Interview by Martina Bednarikova
Part of the art of teaching is the ability to rearrange the world for your students. By forcing them to see things in a new way, suggesting rather than dogmatizing, teachers have the power to inspire his listeners’ lives. Dana Hanesová, one of the speakers at ELT Forum 2014, tries hard to be such an opener of doors for all her students… for she knows that teachers actually write scripts on their students’blackboards of life that can never be erased.
Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): One of your areas of interests is CLIL. Can you tell us more about your own experience of working in CLIL environment? In what way can both Slovak students and teachers benefit from using CLIL methods of teaching?
Dana Hanesová (DH): Yes, I am very interested in CLIL and I do consider it as having a big potential. Based on my studies, foreign field experience and my own school practice I can say that CLIL is great because it allows the students to work in a meaningful information context and it helps to develop higher thinking skills. I could see and believe in even bigger benefit of CLIL which lies in its potential to be an efficient way how to acquire knowledge in a meaningful, authentic way and how to reach simultaneously multifold aims: to develop the language competence, the knowledge of some specific content and even various other skills, especially the thinking skills. It has been proved to be an activating way of teaching which really facilitates the development of brain connections. I have been fascinated with these ideas that are covered under the umbrella of CLIL since 1998 – I created a subject called ESP for the educational sciences based on CBI (content based instruction). I can say that even the statistical measurements proved the higher development of linguistic and professional skills of my CLIL students; they were obviously more successful in their results than the regular course English students.
But on the other hand, frankly, in comparison with some other Slovak and foreign experts, I consider myself as being in the phase of learning how to apply CLIL really efficiently. I am still on my way to better understanding and more consistent use of it, especially with young learners. I have been learning this from a good friend of mine – an expert on CLIL, prof. Judit Kovacs, PhD. from Hungary who has been involved in CLIL for young learners since CLIL started as CLIL in 1994. She has written several methodological materials for teachers. She has been involved in my institution, University of Matej Bel for 3 years now. The project within which she actually teaches CLIL methodology in Banská Bystrica is called Mobilities – enhancing research, science and education at the Matej Bel University, ITMS code: 26110230082, under the Operational Program Education co-financed by the European Social Fund.
SCET: What helps children out of the confusion they undoubtedly encounter in the beginning while experiencing CLIL? In what way does such an early immersion help them master a foreign language?
DH: Well, if a child is brought up in a bilingual family, I do not think there is confusion, at least, I have not noticed it in such families. But I can imagine that children who are used to learn English separately from all other stuff, those saying “Oh, we have English the second lesson tomorrow”, yes, those children may experience some kind of confusion at first. English is somewhere there, on one of the shelf with school subjects. The bell rings, let’s pick up that book and let’s do it the following 45 minutes. What they tend to do, is to try to find the easiest way out – to continue speaking Slovak with their teacher who – besides English lesson – speaks Slovak to them. It may seem total nonsense to them: Why to make such an effort to try to create sentence, remember and recall new words, try to articulate in English if the person understands Slovak based on what I have experienced so far?
Let me use an example here. Last week I have observed 5 lessons of CLIL taught by a foreigner (prof. J. Kovacs) to Slovak children with NO Slovak word at all. Yes, in the beginning they were surprised but they loved the challenge. They immediately understood that no Slovak would help them. Though they had not heard a word about even and odd numbers in Slovak before, here, in the CLIL lesson, they seemd to be able to comprehend this specific content in English in 10 minutes, they were able to work out several exercises showing their real understanding of these new maths concepts. After doing an activity just once, they knew what to expect the next time and they got perfectly OK readjusting to the new situation. What made it so easy? A very nice approach of the teacher creating rapport with the children, a handful of interesting activities full of motions and use of senses, a non-treatening, heuristic learning environment, etc. So this is what I believe makes CLIL as the way of the early immersion really successful: Having good relation with students, being open to learn with and from them – to somehow “dance” in the same rhythm with them, feel what they feel, smile and be kind, not just yelling instructions at them, trying to find in their faces what they need and what they do not understand and what has to be shown/demonstrated again, use non-verbal communication tools, trust children’s curiosity and the tremendous ability of their minds, and then provide a good synergetical solution for their learning: the best is to go for a cooperation of a native and non-native teacher. Try to make this CLIL adventure your own hobby! Do not be afraid of tremendous amount of preparation work – it can still be used with other teachers, next times, it is not in wain J.
