A Different Approach on Teaching and Learning as a Result of European In-Training Courses

Investigative approaches to teaching and learning will always challenge subjective reasoning but will ultimately result in cohesive ways of fulfilling tasks. The current article focuses on two of the most innovative and yet challenging methodologies – the enquiry-based approach and CLIL. What they have in common is mixed abilities classes, building on attitude rather than on knowledge and versatile teaching-learning roles. By employing such a perspective on education and training, students will become autonomous and proficient for lifelong learning.

An Enquiry-Based Approach to Learning

The term ”enquiry-based learning” does not have a single precise meaning indicative of a closely-prescribed teaching method. It is more usefully regarded as a broad approach to learning in which students engage in a relatively self-directed process of enquiry in relation to an area of study, theme or topic, which has ideally been chosen by themselves as groups or individuals.

The approach has a general applicability across the curriculum but will be reflected in a wider variation in classroom practice depending upon the area of study, the developing skills of the students and the personality, skills, experience and confidence of the teacher. The use of the term ‚enquiry-based learning’ is not intended to suggest that this should be the only approach but one which is a particularly valuable addition to the range of approaches available to teachers, providing an overall orientation to teaching and learning and combining usefully, as it does, with other strategies and techniques. The following key concepts are implicit in:

  • Openness – participation in enquiry-based learning is not for the few but for all students.
  • Choice – by making decisions students assume a greater responsibility for their own education.
  • Flexibility – this applies to aspects such as content, sequence and methodology and is a direct consequence of students decision-making.
  • Respect – an enquiry-based approach necessarily implies respect for student individuality and for the experience, interests, opinions and skills of individuals.
  • Questioning – students are no longer required to conform to or to accept without questioning the opinions and judgments of others.

The teacher as Guide and Support – it goes almost without saying that students as decision-makers and planners require a different kind of help from those who are simply told what to do and how to do it.

Enquiry-based learning has an important part to play in the values education promotes. It enables students to become aware that there is often a valuable element to any problem being investigated, to analyse and clarify the values likely to be held by various interested parties and to become clearer about their own values in relation to the problem under investigation. It is important when investigating any specific issues to examine why people hold particular opinions and to use the opportunity to make students aware of the need to appreciate other people’s points of view.

Enquiry-based learning is a term which overlaps with many others. Consideration of some of these is likely to be helpful in developing a fuller understanding of learning based on enquiry: problem-based learning, problem solving, collaborative learning, independent study, autonomous learning, open learning, supported self-study, creativity, discovery learning, divergent thinking, education for capability. Space does not permit examination of any of this. Their designations however provide an indication of their links with enquiry-based learning and how they differ from traditional teacher-controlled learning.

Broadly defined, enquiry-based learning involves elements of and features all of the above associated terms. Taken as a whole the terms point to a range of objectives and provide an orientation to the kind of education which will involve young people actively in their own education, encourage them to identify and find solutions to problems which matter to them, provide opportunities to work individually or in groups or teams, develop confidence in their own skills and abilities, place value on their own experience and interest.

Several main reasons are normally advanced for the development of enquiry-based learning:
1. Students are much more committed to learning when they are actively involved in deciding what they are going to learn, what materials they are going to use, what activities they will initiate and what experience they will devise to further their investigation.
2. The inter-personal relationships essential for and developed by enquiry-based learning are particularly conducive to learning. The quality of inter-personal relationships in the classroom, particularly between teacher and student, is one of the most important determinants of whether or not young people learn. There are several key aspects to teacher/students relationships: the general atmosphere of and the environment created in the classroom, the extent to which the teacher is able and willing to reveal himself/herself to the students as a fellow human being with interests, opinions and feelings of his/her own, the attitudes and feelings of the teacher in relation to the individual students, the ability of the teacher to guide and support the student in a way which respects his views, opinions, decisions, experience and skills.

All of the above are inter-related. Ideally a teacher should be perceptive of and sensitive to a student’s feelings, have the ability to see life in the classroom through the students’ eyes, display trust, value the learner whatever his or her limitations, avoid preconceptions, avoid labelling an entire group in a way which deprives its members of respect, avoid being over-judgmental, give praise when there are legitimate grounds for doing so, recognize each student as a person and a valued member of the group – too many students suffer from a feeling of being ignored, recognize and draw upon the wide range of experience and interest present in the classroom, ensure that all students and not just the supposedly most able are given guidance, support and encouragement.

