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Review of  Discourse in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Classrooms

Reviewer: Claudia Kunschak
Book Title: Discourse in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Classrooms
Book Author: Christiane Dalton-Puffer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 20.1930

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AUTHOR: Dalton-Puffer, Christiane
TITLE: Discourse in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Classrooms
SERIES: Language Learning & Language Teaching
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2007

Claudia Kunschak, English Language Center, Shantou University.

The present volume is the result of a classroom research project conducted in
various Austrian secondary schools over an extended period of time. The author,
Christiane Dalton-Puffer, provides ample background to situate the study and
illustrate the researcher's epistemological framework, rich data to support her
claims concerning the different features of content and language integrated
learning (CLIL) classrooms in Austria emerging from the research, and a
straightforward way of interpreting the data with a view to supporting or
contradicting commonly held beliefs about CLIL. These features coupled with a
well-developed overall structure of the book itself and of each chapter, a
skillful embedding of data into the general narrative, as well as a host of
interwoven references throughout the text and in the notes section make this
book an ideal model for research writing besides providing a thorough insight
into the reality of CLIL classrooms.

In the introductory chapter, the author presents some basic features of CLIL and
discusses its past and current status in Europe, where it is supported on the
supranational and grassroots levels but somehow neglected on the layers
in-between. Dalton-Puffer goes on to delineate the delicate balance between
language and content in the CLIL classroom and illustrates how general learning
theory, in particular Bruner's (1966) constructivist paradigm and Vygotsky's
(1978) situated learning and zone of proximal development, is crucial in
conceptualizing CLIL principles and practice. With these foundational principles
in mind, the author then frames her own research with a view to examining the
supposedly 'naturalistic' learning situation of CLIL (p.11) and states her
declared ultimate goal of providing some guidelines for pedagogical
decision-making in CLIL contexts, laying the groundwork for an applied
linguistics project in the truest sense of the term.

In Chapter Two, Dalton-Puffer addresses the so-called naturalistic language
learning hypothesis of CLIL by defining the classroom as a discourse space and
contextualizing the lesson as a speech event based on Hall's (1993) oral
practices. Examining the transactional nature of this speech event, the author
emphasizes the pre-existing roles and scripts as the determining parameters for
classroom discourse. This ongoing discourse is then divided into instances of
instructional and regulative register. These registers can be observed in all
types of classroom activities, while whole-class interaction seems to be
dominant in her data set. After briefly summarizing the
initiation-response-feedback (IRF)-cycle, classroom talk as conversation, speech
act and genre aspects, Dalton-Puffer opts for a multi-perspective approach to
''obtain a broad grasp of as many aspects of a complex piece of reality as
possible, in order to create a basis for solving real-life questions'' (p.43).
This approach makes the book not only rich from the methodological point of view
but also very useful for the practitioner, the applied linguist in the frontline
of the classroom.

Chapter Three provides a backdrop of institutional and sociolinguistic settings
in Austria, where EU policies of plurilingualism and a de facto dominance of
English co-exist, that have a clear impact on both the design and the outcome of
the study. The author then outlines her research design, including seven
schools, ten teachers, 305 students across different grade levels and subjects
in a total of 40 lessons or 29.5 hours of transcribed classroom discourse plus
12 hours of teacher interviews. In the last part of the chapter, Dalton-Puffer
offers a detailed account of the researcher's position in qualitative
classroom-based research from negotiating access to handling the
teacher-researcher relationship, providing yet another highly useful section for
novice researchers at the graduate level. Once again, the author emphasizes her
concern for practical applicability of her work: ''Even though the present
project is clearly not action research, some elements that do point towards
teachers' needs have repeatedly surfaced in the research process'' (p.64).

Chapter Four explores the relationship among content teaching, meaning making
and the construction of knowledge. Dalton-Puffer draws on Schegloff's (1992) use
of intersubjectivity and in particular its implications for the interpretation
of 'repair' in the conversation analytical sense of the term to redefine triadic
classroom interaction (IRF-pattern) from a constructivist standpoint. Relying on
a series of excerpts from the data set, the researcher exemplifies a range of
co-constructed repair situations in which either the teacher ''weaves the
institutional discourse into a coherent web'' (p.79), ''establishes for the whole
group what ... means'' (p.85), or ''supplies legitimate intersubjective truths''
(p.87). According to Dalton-Puffer, and based on classroom data-driven
information confirmed in the interviews, students in CLIL classrooms, as opposed
to foreign language classrooms, actively demand this kind of repair work in
order to check their understanding of both content and the language aspect
related to the respective content material. From the author's standpoint, the
IRF pattern is a crucial tool which serves to provide students with the
possibility to actively collaborate in meaning making within the safe confines
of instructional discourse, respecting their zone of proximal development.

