it is not offered immediately after the previous lesson. The title of this lesson is ‘Different Points of View’ and it is found under the Language Arts section rather than Art section at The Renaissance Connection website, which contains two lessons dedicated to linear perspective and the comparison of oil paint and tempura, neither of which contain enough language focus for the purpose of this project. 

The ‘Different Points of View’ lesson however, is well structured and works well to first introduce students to compare and contrast skills as well as the construction and use of ‘wh’ questions. In terms of art historical/theory focus, the key theme is the development of the three quarter portrait pose.
 
The timing of this lesson is important, as it does not occur directly after the lesson on Greek and Roman art, it works more to build upon language learnt from that lesson than directly review it, while there is a review component of the label.

Following a similar pattern to that established in the first lesson, students were encouraged to engage with the images. Seating students around a table in groups of 4 or 5 was useful here, as the view of those around the table approximates the three views being compared. Students can be asked to list what features they can see from each perspective, leading to a list of facial features:

 

Once a clear understanding of the above concept has been established, the second concept of ‘Point of View’ may be approached. Here a pre-conceived understanding of the term emerged and students interpreted it as an ‘idea’ or ‘opinion.’ Some time was needed to explain and demonstrate the literal use as applied in the fine arts.  One can see here the difficulty that previous TESOL teachers had with teaching this particular cohort and the specific nature of the vocabulary. 

 

When the students came to recognise that there were two points of view in every portrait; artist and subject, in terms of art theory: the gaze returned, the list of possible brainstorming questions, from the published lesson was useful for introducing students to the ‘wh’ questions, while also developing their skills in visual analysis, which can be applied to the portrait The Bean Eater (Carraci 1582-83) supplied with the lesson.

This is a good choice of image, for the purpose of this project, as it may be used in conjunction with a generic lesson on food,  that might also introduce students to ‘wh’ questions and or responses. See list of questions selected from the aforementioned lesson plan below.

Once some understanding of the use of ‘wh’ questions was established, through a survey of the portrait, students can be instructed to produce a similar image of a classmate eating in three quarter pose for homework and to compose examples of two or three ‘wh’ questions and divide them between the artist and the subject, while also labelling the work in the way they learnt to in the first lesson. See example work below.

Most students needed at least three drafts to achieve a satisfactory result, in regard to some accuracy with the text and the structure of the questions, while most understood the concept of the three different poses and the labels were mostly accurate.

 

Further lessons ranging through to Pop art and including most major western art movements, were developed in a similar way. The linguistic development throughout level 2 focussed on developing the complexity of compare and contrast skills.

 

Other Task Based Learning (TBL) lessons included a read and draw exercise, in which students read a simplified description of a reasonably well known painting and instruction for the making of a camera obscura, or pinhole camera, from a proprietary brand crisp tube package. This lesson was considered particularly suitable, given its TBL approach and according to (Gilabert 2009) seen to fit comfortably within the CLIL/TBL outlines. 

 

Initial support from the director of the English language centre was encouraging, explaining that formerly students had never done anything like this. By the end of the first semester, this English through Art level two course had been refined and a level three course was requested and in development, for the following semester, with a focus on design.

 

 

Course Design: Level 3

The intention of the level 3 course was to develop students’ formal and academic expression, with an emphasis on speaking and presentation skills. To achieve this it was decided to base the course on four design briefs that each student would present at the end of four three week periods (table 4 ). Thereby extending the nature of TBL while introducing some research and project development skills, required in the design field, through an engagement with design briefs. This was more in line with the divergent learning style of the students and also engaged more closely with topics, study schedules and the assessment system at the art school, thereby further establishing the meaningful nature of learning English.

The presentations included design mock-ups and/or illustrated and labelled plans. They were also required to communicate the stages of the project development through at least three drafts, or concept sketches and then explain how the final mock up or plan satisfied the design brief. These presentations also sought to extended the language skills acquired in EA2,  for example appropriate labelling, comprehension of key art and design terms or essential language, composition elements, shape and colour relationships. In addition this course introduced students to the appropriate use of the passive voice and identifying suitable sources, which were then demonstrated, or evidenced in all work (see table 4 for course schedule and outline).

 

The four design briefs included, Graphic design, Illustration, Architecture and Interior design.  (See table 5, example graphic design brief below.)

Students responded well to each brief grasping the opportunity to combine visual and spoken expression, the former, in which they had invested time and imagination, providing a valuable and meaningful, spring board to engage in spoken discussion of their work. See example transcript from video documentation below.