The role of the teacher as guide, support, enabler and facilitator is fundamental to success. Students will have to learn how to structure investigations, a useful framework being that of the questions: What? How? When? With what resources? It will probably be helpful to begin with guided investigations moving towards self-directed enquiry. The teacher might also consider beginning with class enquires, progressing to group investigations and eventually to individual initiatives. It is important to listen to the student and to treat his/her suggestions seriously allowing his/her ideas to be pursued even if there will be difficulties. Possibilities should always be discussed and direction avoided.

Where possible the need for encouragement and support should be anticipated and planned for. Anticipating the need for resources is a crucial responsibility. The teacher should make the student aware of the range of resources available, help him to select and to obtain the most relevant and discuss with him how they can best be utilized. Encouragement is especially important at a time when decisions are being taken and when difficulties are encountered. When providing support it should be remembered that it is help which is required and not criticism. Comments like ”you might have known” or  ”it wasn’t a very bright idea to begin with” serve no purpose and should be avoided. It helps greatly the teacher can come to regard himself as a fellow enquirer.

It has been strongly argued by advocates of enquiry-based learning that finding out for oneself through enquiry enables learners to acquire information in such a way that it can be assimilated more effectively into existing knowledge and used for further investigation. In this way it is more likely to foster intellectual growth than under a system of traditional teaching. This is said to be reinforced by the stimulus of success.

It is also claimed that the strategies and skills of enquiry and problem-solving methodologies have a general applicability to problems in every-day life. There is no doubt that participation in enquiry-based learning will develop self-confidence and self-reliance.

An enquiry-based approach requires the teacher as well as the students to acquire new skills in developing new and different roles. With more movement in the classroom and more student-initiated talk and discussion there will be a need for different means of class management. Enquiry is much more time-consuming than direct teaching and often appears to teachers to be wasteful of time and resources. Teachers are under enormous pressure to complete prescribed examination syllabuses and to obtain good results. Enquiry often involves unplanned activities which do not fit the syllabuses and consequently appear to some students, parents and teachers to be irrelevant to the course of study. Students who have always worked as a class will take time to learn to work effectively in groups, in pairs or as individuals.

As a consequence of the difficulties associated with a new teaching/learning approach its introduction ought to be gradual and carefully planned. Recognition of the unavoidable difficulties and problems likely to be encountered should not obscure the opportunities and very real benefits offered by the adoption of enquiry-based teaching. What it should do is underline the need for small beginnings, careful planning, gradual progression and the avoidance of complexity. Starting on a modest scale does not imply ineffectiveness but rather recognition of the need to be able to manage and to cope with change. Every teacher for example, can usefully ask questions such as the following: In what ways and in what areas can I introduce a greater degree of students’ choice and arrange for students to play a greater part in decision-making? What activities currently planned by me could be more efficiently planned by the students? What means could be introduced within the prescribed curriculum in terms of Content, sequence and approach in order to render it more flexible? Could I reduce significantly the amount of time I spend talking in the classroom? How can I show that I value student opinion and judgments and avoid constantly imposing my own?

With regard to the investigation progress, it may be gradual but progressive, beginning with activities planned by the teacher but providing active practical activities for students. At a later stage planning can be undertaken by students.

Content and Language Integrated Learning

CLIL is an acronym, and as such it tends to attract people’s attention. It encapsulates an approach, a philosophy – an educational paradigm with frontiers that can be defined up to a point. Content and Language Integrated Learning has a double focus: on content and language. No agreement on a definition has been reached so far but roughly speaking, through CLIL, pupils learn a subject through the medium of a foreign language. CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language. CLIL provides exposure to language without requiring extra time in the curriculum. The learner is not necessarily expected to have the English proficiency required to cope with the subject before beginning the study. Thus, this teaching methodology can be adopted starting with primary education.

The purpose of adding content is based on the following: acquiring knowledge and information in the mother tongue and a foreign language, in a certain domain, at the same time – as teaching through CLIL does not exclude mother tongue but rather fosters designing activities in such a way that the use of Romanian, as it is our case, is limited; learning “authentic” language; learner motivation – besides improving language skills and learning content, CLIL activities are particularly engaging and students don’t fail to see the practical aspects of such classes that will enable them to become proficient in a certain domain and also have the language support to take it to another level; preparing students for further education abroad – working abroad; preparing students for reading/writing international publications – enabling students to build on their knowledge on a self-study basis; developing autonomous learner skills – teaching students to “learn to learn”, identify their strengths and weaknesses and make decisions; preparing students for lifelong learning.

