Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On the importance of inquiry for real learning

When "meaningful inquiry" leads the CLIL unit, effective learning follows

Traditional school systems have continuously discouraged the natural process of inquiry. However; whether we notice or not, inquiry is an important part of our lives. If you place close attention you'll notice that we don't ask ourselves just any question but only the ones that matter to us. In order to - decide, plan, make choices, compare, classify, hypothesize, figure out. As infants, we begin to make sense of the world by inquiring. Babies observe, grasp objects and put things in their mouths. We seek information by seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling.

In our everyday lives, we are we are constantly solving small and big problems by questioning and inquiring.  We naturally ask ourselves: should I take the train or the bus? Is it necessary to take an umbrella today? Will he be upset if I cancel the appointment? How should I dress for an interview? How am I going to deal with a difficult student? Will she be offended if I am honest? This is just the way our brain works. 
Higher order thinking creates more connections in the brain. The same occurs when we combine new information with knowledge we gained in the past. 

Inquiry and Learning

To provoke meaningful inquiry from our students is not enough to just present coherent or understandable material, well organized information or a thematic unit organized around a topic.

What is inquiry?

Inquiry implies a "need or want to know" premise

Inquiry is not about getting the right answer - because often there is none -- but rather seeking appropriate resolutions to questions and issues. As CLIL teachers, we should work on developing our students 'inquiry skills to help them follow this knowledge quest attitude throughout their lives.
A meaningfully inquiry project should be carefully designed to let the student authentically wonder. After this first step is taken learners will creatively construct new learning by linking to prior knowledge and experience through motivation and active learning.
Any CLIL model  that  places a real emphasis on the inquiry process will undoubtedly be a successful one. An authentic process that will allow them to take their learning to the next level and beyond. 

*If you'd like to continue reading about the Inquiry process check:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are we setting the stage for CLIL? by Marta Braylan

The constructive process of learning requires an active learner with a clear understanding of
the objective and purpose of his or her own actions. This process usually
involves risking responses, making mistakes, reviewing, editing, re-writing, changing  and coming to own conclusions among other many things.

Are we as CLIL teachers setting the stage
for all of the above to happen?

I tried to write my own CLIL Teacher's Checklist- Please feel free to collaborate by adding your own thoughts and  questions to the list below.

  • When we start a new project in primary school: are we setting the climate for wonder? Are we helping them link with prior knowledge and experience? Are we making the right connections with L1 curriculum? Are we leaving gaps and unanswered areas of knowledge to provoke curiosity in order to approach learning meaningfully? Are we truly valuing and considering students ideas and opinions without judgments?
  • In the process of teaching a unit or a lesson in primary school: Are we letting our students experience with their bodies? with music? through hand-on activities? through drama? through the arts? Are we showing them that they are the owners of their learning process? Are they aware that they are the creators of the unique products they make? (stories, poems, dialog, paintings, sculptures, interviews, presentations, posters, objects, decorations, and more.) Are we making exhibits of their individual and group productions to share with families and community?

  •  When we give our primary school students a writing assignment:  Are we creating the conditions for students to construct spontaneous writing? Have we selected a genre from L1 curriculum that is appropriate for the student's age? Are we offering writing models for the learners to become familiar with that genre? Are we providing scaffolding to avoid immediate failing? Are we engaging students by motivating them to write about something that is relevant to their lives? Are we teaching them that writing involves re-writing, correcting, editing?

  • When we propose a reading aloud activity to our primary school students: Are we providing enough information so they can predict and contextualize as they read? Are we being patient enough to listen without correcting pronunciation to allow time for self confidence? Are we supporting the activity with visuals, audio files and realia?

  •  When we assign a certain production combined with arts, music or game construction to our primary school students: Are we asking them to make something meaningfully connected to the content of study? Is the task appropriate for their age? (not too easy/not too hard) Have we tried to do the task ourselves before, to see what difficulties students may encounter on the way? Have we planned what supplies will be necessary in advance? Are we teaching them that enjoying "hands on" activities  such as drawing, decorating, painting in order to show their work is useful and is a way  of expressing themselves about the content of study. Are we teaching  them to  take pride and to feel the satisfaction of real achievement by appreciating their work and the work of others? Are we letting them know that everyone creates his/her production in different ways?

