At our very first meeting of the M-HOUSE project when the partners were discussing the detail of how we were going to offer a course in transferring household skills into a business context, one of the partners observed that a selling point would be that it would improve your English. Why so? Because we were proposing to offer the course 100% online through the medium of English in order to attract a range of learners from across Europe who could exchange experiences. But it would not be an English learning course. That got me wondering whether this course and others like it could be viewed as some CLIL variant for adults. So my session at IATEFL presented the project but also asked the question, is this adult CLIL?
CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning and is more commonly associated with Young Learners who learn traditional classroom subjects through a foreign language. The idea is to improve motivation and immersion by not only attending classes in the foreign language but also learning all your other subjects through it too. I must say that having attended quite a few IATEFL sessions on teaching in developing country contexts, this is the everyday reality for millions of children around the world, not because of some middle class wish for your child to get a head start in a language, but simply because teachers speaking the tribal mother tongue of the children in the classroom are just not available.
The M-HOUSE project, supported by the Grundtvig strand of the former LifeLong Learning programme of the EU, stands for Mobile Learning to Unleash Households’ Business Potential. The idea is that many people who have many years experience of running a household actually have many business skills without realising it. The aim of the course is to raise awareness of these skills and their potential application to a business context; skills such as making major purchases, resolving conflict, allocating scarce resources and understanding the needs of others.
We realised that the people we were targeting may well lack confidence in their language skills and would find taking a course through the medium of English a daunting task. Therefore part of the course planning involved, not teaching English, but making English as easy to use as possible. I therefore went through some of the strategies we integrated in order to do this and I presented these strategies through the lens of the 4 Cs of CLIL.
According to Coyle (2009) CLIL is recognisable by the presence of the 4 Cs:
So I spent the remainder of the session examining whether the M-HOUSE course, which we called, Business Skills Explorer, from home to business, could qualify as CLIL for adults if it included all these four elements.
It was easy enough to tick off the content category, as well as the communication one since responses to activities have to be in English. The culture category was also easily covered by the wide range of participants that we could attract across Europe. The second pilot course has just started and already it is easy to see that where tasks require some interaction, the participants are learning a great deal about how things are done and perceived in the different countries.
Of the 4 Cs, cognition is perhaps the most elusive. It is described by Coyle as
engaging learners through creativity, higher order thinking and knowledge processing
So what do we do in the Business Skills Explorer to achieve this?
In fact a great deal of what we do is negative, in the sense that we try to remove barriers. We do this in several ways:
Every module of the course is structured in a similar way so that learners know what to expect after the second module and do not have to use cognitive energy wondering what the tasks will be like, how many and so on. Therefore every module consists of a short activation task (warmer in TEFL parlance) which serves to activate the vocabulary that will be needed for the longer tasks. The second task is usually some sort of knowledge acquisition through a reading or video while the third task is the major task which requires some hands-on activity such as planning an event or applying to a landlord to rent a flat.
On the topic of making a major purchase, we thought it would be fun to start with a short task asking participants to tell us about the worst purchase they have ever made. But thinking that this might show some people up in a bad light, we changed that to the best purchase. Focusing on the positive was an unexpected theme of the IATEFL conference and it is also something I have been working with in other areas. It is surprisingly powerful.
We are offering the course on Moodle so we are using the glossary function to pick out the words and phrases which may give difficulty.
English as necessary
Some of the tasks require prior research in the local area and there is no reason why this should not take place in the mother tongue.
Originally from the aeronautical industry in the 1960s the idea of Simplified Technical English is to make language easier to understand by writing short sentences, avoiding the passive tense and ensuring there is 1:1 relationship in word meaning. I have been surprised at how difficult some companies make it for their workers to use English language resources by using one word to mean two or more things or using several words to mean the same thing so this was an attempt to make an active step in rendering our materials as easy to understand English as possible. We could use a tool such as the Compleat Lexical Tutor to highlght those words which were likely to cause difficulty and replace them with simpler words. And for those words we had overlooked and still caused difficulty we could recommend a tool such as Rewordify which is very simple to use and replaces difficult words and phrases with simpler words.
Another way of supporting our learners, as well as giving clear specific instructions (eg reply at least twice, rather than reply to a few) was to get the moderator to kick-off tasks with a model answer. This works well for individualised tasks such as, tell us an anecdote where there was a cultural misunderstanding. So the answer is a model not in the sense that it is THE correct answer but in the sense that it shows the style and length of response that we expect.
Multi-channel response options
Where it was possible we also give our participants the freedom to reply using whatever medium suits them best. So if they are shy about writing they can record a video instead.
So is this adult CLIL? My audience at IATEFL seemed to think that it did qualify though they suggested that we could consider running it more explicitly as a language improvement course. Most of the items mentioned above are enablers and smoothers rather than challenging participants to improve their language through a structured and intentional approach.
Interested in running the course?
We are now at the stage where we are ready to talk to any institution or individual interested in running the course and not just in English, so contact me if this is of interest and we can talk.