1) Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

Submitting Institution

University of Aberdeen

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education

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Summary of the impact

Research carried out by the University of Aberdeen has made a significant contribution to understanding successful practice in teaching a foreign language while at the same time using it as a medium of instruction for a non-linguistic subject, such as History. Coyle's research findings, now used in education policies and guidelines and applied widely in teacher training across the world — especially in Europe, Australia, and Sri Lanka, give teachers a unified approach that supports students in learning both language and subject-matter simultaneously. New and developing tools based on the research have been adopted widely by schools nationally and internationally.

Underpinning research

In the 1990s, a new approach to teaching languages alongside academic subjects — an alternative to immersion, became popular in Europe and subsequently across the world. Content and Integrated Language Learning (CLIL) involves teaching a subject like Geography through the medium of a foreign language. This has various benefits: it is an efficient way for students to gain knowledge of two disciplines; it enables them to use language relevant to the subject; it stimulates cognitive development; and it helps them communicate through other cultures.

Do Coyle, Professor in Learning Innovation at the University of Aberdeen since 2008, an early CLIL pioneer, is now a leading authority in this field. The problem with early CLIL was that teachers borrowed their approaches either from language or subject teaching. Coyle's research at Aberdeen continually develops an innovative unified approach which enables both subject and language teachers to plan, execute and evaluate lessons so learners gain new language skills and new subject matter simultaneously.

Coyle's grant (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 2009-2011) led to researching CLIL in Britain across 11 schools. Classroom observations and reports from 23 teachers and over 650 students helped her to emphasise pupils' views of `successful learning' in CLIL [3.5], investigating the conditions needed for learners to sustain motivation and engagement, using her "Four Cs Framework" (4CF) — the four Cs being Content, Communication, Cognition and Culture [3.3]. Coyle's work on Culture, stresses ways in which additional benefits for CLIL students arise from learning their national curriculum through the lens of other cultures [3.1, 3.2]. For example, by analysing original foreign language documents to provide alternative perspectives and challenge thinking.

Since 2008, new work on the Communication `C' of the 4Cs has been published. The Language Triptych (2010) [3.4] is a conceptual tool that helps teachers and learners identify three types of language needed for effective CLIL: language related to understanding the subject; functional language for carrying out learning tasks; and new language likely to arise according to individual learner needs during this process. The Triptych encourages teachers to help students use new language, rather than learn vocabulary in isolation.

In 2008, Coyle created a database of videoed lessons uploaded by CLIL teachers (Esmée Fairbairn grant). These data have developed into a collaborative digital repository and resource used increasingly by teachers and students for analysing their own classroom practice through the web-based tool — LOCIT (Learning-Oriented Critical Incident Technique) [3.6]. The impact of teacher-pupil analysis of videoed lessons by selecting and comparing "learning moments", leads to deep discussions between teachers and learners about how future learning might be organised. This approach to learning can motivate learners of all abilities through talking about their own learning [3.6].

Since 2012, Coyle's research under the aegis of the Council of Europe in a five-nation study is testing out a new model for literacy development across more than one language (pluriliteracies) based on 4CF. This, combined with her work as a policy adviser and teacher trainer, involves current work with over 50 schools in five countries.

References to the research


[3.1] Coyle, D. (2009). Promoting cultural diversity through intercultural understanding: a case study of CLIL professional development at in-service and pre-service levels. In Carrio-Pastor (Ed) Linguistic Insights Studies in Language and Communication Number 92, Bern: Peter Lang pp 105-124.

[3.2] Coyle, D. (2010). Chapter 3, Language Pedagogies Revisited: alternative approaches for integrating language learning, language using and intercultural understanding. In Miller, J., Kostogriz, A and Gearon, M (Eds)', Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: New Dilemmas for Teachers Ontario: Multilingual Matters.

[3.3] Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010). Content and Language Integrated Learning, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The book was one of three finalists for the Ben Warren Book Prize (2011). Chapters 3 and 4 are authored by Coyle and are used extensively across the world as key texts in teacher training.

