CLIL, Content and Learner Motivation: analysing the appetite for innovation in KS3 language learning

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In this Northern Ireland-based study, three schools opted into a CLIL intervention for French at KS3, exposing learners to a very different approach to language learning just as they were about to make their GCSE subject choices.This paper presents the results of a mixed methods longitudinal case study investigating the impact of an 8-week CLIL educational intervention on the motivation of KS3 learners of French. Pre-/post data were collected from both an intervention (CLIL) and non-intervention (comparator) group using pupil questionnaires, teacher interviews and pupil focus groups in order to investigate the following research questions:
1. How does the approach (CLIL/non-CLIL) impact on aspects of learner motivation?
2. What are the perspectives of teachers and pupils on the approach (CLIL/non-CLIL)?
3. How do motivational trends and perspectives vary by pupil profile?
4. How does the approach (CLIL/non-CLIL) impact on the uptake of French at GCSE?

Participating schools were fully resourced with content-driven resources for teaching the topic of eco-tourism through French using a CLIL approach. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) offers a dual focus on the teaching and learning of both content and language (Coyle et al. 2010:1). Learners were explicitly introduced to literacy strategies harnessing their knowledge of English to access, use and evaluate information found in authentic texts, websites and videos in French.

The sample reflects the diversity of the secondary education sector in Northern Ireland and includes learners from academically selective and non-selective schools, both urban and rural, male and female, and of different and integrated faith backgrounds. An intervention and non-intervention (comparator) class were identified in each school. Participating pupils completed a pre-and post-intervention questionnaire consisting of a series of Likert scales and semantic differential-type items eliciting their attitudes towards aspects of language learning.

Data from these questionnaires were subject to descriptive analysis and six pupils from each class evincing the greatest (n=3) and least (n=3) change of attitude over time were invited to participate in a focus group discussion to elicit qualitative data on their perspectives of language learning. Pupil profiles were created for the investigation of categorical variables, including school type, gender, FSME, SEN and AEL status, and previous language learning experience.

Responses were also analysed by motivational aspect, including instrumental and intrinsic motivation, pupil self-concept, sense of success, effort and perceptions on subject content and difficulty, using Bower’s Process Motivation Model for Investigating Language Learning Pedagogical Approaches (Bower 2019). Pupil responses were triangulated with teacher perceptions, elicited by pre- and post-intervention interviews, with a focus on building rich, descriptive detail of each school in question, and on the teachers' perspectives of the challenges and successes of teaching French in their particular contexts.

This paper presents the trends emerging from this dataset and relates learner responses to wider trends in UK language learning. At a time when the perception of a ‘crisis’ in language learning (Bowler 2020) has led to calls for a National Recovery Programme for languages (APPG 2019) and a National Languages Strategy (British Academy 2020), the four regions of the UK have opted for very different solutions to curriculum and assessment in languages. The last of the four to revise its curriculum, Northern Ireland, finds itself at a crossroads, with the potential of positioning itself in a more skills-oriented, integrated, pluriliterate space, as have Scotland (Education Scotland 2021) and Wales (Welsh Government 2021), or emphasising subject-specific gains in knowledge of the language system, as has England (DfE 2022). These results hope to inform this debate by shedding light on pupil and teacher perspectives of how a CLIL approach to language learning impacts on learner motivation to continue learning languages. In doing so, we position this CLIL intervention in the wider debate on curricular content and pedagogical approaches to language teaching in the UK. What works well, what works not so well, and for whom? How do our results compare with wider research into pupil motivation at KS3? To what extent is there an appetite for curricular innovation amongst pupils and teachers? And if there is an appetite for change, then what form should that change take?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2022
EventBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2022 - University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 06 Sep 202208 Sep 2022


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2022
Abbreviated titleBERA 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • CLIL
  • Language Education Policy
  • language intervention
  • KS3


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