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Rated: E · Essay · Educational · #2129015
Proposed ESL course, for presentation at international conference. Feedback please.
We seek to overcome the traditional reservation among Japanese students to participating in classroom discussions, particularly in English. We also aim to close the disconnect between English and the daily lives of our Japanese students. Kosen (National Institute of Technology) students are reluctant to contribute to classroom discussions for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is the belief that “tech people” are poor at communication. The stereotype that technology students are poor communicators, and even poorer, thereby, at speaking in a second language, is particularly strong in Japan, reinforced by images in popular media and social interactions:

The field of engineering in particular has the reputation of harbouring people who do not like foreign languages, in fact, people who do not like to talk much at all. The image of the geek who will potter for endless hours in contented isolation, who is absolutely fascinated by the intricacies of technological problems and their solutions but averse to talking about them to the rest of the world, represents a powerful stereotype. All stereotypes do have some foundation in reality and so does this, but – like all stereotypes – it also draws its force from being habitually recreated by the discourses of society. These discourses can be personal conversations, media products, and movie characters or, indeed, the content of curricula designed for engineering and technology education. (Dalton-Puffer, Hüttner, Schindelegger, and Smit, 2009)

This “introverted techno-geek” is further burdened by the common assumption in Japan that Japanese people are not good at English.

To overcome this perceived, and often self-determined, “weakness” in our students, we focus our English classes on subjects with which the students already feel some confidence, and which meet their current learning goals.

Using CLIL to Achieve Authenticity
Students at Kosen want to learn subjects that relate to their future careers. As students of technology in Japan, the majority of students see subjects such as math and science as being more applicable to their futures than English. However, they do recognize the importance of English, but don’t perceive the English they learn in “English class” as being authentic, focused as they are more on vocabulary and grammar than on use. CLIL classes offer the best chance of addressing this need for authenticity. CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is more than English immersion class: it is using English as a tool of communication between students and students, and students and teachers, to explore a subject. At Kosen, we will focus on the maths and sciences in our CLIL classes.

By teaching sciences such as Biology in English, students perceive the material as directly related to their educational goals. Of course, a certain level of English skill is also required for graduation, but for the most part students do not perceive a need for English beyond graduation. We want to change that perception, so that students think of these classes as a chance to learn new materials related to their future and learn new skills for communication and for study, all of which appeal to the students’ learning goals. Using CLIL in a science subject provides the current best possible model for achieving these desired results. Furthermore, and as has been observed in other educational institutions, CLIL motivates students to improve their language skills:

Students are as keen to learn about content areas as they are to improve their language skills. They are also interested in learning study skills, which perhaps indicates a disposition towards developing greater autonomy. The fact that content was the most important aspect in defining authenticity implies that CLIL, through ‘authenticity of purpose’ delivers a greater sense of engagement to the students and allows opportunities for language focus to arise organically in the classroom situation. (Pinner, 2013)

CLIL classes can help students see English as a useful tool to understanding lesson content, especially in fact-based subjects such as math and science. Content can be a review of previously learned materials (wherein the focus is on the foreign language), or a slower, step-by-step examination of new content. This can address the problem that students and parents (and even other teachers) might view that any additional focus on learning English reduces time to focus on other subjects, subtracting from the limited resource of learning time. CLIL lessons can engage students more actively in learning, however, something that can appeal to both parents and teachers. CLIL courses may also help overcome the “teacher-centered” instruction that leads students to become less interested in school. In general, CLIL helps students feel more positive towards English (Lasagabaster, and Manuel Sierra, 2009).

Getting the students solving problems they want to solve (in the maths and sciences, for example) can greatly improve their confidence and positive outlook towards further English learning. As Lasagabaster and Manuel Sierra (2009) remind: “Marsh (2000) highlights that CLIL programmes can nurture a feel good attitude among students, as the higher proficiency level achieved (irrespective of how modest it eventually is) may have a positive effect on their desire to learn and develop their language competence.”

Given that Kosen students can choose to continue on to higher education or enter the workforce, our students don’t have to study for university entrance exams. Thus, Kosen teachers can focus on teaching English as a communication tool, and not simply a means of achieving a higher score on a test.