[3.4] Coyle, D. (2011). Post-method pedagogies: using a second or other language as a learning tool in CLIL settings. In Zarobe, Y.R.; Sierra, J.M., and Puerto, F.G.(Eds), Content and Foreign Language Integrated Learning: Contributions to Multilingualism in European Contexts. Bern: Peter Lang. Awarded the XV Research Award of the Spanish Association of Applied Linguistics (XV Premio de Investigación AESLA. Categoría: Investigadores Experimentados) in May 2012.

[3.5] Coyle, D. (2011). Investigating Student Gains: Content and Language Integrated Learning.
http://www.abdn.ac.uk/italic/documents/ITALIC_Report_-_Complete_Version.pdf This is the final report of the only large scale national study using English and Scottish schools which features teachers and pupils voices.

[3.6] Coyle, D. (2013). Listening to learners: an investigation into `successful learning' across CLIL contexts. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 16(3), pp 244-266.


Grant funding:

Coyle: Student Gains in Content and Language Integrated Learning: New Approaches to Learning. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 2009-2011. £59,950.

Coyle/Meyer (Germany): Literacies through Content and Language Integrated Learning: effective learning across subjects & languages. Council of Europe: European Centre for Modern Languages, Graz, 2013-2015. 95,000 euro.

Details of the impact

As Content and Integrated Language Learning rapidly expands, Coyle's work at Aberdeen has had a major influence — both nationally and internationally — on education policies and guidelines, teacher training, and the classroom experience of teachers and learners.

In 2008, Coyle presented her findings as a keynote speaker at the high-profile EU Presidency Conference in Luxembourg to top level policy makers, educationalists and stakeholders from all EU nations. She co-authored the DES 2009 UK National Guidelines for CLIL [5.1a] to provide an authoritative source of guidance for teachers [5.1b]. In 2011, the Scottish Government's Modern Languages Excellence Group used a school case study based on Coyle's 4CF to illustrate the successful classroom practice and praised it as promoting young people's ability "to use and enjoy the language effectively... for a range of relevant purposes... throughout their life." [5.2]. In March 2011, the Times Educational Supplement featured a school from the Esmée Fairbairn research project.

The 4CF has been refined since 2008, focussing on language for higher-order thinking and cultural implications for literacy skills, taking into account the learners' views of learning. It is widely adopted internationally, especially since the publication of Coyle's seminal (co-authored) 2010 book, Content and Language Integrated Learning [3.3]. For example, in 2009-10, the Education Council for Francophone Belgium trained over 30 teacher trainers in 4CF [5.3], now impacting on over 270 schools. In 2011, Coyle acted as advisor to the Quatar Ministry and the Flemish Ministry of Education, Belgium, [5.8] and is advising the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education in using 4CF in the World Bank-funded 2012-2014 reform of the national bilingual education policy involving 4,895 teachers [5.4].

Since 2008, 4CF and its conceptual tools have impacted on the training of thousands of teachers with professional organisations across the world regularly access exemplar 4CF materials: in 2009-10, through Skype master-classes and on-line resources for Language Teacher Associations in Victoria [5.6]; and in 2011 in Madrid and Lombardy, reaching 100s of teachers on each occasion. She has shared her work with delegates at over 30 teacher conferences in Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, Qatar, Slovenia, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Estonia, as well as Ireland and the UK. These contacts have led to specific professional development opportunities for teachers. The Catalan Government and the British Council jointly invested over one million pounds in bespoke CLIL teacher training under Coyle's direction (2005-2010), publishing teacher-participant resources on an open-access website [5.7].

Coyle's work is used extensively across professional networks: in the European-funded CLIL Cascade Network (CCN), with teacher members from 18 countries; in the UK's Association for Language Learning, which launched a CLIL teacher network (FLAME, January 2013) [5.5a] with Coyle as advisor; and other professional associations such as the MLTAV in Australia [5.5b]. Her role on the Scottish Government Advisory Group ensured her CLIL research informed the 2012 national Language Policy. As a result, all trainee teachers in Aberdeen now have a CLIL experience in preparation for transforming traditional language practice in their schools.

