28 February, 2010

CLIL course in retrospect

Using languages to learn and learning to use languages” : it all sounded so promising and intriguing and right up my street ! So how did the overall experience turn out to be a disappointing one?

We arrived as a diverse group from at least 9 different European countries and from different educational settings. All of the 10 Comenius group members and Valencian participants had come with hopes and expectations to learn, some a little unsure of what to expect, others having already had some exposure to CLIL ideas and practices.
I turned out to be the only participant from higher education. This was something I had sort of anticipated when I selected the course from the Grundtvig training database as it fell under Comenius. This would still be interesting for me however, I’d been assured by the course organiser, when I asked for advice: CLIL was definitely also appropriate in higher education. Yet it took 5 days to hear in the final session from the course leader that in fact CLIL was not really a thing for higher education, in contrast to primary and secondary schools.
On the plus side, what I took away from the course was better insights in the different educational settings from the other participants (esp. the Spanish), in other words a wider understanding of (lifelong) learning in Europe. The wonderful cooperative work in the mixed groups, the passion with which most participants spoke about education, the intercultural / international experience, the creative ideas that came up by free association of all present, the insightful presentations of the primary and secondary school teachers that shared their hands-on experiences with us, the Favara school visit: these were all positive and stimulating aspects in the course.
I often learn best when I actively participate and contribute, I try to be constructive to make a course a success and I share what I know, because I realise time and again that there is so much you get in return. That worked best when we got the assignment to design a model and apply the 4 C model (communication, culture, content and cognition) to work out the theme of Global Citizenship.
On the whole, the course group assignments were not bad. However, the feedback on them was: after reporting back or presenting results of the group work, the course leader often quickly went on to press a message on us that had already been in his mind before anyone said anything and then steered us into another direction. The same thing happened when a participant answered a question: a superficial response, hardly any real, content based dialogue in getting to grips with some of the real CLIL issues. That's why a feeling of being ignored arose. Others started complaining in the breaks about the lack of input and materials.
Outright critical were the participants who had seen our course leader working on his computer and replying to mails during the sessions, even when participants were presenting their CLIL lesson plans e.g.
It was interesting for me to see that some had decided to be as indifferent as our course leader and started working on their everyday tasks as well or playing games on a notebook, as a sign of silent protest. This kind of passive resistance was a cultural lesson to me from Greece. Another one was the hesitation on the part of the Spanish participants to voice their opinions when some Comenius group participants invited them to express their views on the course and its contents at the end of the day.
The Valencian Board of Education, the Conselleria d’ EducaciĆ³ Generalitat Valenciana, is an important governmental organisation with a lot of power. In order not to jeopardise their careers or to face future negative measures the Valencian participants refrained from openly commenting on the way the 5 day course was run.
As for the 5 day programme, it had undergone some changes by the time we got our folders at the start of the week. In itself that’s not a problem. However, the actual programme was definitely a downgraded version of the provisional one, having deleted 2 speakers / CLIL experts. Not only that, but the course facilitator didn’t really adhere to the updated programme either. We never had the review of the day for example.
Anticipating a final evaluation on the last day we were dumbstruck (again) by seeing the course end without reviewing it and / or discussing our individual experiences and learning results. We did get a compliment however! We’d been the most active and best CLIL group so far. Now why didn’t that produce any smiles on our faces, hmm? Was there an evaluative questionnaire then??? No chance.
And then there was the issue of the course costs… another intensively debated issue in our Comenius group. No one really understood why the rate for accommodation costs had been set at the price of 650 euros when hotel accommodation (incl. 5 breakfasts) was only 275 euros and lunches around 75 euros all in all. Our morning coffee with delicacies (and possibly other catering provisions) can hardly have amounted to 300 euros per person. In a discussion with the two people in charge, these costs could not satisfactorily be accounted for on the spot.
To sum it up: CLIL is an interesting, promising, innovative educational approach, well worth exploring and implementing. However, if you decide to take a State-of the-Art CLIL course, just make sure (or hope and pray) that it is not the pompous David Marsh who is the course facilitator. Here's the result of the photos I took.
This course has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

