ERG SES E 01, Inclusive Education
This study investigates the concept of academic inclusion in relation to science education when a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach is adopted. Inclusion is here understood in its broader sense as a process for catering for the different needs of all learners (UNESCO, 2005). CLIL is the acronym adopted in Europe to identify programs that provide the teaching and learning of non-linguistic school subjects through the medium of a foreign language. Since the 1990s, many European policy makers have enthusiastically adopted this approach as a lever for success in foreign language learning, in the general process of Europeanisation or for maintaining heritage languages (European Commission, 2004). Today, CLIL has become an integral part of most European educational systems (Eurydice, 2012). Though the research findings regarding language learning are usually encouraging (Dalton-Puffer, 2011), many questions are left open as to how CLIL is affecting content learning and as to how to make subject contents and registers accessible to all students (Llinares, 2015). From the content learning perspective, the language-related challenge that the CLIL classroom presents poses a risk of developing into “linguistic barriers” (Motschenbacher, 2017) that potentially undermine learning by the most vulnerable learners and in particular by the less able in the foreign language (Bruton, 2017). Reported dropouts of students from CLIL streams are an example of the possible consequences of this risk (Apsel, 2012).
However, this study proposes a change of perspective, that is, the use of a CLIL approach as a potential for bringing inclusive teaching practices to the science classroom. This view is rooted in the overarching conceptualization of language-as-resource for learning and teaching content, instead of language as a barrier, as proposed by Planas and Civil (2013). The present work provides suggestions as to how teaching practices can make content accessible to all students in science CLIL classrooms. The research question is concerned with the following: What language practices support inclusion in content learning when a CLIL approach is implemented in science classrooms at upper secondary level?
For this study, teaching and learning are framed within a sociocultural perspective (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Our study is based on three main assumptions. First, inclusion entails adequately catering for the different needs of all students to facilitate their learning success (Motschenbacher, 2017). Accordingly, inclusive language practices in a science CLIL classroom are those practices which make the content accessible to all the students. Second, science has its own language. To develop scientific knowledge, the students need to understand the specific use of language in science class (Lemke, 1990). Third, researchers from the bilingual field agree that students’ home language is a resource that supports students’ knowledge development and their understanding of all school subjects (Cummins, 2005).
This paper is derived from an on-going multiple case-study research project. Qualitative data were collected from three case studies, each represented by a science teacher (biology) and three of their senior classes (students aged 15 to 17 years). A total of nine class groups (n=175) participated to this study. Each case study relates to a different secondary school: two Gymnasien in Germany (Berlin, case study A, and Hamburg, case study B) and one Liceo in Northern Italy (Trento, case study C). English competences of the students ranged from good to very good and all the students had been learning biology in English for at least one school year prior to participating to this study. There were no students with special educational needs. A total of 35 hours of science lessons of 50 minutes’ duration each on different topics of biology were observed and recorded (8 lessons for case A, 14 lessons for case B and 13 lessons for case C). These lessons in each case study were observed over a period of two weeks, between October 2016 and March 2017. Observations were inclusive of both teachers and students and involved the recording of detailed field notes. Observations included descriptions of classroom interactions, non-verbal events such as gestures and use of visuals, as well as what was written on the board. Concurrently, participants were audio recorded as they engaged in classroom talk or as they were working in small groups. The audio recorded lessons were verbatim transcribed, producing a language corpus of 23 hours of transcribed conversation. Transcripts, coupled with the field notes from the observations were analysed qualitatively – both within-case and cross-case – in order to discern strategies. All strategies were noted and sorted into themes, following a hybrid approach to thematic analysis as described by Fereday and Muir-Cochrane (2006). The criterion used when analysing the inclusiveness of the classrooms was the extent of language and content being accessible to all students. The final analysis was an in-depth, fine-grained interpretative analysis of the most representative sequences of classroom talk. This data-grounded analysis of the transcripts was inspired by the work of Planas (2014) and methodologically framed by the interactional sociolinguistic approach to discourse analysis of Gumperz (2001), by the work on science classroom meaning-making of Mortimer and Scott (2003) and by the thematic pattern analysis proposed by (Lemke, 1990).
All the observed lessons are a mix of whole-classroom dialogues led by the teacher, short teacher’s monologues and student group writing activities. The thematic analysis of the transcripts supported by the field notes revealed the following two overarching themes: (1) a flexible and conscious use of language and other communicative devices facilitates content access and learning. Among this theme, practices such as code-switching, repetitions, paraphrasing, wait time, the incorporation of gestures and visuals were discerned. These practices were purposely implemented in order to make the content more easily accessible and to help students to flexibly construct disciplinary meanings using their own words; (2) the reworking of knowledge facilitates content access and learning. Practices such as the use of analogies, examples, anecdotes, summaries were observed to make content cognitively more accessible. Many of the language strategies identified in the present study are considered to support inclusive processes in classroom (e.g. Booth & Ainscow, 2002) implying that the adoption of a CLIL approach in a science classroom is favorable to bringing inclusiveness into the classroom environment. Through the final fine-grained analysis of selected segments of the transcripts it was possible to link the occurrence of strategies to their context and purpose. For example, the teachers of case study A and B switched to the students’ home language when they judged that the understanding was compromised by linguistic issues. In contrast, the teacher of case study C, which is an English native speaker, used less code-switching than the other two teachers. Instead, he often resorted to gestures to make his input more comprehensible. The same teacher incorporated plenty of anecdotes and real life experiences into his explanations to make content more lively and familiar to the students and to help them to better remember it.
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