SCET: In your opinion, what are the main benefits of bilingual education? Why would you recommend bilingual teaching in Slovakia, even for younger learners?
DH: Firstly, I want to say that I am not a proponent of any kind of teaching English to very young and young learners. I would speak about immersion or bilingual education helping to master the new langauge only if the teaching person can really use English properly. I want to strongly emphasize that I am persuaded that if the teacher’s English is not good enough it can do more harm than benefit. In my opinion only if the teacher is reasonably fluent and his/her pronunciation is really understandable and ‘good’, his/her communication fulfilling a certain standard, including mastering most common grammar structures – only then we can talk about any benefits of EFL for younger learners. Of course, the older the learners are the more independent they can be and they can find , e.g. good pronunciation, on the internet. But the young learners have to be provided with an excellent learning environment. Of course the best is to have a cooperation of non-native and native teachers. This ensures that the children have a chance to be immersed in the target (foreign) language climate but at the same time they are able to use the content also in their native langauge.
This is why I can really recommend bilingual education. CLIL is not about translating words from one language into another. I believe CLIL should be taught in such a way that the learners get a chance to construct their concepts in both languages naturally via the process which can be called language acquisition and not so much conscious learning. In case if the teachers fulfil these basic preconditions, I believe, CLIL as a kind of bilingual teaching can be really beneficial for the Slovak learners.
We have to believe and understand what is happening in our minds when we are prompted/challenged to think more. I personally started to study neuroscientific information about the way people are learning, it encourages me to trust it much more. And of course, this is only one side of teaching. The other one is that if the child is interested in, e.g. wild animals, then learning about which animals is faster or the fastest, which of them eats how much food a day, which of them sleeps at night… etc… all these facts are of an interest to the child that when you mention this favourite topic in English the child is even eager to understand: what are they talking about it here? What new information is here so that I can grasp it? So here we see CLIL – responding to the core principles of how children learn: through senses, through meaning-making and through message, not so much through explanation of difficult concepts and too many words. Neurological scientists say that the mind is like a jungle – it works only if it is challenged – similar to trying to save one’s own life if endangered by the jungle life. It is a very strong principle – the more challenging, the more motivating it can be (of course not too much), but isnt this the famous Vygotskij theory of the zone of approximate development? This is what CLIL is – offering many opportunities to develop one’s mind so much faster. And also the self-confidence. Last week it was tremendous for me to see a class of 10 year olds who experienced a fascinating CLIL biology lesson by doing an experiment with an egg floating in a glass of salty water. One could experience the enjoyment of the lesson and when they were presenting the results of their experiments in English these children’s voices sounded as a wonderful symphony to my ears and hopefully to the ears of their lingvistic as well as non-linguistic teachers and parents, too… It was a real genuine communication in a different than native language! Real fulfilment of Widdowson’s idea of communicative approach: language should be not the aim, but the medium of communication. And it seemed to me that they themselves were aware of this wonderful learning result and they really indulged in it themselves J Through CLIL children can acquire not only language, but content, new learning strategies, open mind , thinking skills and better orientation for the surrounding world.
Dana Hanesová studied teaching English as a foreign language both at the Comenius University in Bratislava and at the University of Matej Bel in Banská Bystrica, where she has been a teacher trainer since 1993 and now also serves as an associate professor. In 2010 she also became involved in teaching English at the primary level. Her main research interest is ELT methodology, including CLIL, with various age groups of learners. Dana has written 5 books and about 100 studies, some focused on shifts from ‘teaching facts’ to ‘teaching to think’. She loves to compare various subject methodologies and to apply her findings in teaching primary English.
Workshop with Judit Kovács: DOES CLIL WORK WITH YOUNG LEARNERS?
CLIL– vYL/PRIM – A1-A2 – TEACHERS WITH SOME EXPERIENCE
FRIDAY 16:30-17:30 in SYDNEY