21 February, 2010

On my way, some reflections

The day that our Dutch cabinet fell over the issue of the NATO mission to Afghanistan, was the day I flew out to Valencia. Months earlier I had applied for a grant from Europees Platform to finance a professional development course under the title of State of the Art CLIL. A term I didn´t know before but which stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. This (Comenius) course took my interest as it focuses on the issue of how to teach and learn about particular subjects in a language that is not your native language.
A number of years before I had experimented with an international module (taught in English)for a few years in a row about trends and perspectives in culture & society. The approach was quite innovative in the way that our students attended an 8 week course in English, were provided with only English language study materials and articles and moreover, had to take turns in chairing the different sessions themselves (in pairs). Supportive materials in how to handle these tasks were provided and my role became one of coaching / tutoring the students to make sure they kept on the right track and tackled the subject matter in depth.
With each group that I coached at the time, it was fascinating to see how the proficient English speakers and the more communicative students dominated the first sessions.
In the breaks that we took I always tried to stimulate the more silent students and coax them gently into more active participation in the discussions that were taking place in class. It wasn´t as if they had nothing to say, it appeared.....
After some probing I found out that many of the silent students had been told (by their teachers of English at secondary school) that they were failures as far as English was concerned.
Once I´d found that out, I adapted my strategy a little. During the initial introductory session led by me, I specifically addressed this issue and asked them to support each other in expressing their views. I also recommended bringing along dictionaries to class and encouraged them to consult them whenever they felt they lacked the vocabulary to express themselves. These proved to be successful strategies, as I saw more and more students joining the discussions and just doing their best in using the English that they knew AND developing their English language skills !
Another barrier I identified was this: the students in the chair often tried to open up debates by asking open questions but got frustrated from time to time when there was little response. Gradually I found out that this was mainly due to two factors: one was the occasional, complicated phrasing of the question. It was often simply too difficult to start discussing immediately. Another cause was the length of the question and the time to ¨absorb¨ the question, which prevented students from responding.
Realising this, I sometimes decided to intervene to clarify the questions put to the group and pointed out the importance of asking clear questions to facilitate interesting dialogues on the issues that were raised and to take some time before inviting anybody to respond.
By doing this, I became aware that students were also learning things at a different level; they saw that the clearer you communicate yourself, the more you stimulate the group to join and contribute. And the better you involve a group, the more valuable the experience and the discussions become. Two beneficial side effects I would never have imagined before I started out with these sessions. Fascinating !
So when I saw what CLIl entailed, I felt straight away that this would be a very welcome professional development step for me.
Writing this on my way to Valencia I hope to contribute some of these experiences to the CLIL course tomorrow or any of the coming days.

18 February, 2010

2 social work field visits

Today we visited the Rotterdam Youth Information Point (JIP in Dutch) to hear in what way they provide information to young people. But more interestingly, we learned what information it is that young people are looking for when they approach JIP. The international students could listen to a staff member telling them about young people's specific issues, such as debt, homelessness, sex issues etc. As we were just a small group of 5 there was plenty of opportunity for interaction and for asking questions. All in all, we got a pretty good idea of JIP and the way it operates for young people in Rotterdam. After an hour or so it was time to move on to the next location.
A visit had been arranged at Herenplaats, a gallery with a difference !
Again we were warmly welcomed by some one from the staff who told us but most of all demonstrated to us what beautiful works of outsider art are produced there. We could have a look at all the workshops and even see a number of artists at work when we arrived. Two of them took the time to show us their work and we had some interesting communication with them. It was fascinating to hear that one of the artists present had recently visited New York to open an exhibition of his work there. More generally speaking, much of the outsider art produced at Schiedamse Vest travels outside the Netherlands and vice versa the Herenplaats gallery exhibits work from international artists as well. It was interesting to see and hear that going international can definitely work and is on the increase in this branch. The English version of the website is significant in that respect.
When you have a look at some of the works of art, it's hard to understand that people with an intellectual disability are not admitted to the regular art academies. Herenplaats does a wonderful job in offering them art training.
And then on my way back to Museumpark I was taken by surprise by an Andy Warhol slogan displayed on a wall at Witte de With street putting the visit in its right perspective: "in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes". Well, at Herenplaats these special artists have found the right spot for their talent development.

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08 February, 2010

Welcome international students

Today was the kick off for the international class. Although not all the students had arrived in Rotterdam yet, it was still quite a full group. A great variety of countries was represented, making the international class more international than ever. Students had come all the way from Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and England.
After a morning session with some introduction there was an informal lunch followed by a tour through the Museumpark location, accompanied by a number of Dutch international "buddies" from the teacher training college for primary education.

After introducing the "golden rules" drawn up by last year's students and a short introduction of Rotterdam University it was time to call it a day. After all, there's only so much you can take in on a first day full of new impressions and people. Here's a quick look:

Welcome meeting at Museumpark from Jane Traveller on Vimeo.

05 February, 2010

Sharing is multiplying

A super experience, you share a powerpoint on slideshare and the site points you to related presentations. I had seen it before, clicked on some, saw some interesting things, but today I was taken by surprise.
This is what I came across:

Spot on ! In our search for international perspectives on social work and international literature this is a fortunate find surprisingly presented by slideshare technology. A big thank you !

02 February, 2010

Library services !

Today was earmarked as one of the so-called professionalisation days with all the lecturers of our CMV study programme. One part of the day was announced as media library training. A good initiative as libraries have been developing themselves more and more into an information hub, a development that has escaped the attention of many.
One of the librarians showed us many of the services and opportunities that the library at Museumpark offers to students and lecturers. Especially one new and wonderful initiative is the subscription to a few databanks full of international journals and articles on all kinds of social topics, such as Jstore, but also the Directory of Open Access Journals.
In the past I had already been to a presentation of Library Press Display, an online paper databank covering news from all over the world, an enormously rich resource.
Since our international policy plan outlines our intention to include an international perspective in a substantial number of modules and make more intensive use of international literature, this easy access to a wealth of international information is most welcome.