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Content and Language Integrated

Learning: Towards a Connected

Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies
Do Coyle
School of Education, University of Nottingham, UK
This paper sets out to position CLIL research within the broader field of bilingual
education in the 21st century. In considering the development of CLIL across diverse
European contexts, the author problematises the construction of a research agenda
which lies at the interface of several different fields of study. A conceptual
framework for CLIL is presented which reorientates the integration of language
and content in order to inform and develop CLIL pedagogies from a ‘holistic’
perspective. Using the 4Cs Framework for analysis, the author concludes that for
CLIL research to ‘mature’, the nature and design of the research must evolve to
identify CLIL-specific issues whilst drawing on a much wider frame of reference.
This poses a challenge for a future CLIL research agenda which must ‘connect’ and
be ‘connected’ if the potential of CLIL is to be realised.

doi: 10.2167/beb459.0

Keywords: CLIL (content and language integrated learning), 4Cs Framework,

theories of practice, research

Bilingual Education in Europe: Setting the Context

In the 21st century where the grand rhetoric of ‘global’ perspectives sits
alongside postmodernist interpretations of fragmented societies, bilingual
education is a generic term which is ‘volatile and ideologically loaded’
(Cummins, 1999). On a global scale language patterns have changed
significantly  a situation described by Maurais (2003) as a ‘new linguistic
world order’. Yet being educated in a language other than one’s mother
tongue has been around for over 5000 years. It is a complex business involving
wide-ranging variables in very diverse contexts, rooted in historical and
sociopolitical developments. As Baker (2002) emphasises, any analysis of
bilingual education must take account of situational and context variables so
that developments are interpreted through a sociocultural lens, as for example
in Wales and Ireland to consider the effects of a rise of nationalism and
language rights movements over a period of time, in Japan to recognise the
role of monolingual ideology and internationalisation and in Scotland to
promote the need for revitalisation and maintenance of a severely declining
Gaelic-speaking community (Johnstone, 2001).
The European context is no exception. Variegated forms of bilingual
education date back over several millennia (Glyn Lewis, 1976). Luxembourg
has had bilingual education since 1843 (Davis, 1994) and trilingual education
since 1913 (Berg, 1993). According to the Eurydice Report (2006), Malta

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544 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

introduced bilingual education in the 19th century, Bulgaria in the 1950s,

Estonia in the 1960s as well as the first FrenchGerman bilingual schools in
Germany in 1969 and so on. Moreover, a multilingual European School
network was started in 1953 (Swan, 1996) to take account of linguistic
diversity for children of mobile European civil servants. Until recently, these
developments were perceived as
special, marginal, remedial, compensatory, peripheral, experimental or
exotic. As such, alternative bilingual forms of education have simply got
on with their business outside the mainstream of consciousness,
accumulating experience and expertise which have failed to reach
out to the relevant research public or academic spheres. (Baetens
Beardsmore, 1993: 1)
What is clear, however, is that European diversity in terms of sociopolitical
agendas, languages and cultures is highly complex and dynamic. In the 1990s,
the European Commission and the Council of Europe were instrumental in
raising awareness of the potential of different forms of bilingual education.
European Language Policy had to address language issues through promoting
the learning of foreign languages, especially in the compulsory education
sector. In 1993, the Council of Europe within the Language Learning for
European Citizenship programme organised pan-European Workshop 12A
Bilingual Education in Secondary Schools: learning and teaching non-language
subjects through a foreign language. This brought together key players in the
bilingual field ranging from policy makers and theoreticians to teachers and
learners to ‘provide a survey of current models, materials and practices’ and
‘initiate a multi-faceted programme of international co-operation in the field of
bilingual learning’ (Report on Workshop 12A: 5). Workshop 12B (1996) made
recommendations for the coordination of developments in bilingual education
across Europe so that more teachers, learners and curricular programmes
might benefit from offering learning opportunities, other than formal language
lessons, in a foreign language.
Defining bilingual education remained a major issue for debate: the
plethora of models with differing priorities, needs, aims and outcomes were
united in the 1995 Commission of the European Communities White Paper
Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society, which argued strongly that
all European citizens should be able to communicate in three languages  the
local and/or national language and two other European languages.
In the 1990s there was a growing need to create a channel for shared
understandings and an acknowledgement of the diversity of European models
required to respond to national and regional contexts. European approaches to
bilingual education were described using terms ‘borrowed’ from other
contexts with over 30 descriptors to choose from, but especially drawing on
immersion and bilingual movements in the USA and Canada. Reasons for
hesitancy around adopting an existing ‘label’ for European bilingual education
were threefold. Certain terms had connotations which may be perceived as
negative by a range of European countries due to sociopolitical ideologies e.g.
‘immersion’, though used in some European countries, was not widely
favoured due to its close association with Canadian models where the goals
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 545

and contexts differed from many bilingual programmes across Europe.