Less is More: Increasing English Talk Time and Active Learning
To take the most advantage of the classroom environment as a place to use English, lessons should be kept focused on English for instruction and English through instruction (i.e., English learned through exploring content, not through the memorization of phrases apart from content). Any activities in the class will be kept to a minimum of new content, so that student production is kept focused on the use of English (hence, “less is more”). As students will invariably be encountering new content and new lexical items necessary for discussing this content, they will find themselves in need of repair strategies for overcoming times when useful or applicable English is not known. This presents us with another problem in Japan—and another opportunity to increase the amount of student talk time in English. In Japan, the burden of clearly communicating an idea is on the speaker, not the receiver. If something is not understood, the fault is seen as being on the part of the speaker, not the listener, and the burden of clarification is therefore on the speaker. As has long been the educational tradition in Japan, students perceive themselves as being in the role of listener. As Japanese listeners, if misunderstanding occurs, there is a a strong tendency to assume clarification will be provided by the speaker (usually the teacher). These assumptions are typical of passive learning and, unless changed by intentional practice, will continue to inhibit the learning of English as a tool of communication. So, the use of repair strategies—circumlocution, asking for clarification, using synonyms, etc.—needs to become a common part of our CLIL lessons. The necessity of this can be demonstrated to students by briefly exposing them to the different types of English throughout the world (different accents, different vocabulary, different intonation patters), and then explaining that outside of Japan, the burden of clarification is upon the listener: the listener must either ask for clarification, or indicate in some productive way a lack of understanding.

In a classroom where the focus of education is strictly on content, the time a teacher can devote to requiring students to use repair strategies is limited; however, in a classroom where the main focus is on getting students to use English as a tool of communication, repair strategies become an integral item in the toolbox of classroom interactions, as students seek clarification not only from the teacher, but from their fellow students.

So far, this is mostly theoretical. Let’s look at an outline of the type of CLIL class we are proposing to use at the National Institute of Technology.

General Features of Our Proposed CLIL Class
I. Students come to class having studied the content for today’s lesson. More on this later.
II. The teacher begins the class with a warm-up discussion or activity that is directly related, or even exactly the same, as the final discussion or task. No correction or feedback on errors should be given, just guidance and support if students are struggling to produce anything.
III. Students then work in groups to 1) explore lesson materials directly related to the content studied outside of the classroom, and 2) to produce content for other students in the class. At this time, the teacher acts as more of a learning assistant or guide.
IV. The teacher makes note of any content or English the students struggled with—to be addressed in subsequent classes, not necessarily in this lesson.
V. Students are encouraged to seek clarification.
VI. The teacher tells students the next lessons materials to be studied outside of class.

As you may note in this general outline, instruction, in the form of exposing students to new content, takes place largely outside of class. This is a key feature of a “flipped classroom”. A flipped classroom is where students are introduced to lesson content outside of class, often, but not exclusively, through online videos. Students then come to class to practice with their fellow students and teachers. A flipped classroom offers the following benefits: 1) Increasing the number of times a student is exposed to instruction: once at home, once again in the classroom, and possibly once again by teaching other students; 2) students feel an even greater sense that English is relevant to their daily lives because the lesson materials are in English and practiced in English; and 3) class time can be devoted to using English, rather than just memorizing new terms and phrases.

The flipped classroom is a recent educational trend, and as with all trends it does have legitimate criticisms. In the context of a flipped CLIL class at a technology school, the most apt criticism is that a flipped classroom requires teachers to produce the online content, thereby increasing their already formidable workload. This is where online learning technologies can play a supportive role. By using a third party e-learning site, Khan Academy in our case, Kosen teachers and students will have access to a substantial quantity of proven, high-quality educational resources. While it does not provide learning materials on all subjects at all educational levels, Khan Academy does specialize in mathematics and science materials for the secondary education level, thus making it ideal for use at Kosen.

The benefits of Khan Academy and suggestions for ensuring students prepare for class will be detailed later. For now, let’s look a more subject-specific CLIL lesson in a flipped classroom, using an online, e-learning resource.

Outline of Sample Introduction to Biology Lesson
A. Students are given two things to do outside of the classroom on the Khan Academy site:
1. Translate into Japanese the following key words: cell, scale, virus, protein, molecule, nanometer, million, billion.
2. Watch “Scale of cells” (7’19”).

B. In the following class session, at school, the class begins with a mathematics problem. The problem should be simple—simpler than the students’ current level of mathematical ability. The main focus is on getting the students to explain the process of solving the problem.

C. A warm-up activity related to today’s content. Since “scale” is an important concept in the video, the focus of the class might be on relative size, and the warm-up activity might be, for example, having students compare the size of different biological organisms. There could be a brief True/False quiz about statements of size, e.g., “A cell is bigger than a virus.” Or, students could simply brainstorm words used to describe size. The main goal here is getting students to use English in the classroom, but also to provide some models of production for use later on in the lesson. Feedback should be limited to praising production and using examples of student generated English to illustrate how scale can be talked about in English.

D. Students would then read a brief article titled “Introduction to Cells” (again, taken from Khan Academy). At this point, the teacher might take time to highlight key or potentially difficult lexical items and ask students to provide clarification, or even to set up an activity where students must ask other members of class for clarification.

E. In groups, students would then identify pictures as being of cells, viruses, proteins or molecules.

F. The teacher would provide a sentence comparing the relative size of two of the items in the pictures, and then students would be required to generate a similar meaning sentence but using a different adjective, e.g., “A virus is smaller than a cell” is the same as “A cell is bigger than a cell.”