There are certain aspects which are relevant for CLIL activities: the methodology is based on the theory of ”Multiple Intelligences”, thus the activities are designed and planned so as to meet the needs of heterogeneous classes, different learning styles and learning strategies; it encourages active student involvement in the education  process which leads to autonomous learning Being a modern approach on teaching and learning, all the initiatives are student-centered and include communicative activities; they are focused on practical things such as fulfilling well established tasks which can as well have end products. The “Immersion Method”, fostered by CLIL, refers to the degree to which students are acquiring or learning language, while teaching across the curriculum – there are no barriers to separate subject areas and notions, techniques, methods traditionally used in certain fields of expertise. The learning environment is bilingual as CLIL does not completely eliminate the use of mother tongue, preserving it as a safety net and feedback for the students; collaborative teaching is encouraged, as teachers share information and methodology, planning together and even resort to pair teaching. CLIL encourages the development of the key competences identified at the European level: communication in the mother tongue, foreign languages, information and communication technology use as well as intercultural knowledge and understanding, communication and social skills and lifelong learning. Furthermore, it offers the opportunity for formal recognition of students’ knowledge and understanding.

CLIL activities are against “dead soldier” or lockstep teaching, they stimulate success in “cans” e.g. I can do this; I can say that – so the focus is on abilities rather than on knowledge. It seeks to challenge the teaching-learning situation that starts with a question mark and ends with a full stop and it encourages students to get rid of the ”egg-shell” syndrome and prove themselves.

CLIL activities satisfy five basic learners’ needs outlined by W. Glasser: for survival and security, for belonging, love, connecting, for power and success, for fun and for freedom of choices. Although the success of the approach has already widely been acknowledged, yet some aspects are subject of debate. Do we use content to learn English or do we use English to learn content? Is there a “content-driven language learning” process? Do we evaluate content and language at the same time? Do language aims determine content selection? Do language aims determine content use? The answers to these questions are to be given by the teachers, according to the teaching context. Who can make the decision of making CLIL more than a nice methodology to hear or read about? Implementing CLIL is up to teachers, school departments, management teams and ultimately the Government.

CLIL can be approached within the base curriculum: Subjects (e.g., History, Arts, Maths), Technology (e.g. computers/Internet, watching movies/music), Vocational Skills, Literature etc. More importantly, CLIL can be implemented within optional courses & cross curricular activities. E.g. Maths in English, Literature and Film, Functional Writings etc.Content-and-language based design can be implemented at: the level of the Curriculum, Syllabus (course) level or at a Unit/Lesson level. Therefore, it is up to the teacher to decide. Planning a CLIL unit may offer us the opportunity to try out the methodology before going for a higher level of involvement.

CLIL does not dictate methods/ techniques/ approaches although task-based learning is a popular choice as well as communicative language teaching. There is no “English only” requirement and CLIL does not dictate the medium of instruction – distance learning, CALL (Computer-assisted Language Learning), audio and video may be viable options.

You may be wondering whether there is anything new about this methodology…Yes and no: establishing both aims for the students and for the teacher; stating the aims of the lesson not at the beginning of the class but before each activity; starting question: “What don’t you know?” instead of what “What do you know about the topic?”; evaluation of both language and content; students making their own tests rather than just doing them; extensive use of group work and pair work, even while testing; no restriction on the use of mother tongue; evaluating and grading a certain aspect at a time: punctuation, spelling, grammar, structure etc.

Content-learning design includes four so-called permanent elements: language, content, technology and skills. The main advantages of using CLIL on a larger scale are the possibility of intentionally “grading” the levels of content and language in a series of courses, offering students equal education opportunities and hope for career advancement across the world.

Courtney, Richard. Dramatic Curriculum. London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1980.
Edmiston, Brian, and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Imagining To Learn: Inquiry, Ethics, and Integration Through Drama. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998.
Course Book. An Enquiry – Based Approach to Teaching and Learning for Subjects Other than English (Literature, History, Arts etc). Ireland: University of Limerick, 2007.
Course Book. CLIL for Arts and Humanities. Exeter, UK: International Project Centre, 2008.


prof. Mihaela-Alina Chiribău-Albu

Colegiul Național de Artă Octav Bancilă, Iași (Iaşi) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/mihaela.chiribaualbu

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