Luxembourg, for example, has no special designation for its trilingual
education system as in the home context it is embedded in the regular
curriculum (Baetens Beardsmore, 2007). A second reason was to do with the
diverse origins and varied purposes of different bilingual programmes
throughout Europe  some seeped in tradition and heritage, others focussing
on responses to complex problems, or to promote future thinking in terms of
curriculum design and globalisation. One size does not fit all. A third reason
was that as newer initiatives became more widely disseminated in the 1990s, a
group of pioneers began to advocate alternative terminology to account for
emerging models and pedagogies.

Content and Language Integrated Learning: European

CLIL is an umbrella term adopted by the European Network of Adminis-
trators, Researchers and Practitioners (EUROCLIC) in the mid 1990s. It
encompasses any activity in which ‘a foreign language is used as a tool in
the learning of a non-language subject in which both language and the subject
have a joint role’ (Marsh, 2002: 58).
The adoption of a ‘label’ was indeed an essential step not only to encourage
further thinking and development, but also to position CLIL alongside
bilingual education, content-based instruction, immersion and so on. Whilst
CLIL shares some elements with many of these approaches, in essence its
distinctiveness lies in an integrated approach, where both language and
content are conceptualised on a continuum without an implied preference for
either. CLIL has its roots in European contexts where sociolinguistic and
political settings are rich and diverse. CLIL relates to any language, age and
stage  not only in the compulsory education sector but inclusive of
kindergarten, vocational and professional learning. It encapsulates lifelong
learning. In this sense, contextual and situational variables determine the
position of CLIL models along the continuum.
Usage of this term allows us to consider the myriad variations . . .
without imposing restrictions which might fail to take account of school
or region-specific implementation characteristics . . . It does not give
emphasis to either language teaching or learning, or to content teaching
and learning, but sees both as integral parts of the whole. (Marsh, 2002:
The 2006 Eurydice Survey, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) at
School in Europe, provides data on CLIL provision in 30 European countries,
and concludes that different terminology is used to describe models in
different contexts depending on the emphasis given to either the subject-based
component or the language of CLIL. Grin (2005) suggests there are 216 types of
CLIL programmes based on variables such as compulsory status, intensity,
starting age, starting linguistic level and duration. Clegg (2003: 89) differ-
entiates between language-led CLIL, which ‘imports parts of subjects [and]
highlights language development’, and subject-led projects, which ‘may
546 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

well exclude language teachers and explicit language teaching’. He identifies

14 criteria for profiling CLIL including ownership, objectives and the degree of
explicit language and/or subject teaching, before arguing that judgements
made about different CLIL models must take these criteria into account.
In the CLIL Compendium (Marsh et al., 2001) European models are
categorised according to where the CLIL programme is positioned on a
monolingual, bilingual or multilingual continuum accounting for different
societal and contextual variables such as language choice, age of learners and
level of competence (Baetens Beardsmore, 2007). The same study also
identified five dimensions (culture, environment, language, content and
learning) which determine how different programmes are constructed. These
dimensions account for multiple variables which lead to a diverse range of
CLIL programmes: from ‘sections européennes’ using different languages in over
2000 upper secondary schools in France, to primary school learners
using English in Austria; from ‘European Schools’ to vocational and profes-
sional institutions; from pre-school youngsters in Finland learning through
Swedish to thousands of secondary school students in Germany using English
or French to learn mainstream curriculum subjects; from over 4000 students in
the Netherlands learning through English in all sectors of their schooling to
primary school learners using English in Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy . . .
and so on (Baetens Beardsmore, 1993; Eurydice, 2006; Marsh
2002). According to Nikula (1997), countries have very many ways of realising
CLIL due to specific sociocultural settings and educational policies. There
is no single blueprint that can be applied in the same way in different
At the global level European communities both individually and
collectively have had to address the complex specificities of linguistic
and cultural diversity. CLIL is central to this diversity whilst remaining
constant in its drive to integrate both subject and language learning.
Integration is a powerful pedagogic tool which aims to safeguard the
subject being taught whilst promoting language as a medium for
learning as well as an objective of the learning process itself. (Coyle,
2002b: 27)
Given the diversity, I would argue that such a flexible inclusive approach to
CLIL is both a strength and potential weakness. The strength of CLIL focuses
on integrating content and language learning in varied, dynamic and relevant
learning environments built on ‘bottom-up’ initiatives as well as ‘top-down’
policy. Its potential weakness lies in the interpretation of this ‘flexibility’ unless
it is embedded in a robust contextualised framework with clear aims and
projected outcomes. In order for CLIL to earn its rightful place in the
pedagogic arena of contemporary and future curricula, it has to demonstrate
rigorous theoretical underpinning, substantiated by evidence in terms of
learning outcomes and capacity building (Coyle, 2006).
The emergence of CLIL as a distinct field of enquiry suggests that whilst
relevant research in the field of bilingual education can inform and guide CLIL
enquiry, new avenues of research need to be explored.
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 547