Transcript of student presentation: Logo design.

English through Art Level 3 Designer English. 20/04/2012

Student: (00.00) Ok my name is (Liang Wen Bin), and my English name is

Ben, yeah.

Teacher: (00.06) Student.

Student: (00.07) So let me introduce my logo design.

Teacher: (00.11) Please

Student: (00.12) mmmm The first one.

Teacher: (00.14) What is the, what is the company, what is the name of the 

 brand, first of all.

Student: (00.18) O, Oh, Allure.

Teacher: (00.20) Ok good.

Student: (00.21) Allure, Allure, Allure, yeah and um the first logo that I

designed when I designed obviously I thought out the graphic, um, this logo er is, this has a strong contrasting colour in some way.

Teacher: (00.39) umhm good.

Student: (00.40) mm yeah. And uh the second logo I designed I used two circles um one is small and one and another is big. mmm. In the middle of logo er I, I um describe the same no I describe I um, I break I break the double circles to achieve one's purpose.

Teacher: (01.12) Okay, yeah I can see that, and what do you have in the

middle of that one.

Student: (01.16) mm yeah. Inside, Inside logo I use a double ‘L’ letter.

Teacher: (01.24) Double ‘L’ letter. Okay.

Student: (01.25) Yes.

Teacher: (01.26) But one is..., they do not look like 'L'.

Student: (01.29) They turn upside down.

Teacher: (01.30) Good. Excellent work. Good, good.

Student: (01.33) Mmm. In the logo, in the middle of logo, its look like eyes.

Teacher: (01.39) An eye, yeah. Okay yeah.

Student: (01.42) Mmm, Its, its look like eyes um its um, its ‘pursue life’ in

purple in purple.

Teacher: (01.51) Okay.

Student: (01.52) Umm, The um, as I say just now.

Teacher: (01.57) Uhum.

Student: (01.58) but it is different before I said.

Teacher: (02.00) Yeah.

Student: (02.01) mmm.

Teacher: (02.02) you have changed the middle, yes.

Student: (02.05) yes I use, I use a red and I no use an 'A'.

Teacher: (02.12) uhmm.

Student: (02.13) mmm, because I want to describe the thing of the Allure.

Teacher: (02.19) Allure, yeah, yeah yep and you have retained the 'L' upside

down.

Student: (02.26 ) Er, yeah.

Teacher: (02.27) and the other 'L' is?

Student: (02.29) right.

Teacher: (02.30) is what?.

Student: (02.32) er Is huh, sorry I don't remember.

Teacher: (02.37) Okay, good effort. Okay please go on.

Student: (02.42) mm uum so finally, I will, I will choose, I will turn this

logo, into my final choice.

Teacher: (02.53) uhu I can see, okay so with your final choice you have not

used yellow.

Student: (03.01) er yeah.

Teacher: (03.02) Why is that?

Student: (03.04) Because, because in my feeling.

Teacher: (03.07) uhum.

Student: (03.08) mmm I will build two colours I will fully er I think I covers

feelings information that umm, er peoples, er people ah need to ah pursue high no matter how difficult we have.

Teacher: (03.29) uhu.

Student: (03.30) mm so I think it, I think it is beautiful.

Teacher: (03.35) Okay, thank you. Thank you very much. Good work.

It can be seen from the above transcript that the student has invested time and effort in achieving this task. As the teacher my aim was to listen for information and knowledge that had been taught in class, as it relates to the rationale behind the presented design. Additionally, I was listening for the use of terms taught at the previous level and needed to elicit that by framing suitable questions around the presentation. For example the description of the ‘L’ turned upside down. I would have preferred to hear the more academic term ‘inverted,’ learned from the camera obscura lesson but was happy with the former.I then sought to lead the student to describe the other ‘L’ as reversed or back to front.

 

It is clear the student has firstly made an excellent effort to satisfy the design brief and that he has some confidence in discussing the process of arriving at his final design, together with the ability to respond well to most of the unscripted questions. He also uses some of the language that he has learnt and makes a reasonable attempt at justifying his reason for using only two colours in his final design. Had he managed to explain that the most successful logos only use two colours, he would have been rewarded well. However, students in the art and design disciplines are also taught to respond to their feelings, so the final part of his presentation still demonstrated an ability to communicate what was taught in class.

 

Outcome

The introduction of this course was well received by students, resulting in a voluntary enrolment of 30 second year students electing to continue studying English, beyond the mandatory two semesters, suggesting that this particular CLIL approach is desirable and that it had succeeded in turning around the low attendance and poor engagement prior to the onset of this project. See enrolment summary below.