  • How about the thinking skills?: Are we offering our students the possibility of classifying, comparing, inferring, coming to conclusions, hypothesizing, making connections, predicting, estimating, summarizing, explaining, labeling, defining, ordering, contrasting, modifying, rewriting, inventing, describing, distinguishing, paraphrasing, changing, designing, supporting, justifying, reorganizing....and the long list continues...
  •  When evaluating our students: Are we giving priority to the message our students are trying to convey instead of focusing just on the grammar? Are we letting them know that evaluation is one more step of their learning process? Are we teaching them that making mistakes is also part of the learning process? Are we allowing them to self correct, and revise errors and mistakes? Are we offering the possibility of re-doing their work and of being re- evaluated?


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Going back to the text with a purpose in ESL, ELL or EFL learning by Marta Braylan

When we work with authentic texts (literary, expository, academic, and so on...) we tend to place focus mainly on comprehension. However,  approaching a text with a different purpose other than checking comprehension, can give our students a chance to go back to the text meaningfully. 

Metacognition is the action of reflecting on our own learning process.  When we are able to explain or show how we learned  something, we are witnesses to our own learning process. There has been a growing recognition that metacognition or self awareness, including awareness of ourselves as learners, helps us to learn more effectively (Scottish, 1996)

Gardner said "
I use the term metacognition to refer to what a learner knows about how he or she learns a language; and, therefore, view it as a process of relating the language learning to the self".

Once the student becomes familiar with a text she/he can go back to it in order to reflect about meaning and grammar. This is, also, a way of showing understanding; however, it requires an action from the learner that shows awareness and self reflection.

But how do we go about it?

Using a known text with different learning objectives:
  •  To locate and identify certain words such as: describing words (adjectives), verbs in the present/past/future/action verbs and others. 
  •   To locate and identify words that refer to a certain topic of study (personality, wheather, nature, ecology, scientific process, story organization, the arts, history, etc.)
  • To correct mistakes related to the meaning and/ or the grammar/spelling
  •  To identify and make changes: changing the characters, the setting, the time, the ending, the moral, the conflict. (Making the necessary adjustments to the new text, such as plurals/singulars, verb tenses, persons, and so on.)
  •  To fill out a graphic organizer in order to classify, to understand a process, to infer, to conclude, to compare, to organize a sequence of events, etc.
  •  To make a list of words related to a certain topic of interest.
  • To identify main ideas in paragraphs.
  • To understand concepts related to coherence and cohesion.
Authentic texts provide context and meaning to the learning process. As students approach a text without fear and feel comfortable to "play" with its words and ideas they are learning
that language has a purpose, is real and close to their lives.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Scaffolding by Marta Braylan


Vygotsky wrote, "What the child can do in cooperation today he can do alone tomorrow."(1934).

Scaffolding is used by teachers to support learners. It refers to a temporary supporting structure that students learn to use and to rely on, in order to achieve learning outcomes.
Scaffolding helps students to access previously acquired learning, to analyze it, to process new information, to create new relational links, and to take their understanding several steps further.

Some practical examples of scaffolding strategies:

  • Brainstorming a topic 
  • Using graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, tables and charts
  • Having students develop their own definitions of terms
  • Providing reinforcement for attempting to speak, then for a partially right answer and then for the right answer
  • Assessing obstacles to learning
  • Breaking material into chunks and reframing information
  • Using pictures and realia
  • Having students sum up text by writing headlines for each paragraph
  • Having students transform text into pictures or graphics
  • Giving clues and asking follow up questions
  • Modeling and offering samples of similar assignments
  • Providing authentic context to language and activities

    Why is Scaffolding so important for CLIL teachers?