Reorienting Bilingual Education Research: Towards a New

Implications of ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on meaning’
At the macro level, research into bilingual and immersion contexts has been
one of the most prolific areas in the field of language education and education
as a whole, for example Johnson and Swain (1997), Branaman and Rennie
(1997), Genesee (1994), Artigail (1991), Snow (1990). Cummins (2000) warns
however that the range of research studies implies a range of research methods
and it is possible to ‘find fault with virtually all of the research studies’
(Cummins, 2000: 2), some of which has led to fierce debate and controversial
policies. In his overview, he also asserts that there is ‘relevant and interpretable
research’ and in my view it is timely for CLIL researchers to explore carefully
these studies and connect with commonalities which are relevant in CLIL
contexts. There are lessons to be learned and adapted. One prominent theme
to emerge from data is the ‘form-meaning’ dichotomy. Extensive scientific
studies have resulted in, for example, a general consensus that French
immersion programmes in Canada result in differences between listening
and reading skills where many learners reach native or near-native speaker
standards, with speaking and writing skills often requiring further support
in terms of grammatical accuracy. In broad terms, this lays open the tension
between grammatical understanding and meaning-making by suggesting
that in some immersion contexts a greater emphasis is placed on semantic
processing than on syntactic processing (Kowal & Swain, 1997). Whilst
Canadian immersion differs from CLIL in significant ways  such as its
approach to pedagogic doctrine, teacher supply, homogeneity of language
starting levels and socioeconomic status of learners (Marsh, 2002)  none-
theless the form-meaning question resonates with similar language-content
issues in the CLIL context.
Taking account of possible ways to address the impact of form-meaning
emphasis in immersion contexts, Swain’s ‘output hypothesis’ (2000) makes the
case for a clearer ‘focus on form’ where tasks are designed to engage learners
in extensive speaking activities and to seek systematic feedback from their
peers or teachers. Similarly, ‘focused input’ requires tasks to focus on
problematic grammatical forms which are then used in meaningful situations
(Day & Shapson, 1991). Whilst there is wide agreement that learning will be
most effective when intentional language development and meaningful
content communication are combined (Pica, 2001), Mohan et al. (2001) caution
that there is insufficient recognition of the wide interpretation of the relation
between form and meaning, and between language learning and content
learning governed by different theoretical orientations.
if code is divorced from message, content is excluded; if form is divorced
from function, there is no functional grammar; if language is divorced
from discourse, there is no account of larger units of discourse . . . there
is no attempt to account for language as a medium of learning, or for
content learning. (Mohan et al., 2001: 132)
548 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

Leung (2005) makes a plea for more micro-level accounts of practice in

immersion classes by arguing that interaction data documenting teacher and
student language use in situ is crucial not only to understanding language and
curriculum content learning but to informing wider discussions on pedagogies
and policy. Indeed, building on messages from Mohan and Beckett (2001) and
Leung (2005), I would argue that applying the ‘surface’ yet very real form-
meaning discussions to CLIL settings reinforces the need for a deeper level
exploration of underlying theories which until recently have not been
extensively articulated in the CLIL field. There is a need to look beyond
operational processing and learning outcomes to an engagement in critical
analysis and discourse of emergent CLIL theoretical principles at both macro
and micro levels. Leung stresses a need for shared understandings about
theories and pedagogies which supports the stance taken by Gajo and Serra
(2002) that CLIL is ‘the cue for a reorientation in bilingual education research’.