Year 2

At the start of the second year of this project, the director of the English language centre  requested that a similar style course be developed for the lowest level, the idea being that English was taught through content at all three levels. During this stage of development language support was minimal, as that side of the course was taught by senior local faculty that had previously been challenged by this cohort with very little, or no, understanding of CLIL methodology, or a will to develop new approaches.

 

It also emerged that the university also professed to a desire to develop a Content Based Instruction (CBI) approach to teaching. However, this fact had not been highlighted by the ELC, hidden perhaps in favour of a more conventional approach to teaching English language.

 

With three courses developed and piloted, and a fourth, optional advanced course being developed at the request of students, it became impossible for one teacher to teach all levels. This is also where the territorial skirmishes, noted previously, (Tenant, n.d; Dombeva, n.d) manifested, in that while three courses had been developed, that could be taught by a content teacher, with support from a dedicated language teacher, or by a language teacher with tertiary qualifications, a demonstrated interest, or experience in the art and design sector, willing to engage with a CLIL approach, there was no one to teach the courses. The idea that another teacher be secured, with a certain level of expertise and or experience in the field of art and or design was proposed to the ELC director.

 

At this point the ELC director stated that ‘this is an English Language Centre.’ In other words, a content teacher would not be employed in this department. Instead  it was suggested that a knowledge of art and design could be ‘picked up’ by a language teacher. Competencies regarding CLIL teaching were highlighted at this point with reference to Bertaux, Coonan, Frigols-Martín & Mehisto (2010) and others, but to no avail.

 

Some negotiation took place between myself and the ELC director, in which I proposed an alternative approach and suggested that a content teacher, could be engaged, with the undertaking to obtain English language teaching certification, either prior to taking up the appointment or during the initial year of employment. In support of this proposal it was also highlighted that a small number of current faculty did not posses or were in the process of acquiring  certification. Such a proposal received a cool response from the ELC director and instead a western part-time teacher was engaged to teach the level two content course. The consequence of this, insistence on territory, resulted in less than fifty percent of the content being taught, the camera obscura lesson omitted, content essential to art and design, deemed too risque was washed clean out of the course.  There was also no attempt by the appointed teacher to become familiar with the course, despite receiving  the material before the summer break.

 

For example, when teaching the lesson on Classical Greek sculpture the theoretical point of the lesson, being a knowledge of the balance of the figure and the shift from the static sculpture of previous cultures to the realistic figures, in which movement was captured, was lost, as too was the instruction for students to mimic one of the classical statues in their photographs and the exhibition. Thereby demonstrating a failure of the teacher to underscore the art historical knowledge bound within the lesson. Instead this lesson, like others, was interpreted as a lesson that merely used the subject matter to hang the language on.

 

There was also limited viewing of the Surrealist movement as a key to an understanding of contemporary advertising and design (See McLuhan, 1994; Williams, 2000), simple picture breakdown of foreground, middle-ground and background taught without context, and the editing out of references to death and sexuality. These issues came to light when students progressed to the next level, in which an attempt was made to build upon the knowledge learned at the previous level and required the re-teaching of significant sections of lessons from that level.

 

It would, therefore, seem that, following Clegg’s article ‘Teacher collaboration in CLIL’ (n.d.) in which he writes that

 

...it often happens that in English-medium education programmes where levels of language ability amongst both teachers and learners are dangerously low, English language teachers have not been involved with the programme. They are not active either in helping subject colleagues with their teaching or in orientating their English curriculum to the language demands of English-medium subject learning.                                                    

(Clegg, n.d)

that the dangerously low subject knowledge among some English language teachers,  engaged as subject teachers, or assigned to as part  of  a CLIL teaching team is likely to have a detrimental effect on the program, see for example Clegg’s (n.d.) commentary on a Malaysian program in which language teaching resources were not reorientated to support the teaching of a subject in English. Furthermore, the failure of such an appointment also supports the notion that CLIL teachers should remain current and up to date in their field and that language teachers need to invest time looking into the content curriculum (Kelly 2010).

 

As a result, in the second semester of the second year, it was identified by myself as program leader and the ELC director that, in order for a language teacher to include more of the content and become confident with that content, that much closer support was required, if a knowledge of the subject was to be gathered along the way.  Faced with no other choice it was agreed to support the experiment, and put in place a professional development and training course, in which readings aimed at the generalist reader were sourced and made available through an e-learning platform,  and weekly journal responses required. I also requested that the language teacher provide lesson outlines each week and at end of the course a simple task was set to develop a CLIL lesson on a prescribed art and design subject.

