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EL European Union: Evaluating All The Evidence

Claudia Civinini interviews Gisella Langé, a key figure in the implementation of high-school Clil programmes across Italy

Gisella Langé is a foreign languages inspector at the Italian Ministry of Education, coordinating and supporting Clil programmes in schools across the nation. She has also coordinated two evaluation reports on Clil in upper secondary schools – one published in 2014, the other being released as we go to press – that monitored the implementation of the methodology in Italian schools. She reveals some of the ministry’s plans to get teachers ready for Clil, which include a focus on language training and internationalisation.

How is the implementation of Clil progressing?

According to the law, students in their last year of upper secondary school must have a subject taught in a foreign language. Clil is usually taught by the subject teacher. So far we haven’t made Clil compulsory the way it should be, but we have been trying to make teachers aware that they should slowly and gradually ameliorate their language and methodological competences up to the point where they can deliver their lessons in the foreign language with confidence.

We are slowly coming to this point. Many teachers have already accomplished their learning paths – to either B2 or C1 level. At this moment in every region of Italy around 2,000 teachers are attending seventy new methodological courses organised by universities and 6,000 teachers are involved in language courses organised by different institutions and organisations.

Is the implementation of Clil at primary school level still going ahead?

It is not easy to have Clil at low school levels. Teachers are not ready yet – primary teachers are generally at B1 level. Nevertheless the ministry is preparing a plan for languages within the framework of La Buona Scuola (a school reform law approved in June 2015). The general plan for teacher training will be funded with €120 million euros for a three-year period, and part of this money will be allocated to languages. Clil methodology will be extended to vocational, lower secondary and primary schools.

Teachers in primary schools will be invited to attend voluntary courses in order to reach B2 level. Where teachers are already B2, they will be offered the opportunity to have Clil methodology courses, and this will include the possibility to study abroad.

How do you measure outcomes for students, both in terms of language and curriculum?

We have been trying to organise some pilot English language tests in order to measure student outcomes, but we have not yet been able to organise a plan for the assessment of our students’ subject performance. We wanted Clil to have a good start, therefore in our school leaving exam (Esame di Stato), we made Clil assessment mandatory only if the Clil subject teacher is a member of the board.  We have been offered the possibility to test students’ linguistic competence with a language test from EF, and a large sample of students in their third year of upper secondary school have taken this test. Results will be out next month.

The 2014 evaluation report on the introduction of Clil methodology in upper secondary schools that you co-ordinated showed that 70 per cent of Italian teachers had never organised exchanges or training activities with foreign students. How can a more international mindset be promoted in schools?

We are trying our best to facilitate mobility, which will be an important part of teacher training. Under La Buona Scuola, training for teachers will be compulsory – a certain amount of hours yearly – either in the country or abroad. Erasmus+ will also offer more opportunities as well as the new Pon programme. Our teachers will be able to ameliorate their language competences either through local courses and/or going abroad. Strategic partnerships in the field of education will open new prospects for international links and exchanges. There must be a better use of new technologies and teachers need more support. Schools will also have funding to help teachers work together and create Clil digital materials.

students 

The evaluation report of the IBI/BEI project  issued in April 2014 mentions that pupils’ performance in the oral test was ‘a little mechanical’, as if they had simply memorised something they could not fully understand. There has been criticism of the methodology’s potentially damaging impact on students’ learning of the content. How would you respond?

That’s not true. Evidence suggests that content can be conveyed properly through a foreign language in contexts where good teaching happens. Simplification doesn’t mean banalisation.

Clil is proving to be a powerful changing agent – the best changing agent in our school system. There needs to be a cultural shift, so no more teacher-led lessons centred on content, but student-centred activities. Thanks to Clil, Italian teachers are trying more modern approaches and practices, focusing on scaffolding instruction, improving classroom management and increasing their own foreign language level!

The new monitoring report on upper secondary schools coming out at the end of April 2016 will give us fresh evidence of how Clil teachers are really changing their practice.