Extending the parameters of CLIL research

In the late 1990s classroom-oriented action enquiry led to a variety of
studies in CLIL contexts emerging alongside practitioner accounts. Such
studies started to establish a qualitative evidence base for CLIL and classroom-
enquiry which demonstrated that in certain contexts and under specific
conditions CLIL can and does raise learner linguistic competence and
confidence; raise teacher and learner expectations; develop risk-taking and
problem-solving skills in the learner; increase vocabulary learning skills
and grammatical awareness; motivate and encourage student independence;
take students beyond ‘reductive’ foreign language topics; improve L1 literacy;
encourage linguistic spontaneity (talk) if students are enabled to learn through
the language rather than in the language; develop study skills, concentration
(learning how to learn through the foreign language is fundamental to CLIL);
generate positive attitudes and address gender issues in motivation; and put
cultural awareness back on the agenda (cf. Baetens Beardsmore, 1993; Coyle,
1999, 2000, 2002a; Dalton-Puffer, 2005; Gajo & Serra, 2000; Ullmann, 1999;
Wolff, 1997). These in-depth evaluations of small-scale classroom cases raise
important issues for further study. In some European countries such as
Germany, where CLIL has been developing over a period of years, there are
larger-scale studies as well as a growing bank of PhD research (Wolff, 2008).
Yet unlike the general consensus amongst practitioners around communicative
approaches to teaching foreign languages in the 1980s, there is a lack of
cohesion around CLIL ‘pedagogies’. Instead, different models and their
constituent dimensions have contributed to the emergence of a range of
methods, materials and curriculum organisation which respond to educational
settings in different countries.
In the early Canadian immersion programmes many of the classrooms
tended to be highly teacher-centred or ‘transmission-oriented’ (Cummins,
2000). In similar vein, two general observations about European CLIL in the
last two decades might be considered as follows:
(1) CLIL pedagogies have been highly influenced by language acquisi-
tion theories which favour language teaching perspectives. Since in
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 549

European contexts English is the predominant CLIL language, this has

reinforced a range of approaches which ‘guides language processing,
supports language production, teaches language learning through use’
(Kelly, 2005) and sometimes resembles English for Special Purposes,
TESOL or content-based language instruction. Whilst all of these have a
significant contribution to make, it seems that subject matter pedagogies
and their integration with language pedagogies are being systematically
overlooked. Another relevant field of research-EAL (English as an
Additional Language)/LEP (Limited English proficiency) is not given
prominence in spite of the fact that it does address issues of content and
language learning, but in a different contexts (e.g. where non-native
speaker learners are in an Anglophone context and have to quickly
acquire the language in order to access an education system).
(2) Transmission-oriented approaches in CLIL teaching in certain contexts
have encouraged teachers to focus on content delivery and address
potential tensions of time constraints. Promises that progress in the
subject matter would not lag behind similar courses taught in the mother
tongue (InterTalk, 1998) had to be met. The more advanced the students’
level of foreign language, the less attention it seems is needed to be paid
to linguistic development. Learner interaction in the foreign language
has tended to be avoided with a marked preference for writing tasks
instead (Eurydice, 2006).
Yet for CLIL potential to be realised, I would contend that classroom practice
must be built on theoretical principles which go beyond practical implications
of integrating content and foreign language learning.
Content-specific methodology would have to focus on the learner,
making language and content learning explicit and transparent, defining
subject specific skills and thus enabling the learners to bridge the gap
between the learners’ conceptual and cognitive capacities and the
learners’ linguistic level. (Otten, 1993: 73)
Swain (1998) problematises the issue further.
Good content teaching is not necessarily good language teaching . . .
content teaching needs to guide students’ progressive use of the full
functional range of language, and to support their understanding of how
language form is related to meaning in subject area material. The
integration of language, subject area knowledge, and thinking skills
requires systematic monitoring and planning. (Swain, 1998: 68)
Influenced by the early work of Mohan and his Knowledge Framework (1986),
Coyle (1999) developed the 4Cs Conceptual Framework from a holistic
perspective to provide a basis for bringing together different facets of CLIL
in order to support the development of CLIL pedagogies. The framework is
built on the premise that quality CLIL is dependent on understanding and
operationalising approaches which will not be found solely in the traditional
repertoires of either language teaching or subject teaching. The framework
goes beyond considering subject matter and language as two separate
550 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