The International Schools in Geneva funded 25 teachers to undertake Aberdeen's MA in PluriLingual Education. These teachers published their own e-book of CLIL materials in Aberdeen for the International Baccalaureate Organisation. In the UK, the significance of 4CF was corroborated by school inspections: in 2012, Chenderit School was graded "outstanding" by HMI (Schools) for CLIL student learning.

An unexpected but far-reaching impact of Coyle's work [3.5] is the LOCIT digital tool and repository described above. This now contains data from 50 schools across five countries. In 2011, remote primary schools on the Isle of Skye used LOCIT collaboratively to self-analyse classes taught in Gaelic. One teacher commented: It let the children become part of our learning together in ways I wouldn't have believed. LOCIT evidence is also used as training material for CLIL teachers. And its impact is spreading: the Scottish Government is funding (2013-2015) a national pilot for LOCIT available to teachers in all subjects across three Local Authorities. LOCIT was presented to the Duchess of Cornwall during her 2012 visit to Aberdeen.

Coyle's work continues to attract wide attention among professional educators. Coyle et al.'s 2010 book [3.3] has sold over 11,000 copies and reports from Academia.edu indicate over 40 online hits per month. The book is used for teacher development workshops across the world, is a core resource for Professional Development programmes and is on university reading lists in the UK, Australia, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. It is integrated into the University of Cambridge's ESOL examination: Teaching Knowledge Test for CLIL [5.9].

Sources to corroborate the impact

1. The National Guidelines were commissioned by the DEF and published on the Languages Company website. These have been used to guide teacher training in the UK and elsewhere including Australia. They were co-written by Coyle, D., Holmes, B., and King, D. (2009) `Towards an Integrated Curriculum — CLIL National Statement and Guidelines', The Languages Company for DFE. http://www.languagescompany.com/resources.html
A practical example of the use of the National Guidelines to inform teacher training/mentoring in CLIL can be found in the Links into Languages:Professional Development for Teachers (DES) project on `meaning-making' where the project leader teacher Katie Lee used the guidelines as a resource for CLIL mentor training.

2. Corroboration from the Scottish Government's Modern Languages Excellence Group — tasked to write a report which defines and illustrates excellence in Modern Languages teaching and learning in Scotland. The report used a school case study based on CLIL and the Language Triptych on pages 36-37 and 12 & 13.

3. The Education Council for Francophone Belgium (Organe d' Observation et d'Accompagnement de l'Enseignement Immersif de la Communauté de Belgique) will corroborate the training of over 30 teacher trainers for cascading to classroom teachers in using the 4CF and its tools.

4. The Ministry of Education for Bilingual Education, Sri Lanka has provided a letter confirming the impact of 4CF and tools on an initiative involving 3,475 teachers.

5. FLAME is an initiative led by the Association for Language Learning to support the integration of language learning with other curriculum subjects. FLAME will corroborate how Coyle's work is being used in schools.

6. The Modern Languages Teacher Association of Victoria (MLTAV, Australia) in Languages Connect, 2012, provides evidence of using the 4CF and its tools in their teacher professional development workshops. Over one thousand teachers accessed the webinar outlined on page 2 The potential for introducing CLIL in Victorian Schools.

7. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of Victoria, Australia on the national FUSE website for Teacher Resources features Coyle's presentation to modern languages teachers where she talks about her research and provides the tools for teachers in 2012

8. The Catalan Ministry of Education, Barcelona has an open source website where exemplar teaching materials can be accessed. The Ministry will corrobrate the impact of Coyle's work on Catalan teachers and the pupils in their schools. The following link provides exemplar lesson materials by a primary Science teacher based on Coyle's pedagogic tools.

9. Dr.Katrien Mondt (convener) will corroborate Coyle's membership of the Expert Advisory Committee convened for a "CLIL Reflection Day", by the Strategic Policy Support Department (Strategische Beleidsondersteuning) of the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training regarding their CLIL policy development (28/01/11)

10. The University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations are taken by over 3 million people a year, in over 130 countries. TKT: Content and Language Integrated Learning examines professional knowledge for English language teachers and subject teachers who use English as a medium for teaching their curriculum subject. The Handbook for the Examination sets out the syllabus. See page 6 for reference to 4CF.