In Chapter Five, on the use of questions in the CLIL classroom, Dalton-Puffer
re-evaluates the use of display questions in line with her earlier
re-examination of the IRF pattern, arguing that this behavior can be observed in
primary socialization as well and should thus be accepted as a pedagogical
approach in the CLIL classroom to satisfy ''supra-individual needs and knowledge
wants (p.94)''.The questioning pattern she identifies in her data is
characterized by a rather balanced proportion of referential and display
questions, open and closed questions as well as instructional and regulative
questions among students. Among teachers, instructional questions outnumber
regulative ones by 5:1 and factual questions (including student and teacher
questions) exceed explanations, reasons and opinions by 9:1. Questions have also
been found to address cases of communication breakdown, in the form of
comprehension checks, clarification requests and confirmation checks by both
students and teachers. Overall, the researcher admits the limiting effect of the
factual question focus on critical student interaction and suggests a move
towards more extended question and answer sequences. At the same time, she
suggests that these very limitations may constitute a safe haven for students to
focus on semantic and syntactic processing.

The following section, Chapter Six, examines academic language functions, in
particular the three functions of defining, explaining and hypothesizing, and
their use in the CLIL classroom. From her data, Dalton-Puffer concludes that all
three functions are rare occurrences in the Austrian CLIL classroom. Among the
reasons she suggests are the overall IRF-structure of the classroom discourse,
the tacitly accepted distribution of knowledge, and the fact-oriented nature of
the teacher-student interaction. At the same time, the researcher laments the
lack of use of these essential communicative functions and claims that
especially definitions should be easy to master for even lower proficiency
students and explanations would be a good opportunity to practice linguistic
skills above the sentence level. However, she concedes that there may be some
lack of these functions in the L1 classroom as well and the appropriate
structures would have to be modeled first before students could be expected to
use them freely. While Dalton-Puffer does not purport to make recommendations as
to how science should be taught in the classroom, she does make an important
observation on the potential and limitations of language development and use in
the CLIL classroom.

Chapter Seven examines the intercultural pragmatics of directives and the degree
of directness employed in their execution. Dalton-Puffer prefaces her discussion
of the speech act of 'demanding' with the caveat based on Nikula (2002) that
flaunting intercultural pragmatic rules may just be a sign of pragmatic
awareness, especially since in this CLIL situation, all participants belong to
the same L1 language and culture. In line with this argument, the researcher
also discusses the unexpectedly high level of indirectness of teacher directives
as either a matter of L2 persona or their own acquisition context, ultimately
providing students with appropriate models for this speech act. Teachers'
attempts at saving students' face vis-à-vis their classmates or establishing
'comity' or convergence of emotional states (Aston 1988) are mentioned as
potential alternative motivations for this behavior. Findings furthermore
include a divide between teachers operating more in the instructional register
vs. students mainly using directives in the regulative register. As
Dalton-Puffer points out, this latter register resembles non-instructional
settings much more closely and might be fertile ground for exploring
intercultural pragmatics. For students though, a high degree of code-switching
into their L1 was prominent which seems to keep them from acquiring this mode

In Chapter Eight, Dalton-Puffer examines the intersection of conversation and
language learning at the example of repair situations. As in previous chapters,
the main line of argumentation is to move away from mechanical counting of
instances of trouble shooting towards a more holistic vision of repair as
meaning making, which though under different guises, is part and parcel of
conversation outside of the classroom as well. From a quantitative viewpoint,
surveying ten repair sequence types and seven repairable types, only 43.9% went
unattended, a figure in line with comparable studies cited by the author. Among
repairable types, vocabulary and pronunciation attracted most repair followed by
grammar. The latter repairable category stood out as almost necessarily
requiring 'other repair' while at the same time providing sufficient practice in
low-level morphosyntactic structures for CLIL students to outperform EFL
students in this area. In conclusion, Dalton-Puffer suggests a triangle of
variables relevant in repair, namely person, repairable type and degree of
modification, which may vary according to different contexts, and places
emphasis on the flexible use of repair for knowledge construction.

In Chapter Nine, The CLIL classroom as a learning environment, Dalton-Puffer
returns to her initial concerns about providing solutions to real-world problems
based on the data analyzed in the previous chapters. The author begins with an
overview of theory on language acquisition, starting from Krashen's
Comprehensible Input (1985) and ending with Lantolf's (1994) Vygotsky-based
Sociocultural Theory. These theories are strangely absent from documents by CLIL
providers and are only experientially described by teachers in the interviews
conducted for the study. From the interviews, it becomes clear that input is
emphasized, output is limited to speaking, and full involvement in the
sociocultural sense is desirable but not a reality in CLIL classrooms. Further
along in the chapter, theory and teacher beliefs intersect in the framing of
classroom practice where communicative competence is the declared goal.
According to Dalton-Puffer, linguistic competence is enhanced by CLIL students'
willingness to acknowledge lexical gaps while displaying fewer inflectional
mistakes due to extended practice; the potential for general academic language
however seems to be underdeveloped. Sociolinguistic competence is divided up
according to roles into instructional register for teachers and regulative
register for students requiring different degrees of redress in case of requests
for content information as opposed to classroom management or demands for
action. Overall, CLIL classrooms do not seem to offer any advantages over EFL
settings in the area of sociolinguistic competence. The same holds true for
discourse competence which remains firmly entrenched in the L1 context despite
the interaction taking place in L2. Moves are again limited to the roles of
participants and the only way to solicit extended student output seems to be in
the form of extended monologues. Finally, strategic competence, which
Dalton-Puffer divides into manipulation of meaning and manipulation of form
(Bialystok 1990), may be the other area where CLIL contexts do offer an added
bonus for students, if not in output then at least in extensive modeling by the