elements but rather positions content in the ‘knowledge for learning’ domain
(integrating content and cognition) and language, a culture-bound phenom-
enon, as a medium for learning (integrating communication and intercultural
The 4Cs Framework focuses on the interrelationship between content
(subject matter), communication (language), cognition (learning and thinking)
and culture (social awareness of self and ‘otherness’). It takes account
of ‘integration’ on different levels: learning (content and cognition), language
learning (communication and cultures) and intercultural experiences.
Culture(s) permeates the whole:
Culture is really an integral part of the interaction between language and
thought. Cultural patterns, customs, and ways of life are expressed in
language: culture specific world views are reflected in language . . .
language and culture interact so that worldviews among cultures differ,
and that language used to express that world view may be relative and
specific to that view. (Douglas Brown, 1980: 138)
Whilst intercultural learning and understanding potentially permeate CLIL
learning and teaching, there is currently little research which explores the role
of culture in CLIL. However, it is arguably one of the most fundamental areas
which has yet to gain prominence. In the following extract, Cummins refers to
immersion and bilingual education  but for these one could substitute CLIL.
This is a challenge that educators are only beginning to address in
immersion and bilingual programs around the world but it is in these
programs that there is the most potential for truly preparing citizens
who can make highly significant contributions to their own and our
global societies. For this to happen, however, immersion educators must
explicitly locate their pedagogy and educational vision in the realm of
global education. (Cummins, 2000: 13)
In essence, the 4Cs Framework suggests that it is through progression in
knowledge, skills and understanding of the content, engagement in associated
cognitive processing, interaction in the communicative context, the develop-
ment of appropriate language knowledge and skills as well as experiencing a
deepening intercultural awareness that effective CLIL takes place. It also
suggests a much closer connection to learning and teaching research agendas
in both mother tongue and second language settings.
The 4Cs Framework is built on the following principles.

(1) Subject matter is about much more than acquiring knowledge and skills.
It is about the learner constructing his/her own knowledge and
developing skills which are relevant and appropriate (Lantolf, 2000;
Vygotsky, 1978).
(2) Acquiring subject knowledge, skills and understanding involves learning
and thinking (cognition). To enable the learner to construct an under-
standing of the subject matter, the linguistic demands of its content as the
conduit for learning must be analysed and made accessible (Met, 1998).
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 551

(3) Thinking processes (cognition) require analysis in terms of their

linguistic demands to facilitate development (Bloom, 1984; McGuiness,
(4) Language needs to be learned in context (i.e. learning through the
language), which requires reconstructing the subject themes and their
related cognitive processes through a foreign or second language e.g.
language intake/output (Krashen, 1985; Swain, 2000).
(5) Interaction in the learning context is fundamental to learning. ‘If teachers
can provide more opportunities for exploratory talk and writing,
students would have the chance to think through materials and make
it their own’ (Mohan, 1986: 13). This has implications when the learning
context operates through L2 (Pica, 1991; van Lier, 1996).
(6) The interrelationship between cultures and languages is complex
(Byram, 2001). The framework puts culture at the core and intercultural
understanding pushes the boundaries towards alternative agendas such
as transformative pedagogies, global citizenship, student voice and
‘identity investment’ (Cummins, 2004).

The 4Cs Framework is not a theory but a conceptualisation of CLIL which is

rooted in a philosophical stance to do with education first and then CLIL
(Figure 1). As Bruner (1999) says, ‘Pedagogy is never innocent’ and the



Figure 1 The 4Cs Framework for CLIL

Source: Coyle (2006)
552 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

4Cs Framework espouses sociocultural theory where social construction of

knowledge and culturally embedded learning permeate the whole. If the
sociocultural lens is used to understand and apply the 4Cs Framework, then
there are implications for practice and an articulation of CLIL pedagogies.

Revisiting the role of language in an integrated approach

As I have written elsewhere (Coyle, 2000, 2002a, 2002b), CLIL demands a
reconceptualisation of the role of language in CLIL settings from language
learning per se (based on grammatical progression) towards an approach
which combines learning to use language and using language to learn. Whilst
the ‘C’ representing communication takes into account linguistic elements
such as grammar, it also includes a wider interpretation of communication for
learning which accommodates issues such as the use of the mother tongue and
codeswitching. CLIL includes the learning of the target language as a subject
in parallel to it being used as a vehicle for content learning. However there is
now an identified need to explore alternative approaches beyond those
embedded in grammatical progression which are commonplace in foreign
language classrooms. Such approaches to CLIL have to take into account
teaching and learning scenarios led by the content teachers, who may not be
familiar with second language acquisition theories and those led by language
teachers, who may resort to an overemphasis on linguistic form.
In the 4Cs Framework communication involves CLIL teachers and learners
in using and developing language of learning, for learning and through
learning. Applying this triptych linguistic approach (see Figure 2) marks a
shift in emphasis from language learning based on linguistic form and
grammatical progression to a more ‘language using’ one which takes account
of functional and cultural imperatives. This echoes the language across the
curriculum movement in the UK in the 1970s, which argued that all teachers


Through Of For
The Why: How to:
The What: Content Meta-cognition &
Cognition (e.g.
thinking skills) Grammar system
New knowledge