G. Group production: Different groups create problems for other groups to solve. Ideally, the initial warm-up activity near the beginning of the lesson and this final group production/discussion should be similar.

H. Feedback/clarification from the teacher.

I. Finally, next video and vocabulary are assigned to students.

The above outline is only a suggestion. Actual contents of the in-class interactions between students and teacher are, and should be, entirely up to the creative power of the teacher. The is simply a rough outline of how a flipped CLIL class might operate.

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks of Our Flipped Classroom
In a flipped CLIL class, students take on the role of teachers, creating content, assisting fellow learners, and even clarifying challenging lexical items. This is essential to promoting a more active learning role in the students, and to increasing their English talk time. Additionally, a flipped classroom presents the following potential benefits: 1) Students feel an even greater sense that English is relevant to their lives. 2) Class time can be devoted to using English, rather than memorizing new terms or phrases. 3) Because lesson content is viewed outside of the classroom, parents have greater access (should they want it) to what their children are learning—and since these students are learning something in English, the parents might then get a more positive sense that English is something integral to their children’s lives.

However, one of the key criticisms raised of the flipped classroom is that students may come to class without having adequately prepared. Indeed, some students may not view the lesson materials at all, but instead rely on their group members to support them. This is a powerful criticism, as it is often true.

The flipped classroom model assumes students willingly, and consistently, prepare for the following class. We teachers know this cannot be true all of the time. What can we do about this? Our class will employ two strategies for overcoming this difficulty: 1) require students to print screenshots of their Khan Academy points total to confirm that they at least accessed the site, and 2) have group members assign points to each member of their group, rating that member’s contribution and preparedness. In this way, the teacher has a tool for tracking student preparation outside of class and for tracking student participation inside of class.

Taking advantage of the Khan Academy’s points and badges system provides teachers a rough guide to student progress through the lesson materials. This same, game-like system provides students an additional motivation for viewing lesson materials outside of the classroom, independently, and this is one of the principal reasons we are attracted to using Khan Academy as an online, e-learning resource. Another advantage of Khan Academy is that it overcomes another criticism of the flipped classroom, to whit: that teachers must make the additional, online materials for students to view outside of class. This is not true in a flipped class using Khan Academy, however.

Why We Choose Khan Academy
The principle reasons we choose to Khan Academy’s online materials are as follows: 1) lesson materials are already available in a wide-range of scientific and mathematical disciplines; 2) these materials are high-quality, created by educators, peer-reviewed, and edited according to user feedback; 3) each video is accompanied by a detailed, time-stamped transcript students and teachers can review any time. Also, the videos tend to be short (5-15 minutes on average), and each video is followed by a question and answer section that provides additional insights into a topic. The videos and other instructional materials are organized into educational progressions, facilitating lesson and module planning.

In terms of student motivation, Khan Academy is an excellent resource. Watching a video earns the student points, which can go towards badges and awards on the site. This sense of gaming, of play, and of competition, can all be utilized by the teacher in a variety of ways to encourage students to view the materials, review, or to even explore other related materials offered by the site.

And, of course, the site is free to join and use.

In a study examining how a group of schools in California used the e-learning site to augment their mathematics program, SRI Education observed the following positive effects:
• Filling in gaps in learning and shoring up weak spots from past instruction.
• Students tracking and monitoring school work to hold themselves accountable for their performance.
• Spending more time in peer teaching and collaborative work with classmates.
• Receiving more opportunities to direct their own learning.
• Allowing teachers to spend more time assisting individual students or small groups of students. (SRI Education, 2014)
SRI Education also noted that students perceived themselves as more independent in the learning process when they used Khan Academy, more engaged during such sessions, and in general enjoyed the experience (SRI Education, 2014).

At Kosen, if we cover material on Khan Academy that students already be familiar with, there’s the strong, desirable possibility that this additional instruction will fill in aspects of the knowledge that the student may have missed or struggled with previously. As Clive Thomson, writing for WIRED magazine, notes: “Several students I spoke to also pointed out that Khan is particularly good at explaining all the hidden, small steps in math problems—steps that teachers often gloss over” (Thomson, 2014).

Khan Academy is an excellent resource for busy teachers seeking to boost active learning while increasing student motivation to learn. This is exactly what we are aiming to do at Kosen, with the added goal of increasing the perceived authenticity of the English students are learning. Khan Academy’s most valuable materials and tools are in the field of mathematics, but a wide-range of subjects in the sciences are available.

