Identifying ‘good practice’ in CLIL and BSO Schools in Spain: a case for more collaboration

NALDIC publishes plain language summaries of Master’s and Doctoral research. In this post Shona O’Callaghan reports on her Master’s research exploring good practice in two models of English-oriented mainstream education in Spain.

Shona O’Callaghan

Why don’t we talk more?

Content and Language Integrated learning (CLIL) and Immersion Education contexts in Spain are quite often seen as differing methodologies, however this is not always the case. British Schools Overseas (BSO) and well-implemented CLIL settings have much in common and therein much to gain from sharing good practice for multilingual learners in the classroom aimed towards a plurilingual Europe.

Why I did this research?

While much research has been done on French Canadian Immersion contexts over the years and more recently Immersion Education in Asian settings, less has been researched into Immersion British Schools Overseas in a European setting. Europe is primarily known for the more recently defined CLIL plurilingual methodology which continues to be researched feverishly for its successes and inadequacies to date. While working for many years in a BSO in Spain it became apparent to me that these two settings had much in common and so as part of my MA in Education (University of Nottingham) dissertation, drawing on the good practice from both immersion and CLIL settings became the focus of my study. With both British education and CLIL stemming from the same socio-constructivist methodology of active and collaborative learning, it seemed apparent to me the advantages that could be wielded from a cross-case analysis for the sharing of good practice in either classroom setting.

What did I do?

I conducted two case studies, where teachers from a CLIL setting and teachers from a BSO setting were observed and interviewed. I also reviewed documentation from either setting to validate findings for each context. I compared these two contexts to find examples of good practice used in both. Each secondary teacher was observed teaching Art and Humanities, as these were the common subjects taught in English in both schools. All teachers were native English speakers with experience teaching EAL learners in their particular contexts, but with no particular EAL specialist training outside of their formal teaching qualifications.

Additionally, an interview was conducted with the Chief Education Officer of a group of International schools that implement CLIL teaching and former principal of a BSO in Spain with over twenty years’ experience teaching EAL learners in this context. This interview was conducted with a view to drawing comparisons from a policy level across these differing EAL contexts.

What did I find?

Two main themes emerged from my observations: Meaning for Comprehension and Support for Progression (Figure 1, below). Many examples of techniques to ensure understanding and pupil progression were apparent in both schools, including: visual learning, differentiated speech, drawing on prior knowledge, assessment for learning, verbal correction, focus on feedback, key vocabulary and scaffolded learning. All of these have been advocated as good practice for EAL. However, the findings from the interviews suggested a lack of teacher confidence in whether they were ‘doing the right thing’ or supporting pupils enough for both content and language progression.  Teachers felt as though they were wandering alone though the maze of possible approaches to good EAL teaching and were never quite sure they were supporting all pupils effectively. To mitigate this, teachers worked tirelessly to create new innovative activities to engage pupils while guiding them towards external exam success. In addition, they actively sought out opportunities for specific EAL training and drew on the experiences and expertise of colleagues facing similar problems.

Figure 1: Themes emerging from the cases studies

Observations revealed many good techniques being used in all classrooms. However, there was a lack of consistency, possibly as a result of teachers’ confidence levels. Teachers posed questions such as: Should they code-switch? Plan translanguaging? Was it correct to refer to local cultures or should only British or English speaking examples be used? Should pupils be allowed to converse in their L1 (or home language) and if so how much was acceptable for an English speaking subject? Where did the grammar/syntactical element come into the lesson and how could this be done accurately without losing focus on the subject content objective of the lesson? How to teach grammatical elements effectively if not a trained language teacher?

When the CEO was asked to describe good practice in an EAL setting, he stated, “Good practice does not depend on the school philosophy or methodology but on individual teachers and can vary from teacher to teacher and be inconsistent even within a school”.

What does it mean?

Immersion and CLIL plurilingual contexts often feel quite far removed from each other. As a consequence, they continue on parallel paths with little or no interaction. Teachers struggle with the same issues which arise in the classroom and work to find solutions quite often in the isolation of their classroom or school settings. A shared or communal platform where teachers could share successful and, equally important, unsuccessful approaches to EAL support in Spain, may help to reduce teacher workload and stress levels and provide a point of reference where teachers could feel part of an EAL teaching community. One where they are supported and appreciated for their efforts to teach effectively and ensure pupil progression for both content and language simultaneously.

A lack of continued support or professional development for EAL teachers in Spain only adds to the feeling of isolation and self-doubt. A shared platform may additionally provide the opportunity for specific and continued development for teachers where teachers could learn and progress together. By becoming more specifically trained in a collaborative community, we could gain from each other’s experiences while no longer feeling alone in our quest to best support our EAL learners.

Shona O’Callaghan is an educational consultant working in curriculum development in Spain. She taught in a BSO immersion school in Spain for many years and now teaches CLIL to Master’s level students. This post is based on her Master’s dissertation conducted at the University of Nottingham. is a publication of NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit to become a member.