Cultural awareness
Intercultural understanding

Figure 2 Embedding language (communication) in CLIL: an analytical framework

Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 553

are teachers of language (Bullock, 1975) and that issues of oracy and literacy
are as crucial to learning mathematics in a foreign language as understanding
a story in the mother tongue. This opens up a new avenue for exploration by
connecting CLIL to a much wider language learning and using agenda. There
are elements of this triptych which resonate with Cummin’s model for focus
on message, language and use (Cummins, 2000).
Within the 4Cs Framework, language of, for and through learning
(communication) can be represented as follows:

Language of learning
Language of learning is based on an analysis of the language needed for
learners to access basic concepts and skills relating to the subject theme or
topic. Whilst I am not suggesting systematic grammatical understanding has
no role to play, an analysis of the language needed to scaffold content learning
will lead to a complementary approach to learning progression i.e. the use of
tenses will not be determined by grammatical difficulty but by functional need
demanded by the content. Moreover, the content itself can also scaffold
language learning  for example through authentic texts or spontaneous use of
language. Both sides of the coin are integral to language of learning.

Language for learning

Language for learning focuses on the kind of language which all learners
need in order to operate in a foreign language using environment. It
foregrounds metacognition and learning how to learn. I would argue that
the development of teaching strategies to scaffold learning, as well as the
development of independent learning strategies, must take into account the
language required for both these processes to operate successfully. For many
researchers (Mohan, 1986; Nunan, 1990; Snow et al., 1989; van Lier, 1996)
effective scaffolding requires systematic analysis. In CLIL settings this means
learning how to learn effectively and developing skills such as those required
for pair work, cooperative group work, asking questions, debating, chatting,
enquiring, thinking, memorising and so on. Similarly, McGuiness (1999) claims
that unless learners are able to understand and use language to learn, to
support each other and to be supported, then quality learning will not take
place. Her research relates to mother tongue teaching yet can equally be
applied to CLIL where language for learning encourages learners to discuss,
debate, operate in groups and use the target language independently.
Changing content alone will not automatically lead to quality learning
experiences. Standards can only be raised when attention is directed not
only to what is to be learned but on how children learn and how teachers
intervene to achieve this. (McGuiness, 1999: 6)
Supporting the argument for developing metacognitive skills, Muñoz (2002: 35
in Marsh, 2002) claims that in CLIL settings using the second language to learn
raises the teacher’s awareness of learners’ linguistic needs and triggers ‘tuned-
in’ strategic language behaviour such as comprehensible input, context-
embedded language and comprehension checks. These behaviours potentially
lead to high levels of interaction between the teacher and learners and between
554 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

learners themselves. This research suggests that CLIL fosters fluency rather
than grammatical accuracy.
Interestingly, promoting interactivity also has repercussions for classroom
learning cultures where learnerlearner interaction and specific scaffolded
teacher support may not be in the usual repertoire or classroom routines of
either teachers or learners.

Language through learning

Language through learning is predicated on the sociocultural tenet that
learning cannot take place without active involvement of language and
thinking (Vygotsky, 1978), i.e. when learners articulate what they understand
then a deeper level of learning takes place. To reinforce a point made
previously, the CLIL classroom demands a level of talking, of interaction
and dialogic activity which may be different to that of the traditional language
or content classroom. According to van Lier (1996), ‘if we were to put quality
in one word, it would have something to do with participability’. In effect this
suggests that CLIL learners need language to assist their thinking and they
need to develop their higher-order thinking skills to assist their language
learning. Met (1998) makes a strong case for using higher-order thinking skills
(such as analysing, synthesising or predicting) to promote quality learning.
Students need to communicate with the teacher, one another, or texts, in
order to access or apply content. In so doing, the cognitive demand of
task requires students to call upon their existing knowledge, concepts,
skills and strategies. This strengthens the connections between the
elements of language being practised/learned and previous knowledge.
As we have seen, research indicates that strengthening and making
connections amongst concepts and knowledge increases learning and
retention. (Met, 1998: 62)
Whatever the developmental level of learners, effective learning demands
cognitive engagement. Research has shown that cognitively undemanding
work, such as copying or repetition, especially when there is little or no
context to support it, does not enhance language learning (Smith & Paterson,
1998: 1):
by actively involving pupils in intellectually demanding work, the
teacher is creating a genuine need for learners to acquire the appropriate
Building on Baker’s suggestion that thinking could be considered as the fifth
skill (after speaking, writing, reading and listening), an adaptation of the
Cummins’ matrix (1984) (Figure 3) might serve as a useful audit for the
cognitive and linguistic demands made on CLIL learners. Where the language
level of learners is lower than their cognitive level, the learning environment
must take into account this mismatch through ensuring that cognitive
progression is maintained by accessing content through a lower linguistic
level (Quadrant 3) gradually working towards higher linguistic demands
(Quadrant 4). This point in particular has implications for CLIL approaches
including the scaffolding of cognitively demanding work through a range of
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 555