In the concluding chapter, Dalton-Puffer restates the advantages of CLIL
classrooms as providing the opportunity to develop knowledge while not having to
worry about the discourse patterns which are known from the L1 context. In
addition, she suggests, if CLIL were redefined as ''English for knowledge
acquisition'' (p.294), important life skills for an English-based information
society could be developed. On the debit side, CLIL still needs more fully
developed curricula and a stronger articulation with such sister disciplines as
EAP and ESP. If educators will see CLIL for what it is and what it can
contribute rather than expect results it cannot deliver, this kind of joint
knowledge construction within a linguistic immersion setting can be a powerful
tool to prepare young people for the demands of current and future job markets.

Content and language integrated learning has become a buzzword in today's
language planning and policy making, especially in Europe. However, little
empirical research has been conducted to support claims as to its actual
differences from regular foreign language classrooms let alone its alleged
effectiveness in teaching language, content or both. Dalton-Puffer's volume
fills this gap in a very methodical and accessible way. While the embeddedness
in constructivist educational thought and the conversation analytical research
paradigm provides the necessary backdrop for framing the study, the wealth of
data included in the narrative and the constant cross-references between the
different chapters and angles converge to paint a very clear picture of the
processes taking place in the CLIL classroom. Another strong point is the dual
purpose of the book, that is, providing a rigorous description of what goes on
in the CLIL classroom from the applied linguistics researcher's perspective
while offering solutions to real-world problems, in this case pedagogical and
didactical recommendations for using CLIL classrooms more effectively. Some
critical discourse analysts may find fault with Dalton-Puffers avoidance of the
issue as in uncritically restating the purpose of education as being cultural
reproduction and that roles in the classroom are prescribed without hinting at
the possibility that teachers and students, if so inclined, can challenge the
status quo thus leading to true personal empowerment, the second principal goal
of education she mentions.

However, this book is not meant as a call to arms to change discourse practices
in the classroom but rather as an insightful description of the status quo with
some suggestions for improvement in the pragmatic sense. It is up to readers to
draw their conclusions for a more reflective practice in language teaching, no
matter CLIL or other settings. This book has a lot to offer to different
audiences. For graduate students exploring different methodologies or those
about to write up their research for publication it can serve as a model or
inspiration. For practitioners of CLIL, EAP or ESP, it provides a window into
how discourse is really performed in such settings. For the veteran applied
linguist, its rich data and extensive citation record should make it a
worthwhile reference material for comparison purposes and for locating
resources. Dalton-Puffer's volume can be considered a key contribution to
understanding CLIL classrooms and will hopefully impact further CLIL
decision-making on European, national and institutional level, in research,
administration and teaching.

Aston, G. (1988). _Learning comity. An approach to the description and pedagogy
of interactional speech_. Bologna: Editrice CLUEB.

Bialystok, E. (1990). _Communication strategies: A psychological analysis of
second language use_. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bruner, J.S. (1966). _Toward a theory of instruction_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Hall, J.K. (1993). The role of oral practices in the accomplishment of our
everyday lives: The sociocultural dimension of interaction with implications for
the learning of another language. _Applied Linguistics_ 14: 145-166.

Krashen, S.D. (1985). _The input hypothesis_. London: Longman.

Lantolf, J.P (1994). Sociocultural theory and second language learning.
Introduction to the special issue. _The Modern Language Journal_ 78: 418-420.

Nikula, T. (2002). Teacher talk reflecting pragmatic awareness: A look at EFL
and content-based classrooms. _Pragmatics_ 12: 447-468.

Schegloff, E. (1992). Repair after next turn: The last structurally provided
defense of intersubjectivity in conversation. _American Journal of Sociology_
97: 1295-1345.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). _Mind in society: The development of higher psychological
processes_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Claudia Kunschak holds an M.A. in Translation and Interpreting from the
University of Vienna (1992) and a PhD in Education from the University of
Arizona (2003). She currently serves as the Executive Director of the English
Language Center of Shantou University. Her research interests include language
variation, multilingualism and second language teaching and testing.