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It often occurs that we get confused with the concept of prior knowledge and its relationship to construction of new learning. It would only seem logical to always find out what the students know before delivering a class or a course of any discipline. However, the difference resides in what information we would be looking for and the purpose of retrieving that data.
When we work with CLIL projects it is necessary to spend enough time in the process of exploring previous knowledge through different tools. The links that students can make to their personal experience and lives, the hypotheses and ideas they may have incidentally acquired about a certain topic will all contribute to set their always curious minds to work.
Lev Vygotsky said " Learning always proceeds from the known to the new. Good teaching will recognize and build on this connection."
Some tips to explore prior knowledge:
-Use various tools individually or in groups such as: incomplete phrases or sentences, brainstorming, short multiple choice questionnaires, graphic organizers, cartoons, short videos, pictures, parts of stories and others.
-Accept all the opinions without judging or correcting, stating that you are in an exploratory stage and that all ideas will be welcomed.
-Keep a record of students' ideas to use at a later stage.
-Refrain from correcting or indicating the right response.
-Use your observations and collected information to decide on the project's future path.
Good CLIL lessons should initiate by favoring risk taking to express ideas through drawings, writings and brainstorming allowing for different views and tolerating wrong or hilarious answers avoiding any judgment.
It will be throughout the process of experiencing the unit/project that the students together with appropriate teacher's interventions and class discussions will be able to reflect on their own ideas. Teacher's tolerance, observation and confidence in students' possibilities are of crucial importance to set the atmosphere of high challenge and high support classrooms.
Many CLIL projects or units would fit into a constructivist perspective if they were seriously "meaning oriented". One of the most common errors of some publications that present themselves under the "CLIL" umbrella is that they don't offer real problems or questions to be solved by the students. In those cases, information is just correlated around a certain "topic".
Arriving to integration through a good leading question is one of the first important steps to make when planning a CLIL didactic unit or project.
Jerome Bruner said: "The art of asking provoking questions is at least as important as that of providing clear answers [...], and the art of setting those questions to good use and keeping them alive is as important as the first two."
Here are some tips to come up with a good question:
-Avoid simple “yes-no” questions -The question will need reasoning and some research to be answered -It will relate to curricular guidelines and to students´ lives -It will motivate students to read, write, think and speak
Can the world feed 10 billion people?
Do revolutions always work? Do all animals have hearts? Why do animals travel? Why did humans lose their fur?
Constructivism provides a strong rationale for content-based curricula such as CLIL, since it is holistically oriented and meaning seeking based. Then, LET'S START OUR CLIL PROJECTS WITH A GOOD QUESTION!!!!
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