 

The result of this experiment was less than successful with less than 25% of the weekly journal tasks being recorded, no lesson plans, or other material provided and the final task not attempted. Thereby, suggesting that the, ELC director’s somewhat disrespectful approach that a language teacher could ‘pick up a knowledge of art and design history and theory along the way’ was deeply misguided and failed to recognise all of the recommendations in the literature relating to the competencies for a CLIL teacher (Bertaux, Coonan, Frigols-Martín & Mehisto, 2010).

 

Eventually, at the end of the second year, following intense lobbying, permission was given to try and recruit a teacher with art and design experience and qualifications, on the aforementioned proviso that they undertake and show progress toward obtaining language teaching credentials. No budget was provided for advertising, nor was the generic recruitment advert amended in such a way.

 

At the end of the second year the three courses remained in place, level 1 and 2 taught by language teachers with nil, questionable, or developing knowledge or experience in the field of art and design. This author continued to teach level 3 while a fourth optional course had been developed and piloted, at the request of students wishing to continue to improve their English. In this course students developed an video biography that situated them within their chosen career field and researched and produced a five to ten minute narrated podcast on a subject of their choosing that pertains to art and or design and their own practice.

Conclusion

At the conclusion of this project it would seem that the advice to ‘remember you know more than they do’ carried over as good advice for this project. However, in allocating resources to the program, that being knowledgeable teachers, such logic did not apply beyond the initial stage. While the second morsel of advice, ‘get them writing,’ was not applicable in that it was identified that spoken English was more important to art and design students, in the longterm, than written English.

 

In addition the issues of dispute highlighted by Tenant (n.d.) and Dombeva (n.d.) also failed to register in the development of the program. While it is clear that, in this instance, the dual focussed nature of CLIL led to what Dombeva notes as the ‘insecurity of the language teaching profession’. Furthermore Meyer’s sound claim that  research in the area of second language learning has demonstrated that ‘Meaningful, challenging and authentic input’ is the foundation of language learning (2010) also carried no weight in the development of the project.

 

As to the future of CBI and CLIL at this institution, while the university leadership supports and encourages the development of contemporary teaching methods, including CBI, a barrier remains to its implementation. It is not the issue with implementation, that CLIL cannot be brought in form a top down perspective, but should be driven from the bottom up, but a barrier that exists in the mid range. China is a society structured in a way where change occurs from the top down, and in that respect the direction voiced by the university leadership is to be commended. From a bottom up perspective students have demonstrated a desire to learn from a CLIL approach, by showing greater attendance and active participation and engagement, while an increasing number are seeking to continue learning English, or rather art and design, through the medium of English, as an option. It is between these two points that the implementation of CLIL and indeed a progressive approach to English language learning is being thwarted, in that English language centres and teachers, fear for their survival, are reluctant to embrace change, and in this instance are blocking it.

 

This negative view of the CLIL methodology has been succinctly stated midway through the third year of this project. Following a change of leadership at the English language centre and art school, it was decided that the ELC would ‘focus primarily on English teaching and reduce the emphasis on teaching art.’ (Personal communication, March 19 2012, Snow, D. ELC Director.) thus returning those students to general English classes.

 

In conclusion, it would seem that even under the guidance of successive western ELC directors, within an institution that is progressive and reformist, that a CLIL approach is unwelcome, that the lines of demarcation between language and content persist and that, at least in this instance, there is no room for content teaching in this institution.

 

It was hoped, during the mid stage of the project that, in the future a greater engagement with a CLIL methodology could be fostered and that recruitment procedures would be altered to attract suitably qualified or experienced teachers for CLIL based courses. However, the required investment was not forthcoming and CLIL will not become established in this particular university, through the English language centre. Therefore, the enthusiasm discovered to learn and use English among art and design students will probably dissipate, resulting in a likely return to poor attendance and engagement, while students from this particular university will not be best equipped with the English language skills required to contribute toward the development of a designed in China brand.

 

If a CLIL approach to teaching language is to be seeded, within this and any other university in China, the division between content and language - knowledge and skills must be eroded, leading to more interdepartmental, or cross faculty engagement and serious theoretical and classroom based research. Finally, English language centres need to recast their recruitment policies to consider content knowledge alongside language teaching skills, in order to attract teachers with specific knowledge and qualifications in the ESP disciplines they are being assigned to.

 

David L Hume PhD

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