High Cognitive Demands

3 4
Low High
Linguistic Linguistic
Demands Demands

2 1

Low Cognitive Demands

Figure 3 The CLIL Matrix

Adapted from Cummins (1984)

media  not only language. Perhaps this is one of the major challenges for
CLIL. In pedagogic terms Quadrant 2 cannot be justified, whereas Quadrant 1
may support learner progression in terms of language as content or as a
linguistic focus needed for subsequent content learning.
In terms of existing literature, I would suggest that Mohan’s (1997) work is
particularly relevant to CLIL, including content-based language learning,
second language using and systemic functional linguistics (Mohan & Beckett,
2001). He explored the basis of pedagogical thinking to support contexts
where language is used as a medium of learning rather than as the object of
learning. He identifies four points which resonate with language through
learning and serve as a useful reminder for CLIL:
. Language is a matter of meaning as well as of form.
. Discourse does not just express meaning. Discourse creates meaning.
. Language development continues throughout our lives, particularly our
educational lives.
. As we acquire new areas of knowledge, we acquire new areas of language
and meaning. (Mohan & van Naerssen, 1997: 2)
Moreover, the discourse referred to above is closely linked to the notion of
dialogic teaching (Alexander, 2005), which suggests that talk is the most
pervasive and powerful learning tool.
Talk vitally mediates the cognitive and cultural spaces between . . .
teacher and learner, between society and the individual . . . language
not only manifests thinking but also structures it, and speech shapes the
higher mental processes necessary for so much learning. (Alexander,
2005: 2)
556 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

This also raises the issue of the role of teacher questioning (and learner
response) in CLIL settings. Language through learning is central to the notion
that teacherlearner questions are a means of engaging learners cognitively
and generating new language use. This will not happen if there is a
predominance of display or closed questions posed by the teacher or if
questions are simply used to inform the teacher whether or not the learners
have understood.
The case I am making for the 4Cs conceptual framework is built on an
approach to language learning and language using which could lead to greater
transparency and a more holistic interpretation of effective learning in CLIL
classrooms. Adopting a triptych approach (language of, for and through
learning) demands systematic and rigorous analysis of the role language plays
in CLIL processes. Considering sociocultural learning theories alongside
intercultural theories begins to address a wider interpretation of learning in
CLIL contexts. Early studies (Coyle, 2006) suggest that the 4Cs Framework
may be a useful development tool in the field of emerging CLIL pedagogies.
The Framework suggests that research in CLIL must be multifaceted, as I
explore in the next section.

Next Steps: The Case for an Inclusive Research Agenda

As more schools across Europe take on the challenge of CLIL in its different
forms, effective classroom practice and the theories which inform it take on
greater significance. Sharing successes and problems depends on groups of
schools, teachers, learners and researchers collaborating and working together
locally, nationally and internationally. According to van Lier (1996: 69), ‘such
awareness-raising work, which turns the classroom from a field of activity into
a subject of enquiry, can promote deep and lasting changes in educational
practices’. Wiesemes (2002) suggests that making CLIL a subject of classroom
enquiry empowers CLIL practitioners to engage in meaningful discourse. This
discourse is central if research into CLIL practice is to lead to theories of
practice. Kumaravadivelu (2001) advocates developing post-method peda-
gogy which can:
a) facilitate the advancement of a context sensitive [ . . .] education based
on a true understanding of local linguistic, socio-cultural and political
particularities; b) rupture the reified role of the relationship between
theorists and practitioners by enabling teachers to construct their own
theory of practice; c) tap the socio-political consciousness that partici-
pants bring with them in order to aid their quest for identity formation
and social transformation treating learners, teachers and teacher
educators as co-explorers. (Kumaravadivelu, 2001: 537)
One possible way forward for dilemmas of professional collaboration as
outlined above is the construction of communities of CLIL practitioners. In
these communities participants engage in ‘co-exploring’ theories of practice
which are rooted in what they do and why, yet also guided by knowledgeable
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 557