CLIL teachers need to build: 

  1. on what the students already know or hypothesize about a topic or subjectsubject
  2. from the language the students already may know
  3. on the thinking skills they already use in L1 

Please leave your comment/opinion!!!


Would CLIL fit into a constructivist perspective? The importance of good questions. By Marta Braylan

Many CLIL projects or units would fit into a constructivist perspective if they were seriously "meaning oriented". One of the most common errors of some publications that present themselves under the "CLIL" umbrella is they they don't offer real problems or questions to be solved by the students. In those cases, information is just correlated around a certain "topic".

Arriving to integration through a good leading question would be one important step to make.
Jerome Bruner said: "The art of asking provoking questions is at least as important as that of providing clear answers [...], and the art of setting those questions to good use and keeping
them alive is as important as the first two."

Here are some tips to come up with a good question:

  • The question will need reasoning and some research to be answered
  • It will relate to curricular guidelines and to students´ lives
  • It will motivate students to read, write, think and speak

Some examples:

-Can the world feed 10 billion people?
-Do revolutions always work?
-Do all animals have hearts?
-Why did humans lose their fur?

I believe Constructivism provides a strong rationale for content-based curricula such as CLIL, since it is holistically oriented and meaning seeking based.
Please, leave your comments/opinions!!!! 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Meaning Matters" by Marta Braylan

Arriving to a "meaning matters" frame of mind by Marta Braylan

When we say "meaning matters" we mean that we must really give priority to the message a person is trying to convey. It makes a big difference when we first offer genuine feedback on our student's productions  before observing  grammatical  mistakes. Focusing on form first may present the serious risk of losing the intrinsic motivational desire to communicate that most human beings have. When we value ideas, we pave the way for the students to correct their errors meaningfully because they really want to get their message through.
  If a student has written a text and we understand what he or she means (even though the student has made many mistakes) then we can say:
  • "Your text is fine, I understand your point and agree or disagree with you. I would also add so and so........and finally  I  will say it needs some editing that will include some grammar corrections and organization to make it more understandable and clear to the readers"
  •  If a student has written a text that is hard to understand we can say: "I don't really understand what you mean, could you clarify this or that? What is the problem you are presenting? Did you mean so and so?  We are giving the student  the chance to first discuss what he or she intends to communicate.
  • If a young student is having difficulty writing a text, we must offer possibilities, without suggesting the idea. It must be "their idea". Scaffolding tools can be used to help them convey their message. For example: suggest them to make a drawing or a cartoon with their idea, then label with own words and finally write the text.  Also, you may give a starting clue or a specific structure to help them come up with an idea.

Meaning matters to all of us, think about it and give our students a chance to express their ideas !!!!!

Please leave your comment/opinion!!!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Learning and the Emotional BRAIN by Marta Braylan

Learning and The Emotional Brain

When we read about the emotional brain, there are certain phrases we need to pay close attention to:
  • dopamine and serotonin are associated with positive emotions
  • behavioral interventions can produce more brain changes than any medicine and
    can affect specific brain circuits
  • social and emotional learning can change brain function and structure
  • students need to have the goal to achieve a positive outcome
  • when anxiety is reduced cognition improves
  • real thinking is never divorced from emotion
  • let your students discover for themselves
  • have faith in yourself and faith in your students
  • in a culture where emotions get somehow a low status, our goal is to
    get our students to be more personally connected.

I guess the emotional brain provides many of the answers to explain why a high challenge and high support classroom leads to important achievement and motivation.

These mentioned concepts underlay a range of principles that seem to be fundamental for meaningful learning such as the importance of:
  • non threatening-non violent classroom atmosphere
  • appropriate teacher interventions (both in the social and the learning domains)
  • highly motivational didactic units or projects that consider group and individual achievement
  • highly involved teachers that believe their students have the potential to learn and that help stimulate confidence, involvement and curiosity
  • teachers that value each student by considering every opinion, by listening closely, and by showing they care.

Find more information on how the brain works and students responses at this wonderful article by neurologist and teacher Judy Willis:

Please, leave your comment/opinion!!!!