Why We Focus on the Sciences and Maths in CLIL
Our focus for CLIL classes tends to be on science and math because we believe the students see these as directly related to their educational goals and their future, thus increasing perceived authenticity and motivation. Also, the English used to discuss these subjects can be tailored to fit student needs without becoming unnatural. Our students already have some mastery of the subject materials, and thereby can feel more confident approaching the subjects in English. By using English to study materials students are already somewhat familiar with, we teachers have the chance to provide a potential, beneficial review of the subject. Also, in the words of our own CLIL teachers: “When it comes to technical terms, studying the sciences in English is not only more efficient, but easier.”

Furthermore, CLIL lessons can benefit struggling students by providing lots of visuals and step-by-step instruction. As Ute (2012) writes: “learning outcomes improve as more lessons are taught in the L2 (e.g. Bournot-Trites and Reeder, 2001).” In the process of exploring a topic in a second language, there are more opportunities for students to actively engage with the materials. But for CLIL to be most effective, teachers need to receive an adequate level of training, and additional training can improve overall lesson planning and implementation. The concern then becomes: How to do all of this without increasing the workload of our already overworked teachers?

As noted, using a third-party website such as Khan Academy is one means by which we hope to minimize any increased workload on busy teachers. CLIL classes can also take some of the teaching burden off of teachers by having instruction focus more on scientific or mathematical content and less on “the nuts and bolts” of English, thereby allowing content teachers to design lessons on subjects they already have some expertise in, rather than having to struggle to create more content focused exclusively on learning English. An added bonus of this process might be that because CLIL teachers must focus on presenting material in comprehensible and useful English, lessons may become more effective in relaying content. Still, adjustments to teaching schedules will likely be necessary in order to provide CLIL teachers adequate preparation time. CLIL teachers can then seek input from English teachers instead of having to produce everything on their own. Collaboration can become an effective means of reducing an individual teacher’s workload. As Ute (2012) noted in a study of the use of CLIL in schools in Europe, the collaboration necessitated by an increased use of CLIL can reduce the burden on teachers:

In order to compensate for additional time spent on preparing CLIL lessons and materials, all participating schools granted each ProCLIL teacher a one-hour reduction in their teaching load. Additionally, the project team supplied teachers with published and team-created learning materials. Nonetheless, ProCLIL teachers unanimously reported having to spend considerable time in preparing CLIL learning materials. Half of the ProCLIL teachers worked alone at their schools and encountered more difficulties than those working in teams. (Emphasis mine)

At Kosen, we hope to establish a system where native speaking English teachers are always available to advise CLIL teachers on lesson planning and implementation.

Our immediate goal for implementing a flipped CLIL classroom using third-party e-learning materials is to increase our students’ use of, and exposure to, English. We believe the best means to achieve this is to increase the perceived authenticity of the English students are exposed to in our classrooms. By studying, in English, subjects the students recognize as directly related to their immediate learning goals and future careers, we seek to increase the students’ motivation to learn, and engage in, English. The current educational climate of Japan fosters an image of English as important to academic success, even to future potential careers outside of Japan, but not necessarily an important tool within Japan. The self-perpetuating stereotype that Japanese people are not good at English further demotivates students to make additional efforts to learn this second language. Furthermore, in Japan, though the government is stepping up efforts to increase the amount of English education students receive in school, there is a sense from parents and teachers that this increased emphasis on English will detract from other, more necessary fields of study, fields of study that directly contribute to a student’s future career. There is a sense, also, that studying other subjects in English may reduce the effectiveness of instruction. This reflects a stereotype in most cultures that bilinguals are less likely to achieve success in scientific and creative fields. But, as Hugo Baetens Beardsmore (2008) so aptly points out in “Multilingualism, Cognition And Creativity”: “if we take a closer look at the number of creative people who were at least bilingual, if not multilingual, the implicit superiority of monolingual individuals can be challenged.” Add to that the simple fact that most successful scientists tend to be multi-lingual—“When asked how many of his contemporary Nobel Prize winners were bilingual, Ilya Prigogine (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1977) who spoke Russian, French and English and taught through French and English, replied, « the majority »” (Beardsmore, 2008)—and you have a formidable argument against the monolingual bias.

If we Kosen teachers can expose our students to this fact, and that an increasing number of Japanese engineers and scientists use English in their work despite living in Japan, we stand a better chance of overcoming the notion that English is simply a foreign language to be studied for entrance examinations or for writing grant or patent proposals. By using CLIL, we can increase our students’ motivation to learn English, yes, but also increase their motivation to learn other subjects more actively and more independently:
Students are as keen to learn about content areas as they are to improve their language skills. They are also interested in learning study skills, which perhaps indicates a disposition towards developing greater autonomy. The fact that content was the most important aspect in defining authenticity implies that CLIL, through ‘authenticity of purpose’ delivers a greater sense of engagement to the students and allows opportunities for language focus to arise organically in the classroom situation.” (Pinner, 2013)

By combining CLIL with a flipped classroom style of teaching, and using high quality e-learning resources such as Khan Academy, we can enable our students to perceive English as a living, useful, tool of communication.
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