others who signpost relevant practice already in the field for critique. This
research agenda is rooted in classroom practice. Lave and Wenger (1991)
promote co-construction of theories through locating learning in communities
of practice. Building communities of practice involves cooperation, collabora-
tion and partnerships for learning. They involve content and language
teachers working together, subject and language trainers sharing ideas and
supporting classroom enquiry with networks of CLIL teachers and their
learners, working on joint curricular links. There is a shared belief that for
CLIL theories to guide practitioners, they must be ‘owned’ by the community,
developed through classroom exploration and understood in situ  theories of
practice developed for practice through practice. Holmes et al. (2002) describe
communities of practice as a form of communal constructivism:
an approach to learning in which students [teachers] not only construct
their own knowledge (i.e. constructivism) as a result of interacting in
their environment (social constructivism) but are also actively engaged
in the process of constructing knowledge for their learning community
(communal). (Holmes et al., 2001: 1)
Communities of practice suggest a widening of CLIL teaching, learning and
research repertoires which reflect the diversity of CLIL across Europe. Yet for
many teachers the role of teacherresearcher and a collegiate network for
professional discourse remains out of reach. For many teachers communal
constructivism is an unknown, an abstract which resides exclusively in the
research domain. The question remains as to how to make changes which will
encourage a more inclusive approach to CLIL research.
This responds to Alexander’s plea (2005) for transparent pedagogic
repertoires, as a prescriptive model for CLIL which spans such a wide variety
of contexts in Europe and beyond is neither desirable nor achievable. What the
Canadian and European investigations have taught us is that different kinds of
bilingual education are not an ‘all-or-nothing’ phenomenon or a reduplication
of unilingualism but instead a cline of proficiency in more than one language
towards a ‘more-or-less phenomenon’ (Baetens Beardsmore, 2007). There is
after all no single model or blueprint. Also, it must not be overlooked that
CLIL already has a growing research base. Whilst in some countries e.g.
Austria and Germany, early research data tended to focus on the linguistic
competence in CLIL, nonetheless other research themes have now emerged:
content subject competence, intercultural competence, content subject
methodologies and evaluation (Wolff, 2008). These wider research themes
resonate with the different aspects of CLIL which are represented in the 4Cs
In this paper I have explored integrating language and content from
different perspectives. I have adopted a holistic perspective on integrating
content and language learning by focussing on a conceptual framework for
CLIL which has been developed through case study research (Coyle, 1994) and
is continually being revised and recycled by practitioners for practitioners in
communities of practice (Coyle, 2006). It has not been possible to explore all
558 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

issues connected with integrating content and language so, for example,
mother tongue and target language use, codeswitching and language choice
have not featured in this writing, but have an important role to play. It has also
been outside the scope of this paper to address the impact of different CLIL
models or the dominance of English over other languages in CLIL.
I will conclude then that for the CLIL research agenda to work alongside
developing practice, it will be multifaceted in both design and purpose as well
as in a range of foci. I have suggested that in order to maximise the potential of
CLIL, the research agenda needs to ‘connect’ and ‘be connected’. The
following recommendations are open to discussion but if they trigger debate
and critique then the aim of this paper will have been fulfilled.
Any future research agendas for CLIL should embrace a holistic approach,
will contribute to mapping the terrain and respond to rapid societal change
and thereby ‘connect’ and ‘be connected’ within arrange of research commu-
nities by:
(1) unifying a range of research opportunities: scientific research and
classroom enquiry, top-down and bottom-up approaches, qualitative
and quantitative;
(2) uniting a much wider field of research than is associated with language
learning per se, including learning theories, language learning theories,
intercultural and social processes and provides a lens through which
integrated learning can be interpreted;
(3) adapting a more inclusive approach to research which engages teachers
and learners, trainee teachers and trainers and other stakeholders such
as parents in co-exploring CLIL;
(4) drawing on existing research in related fields such as immersion,
bilingual education, LEP and EAL, second languages in plurilingual
settings, special educational needs, subject teaching, cross-curricular
initiatives, technology-enhanced learning;
(5) considering new emergent theories and explores them in context e.g.
Cummin’s (2005) work with transformative pedagogy;
(6) involving more practitioner researchers in articulating theories of
practice through learning communities;
(7) asserting itself as a field of research in its own right by building up a
CLIL research base, which takes account of relevant and related research
findings, applies these critically and appropriately to CLIL contexts and
goes beyond the current boundaries so that new research questions
evolve and existing ones are addressed.

I would like to thank Associació de Proessors i Professores d’Anglès de
Catalunya (APAC) for their encouragement to use the text of the Monograph
as a springboard for further thinking and ideas contained in this paper.
Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies 559
Any correspondence should be directed to Do Coyle, Visual LearningLab,
School of Education, University of Nottingham, Triumph Road, Nottingham
NG8 1BB, UK (

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