Being an educational approach that was primarily introduced to innovate language instruction, it is not surprising that Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has mostly been researched from the perspective of applied linguistics. Concerns relating to subject learning, in contrast, have only recently started to gain attention. With subject learning taking on a greater role in CLIL research, the content-and-language-integrative nature of this educational approach has become one of the central themes in the field. Conceptually, several propositions have been made concerning the integration of content and language learning, many of which aligning with systemic functional linguistics and/ or sociocultural theory. While these theoretical approaches have yielded interesting insights into the integration of subject and language learning, they do not translate into classroom practice easily. One notion allowing conceptual integration while appearing to be tangible for practitioners is the construct of cognitive discourse functions (CDFs; Dalton-Puffer, 2013). Being both anchored in linguistics and education, CDFs are assumed to be the generic linguistic manifestation of cognitive processes essential to learning and teaching. In the field of history education, too, CDFs have been shown to be tightly linked to history skills, both conceptually and empirically. Thus far, however, this construct has not been operationalized for pedagogical use, and generally more research is needed concerning the nexus of content-and-language-integrative learning, pedagogical practice, and didactic materials, also considering that CLIL teachers urgently lack integrative material as well as conceptual understanding in this respect.
To address this gap, this PhD project is set in a framework of design-based research (DBR), which has been heralded as a transdisciplinary methodological approach able to reconcile theory- and practice-related concerns by being dual-focused. As such, this thesis aims to (1) further illuminate the theoretical underpinnings of the integration of content and language learning and (2) to develop practice-oriented tools and materials for upper secondary CLIL history education. With these aims in mind, I closely collaborated with teachers in order to systematically develop CDF-based history materials. First, the needs of participants were determined using individual interviews with teachers, focus group interviews with students, and written competency-based task for the learners, which informed the intervention we designed. Then, the teacher implemented these materials in their own class. Finally, the process and the products were evaluated from the learners’ and the teacher’s perspective as well as via written learner tasks once again. Based on these findings, our approach and the materials were advanced and fine-tuned over three such research cycles in two contexts.
The findings of this study have shown that CDFs present an ecologically valid and effective approach to integrate content and language learning in upper secondary CLIL history education. Yet, for these materials to be accepted and to take effect, several conditions need to be met: First of all, competency-based tasks need to be engaging, interactive, and scaffolded in small steps, and the links between the linguistic support and the subject discipline need to be made explicit. Moreover, such scaffolding should not only consider linguistic forms and functions but also
subject-specific concepts and notions important in the discipline. Additionally, in the course of the project, the importance of differentiated instruction crystallized. These aspects were crucial for the participants’ acceptance of the new approach, which also seemed to be reflected in the learners’ performance. Initially, both groups involved in the main study struggled with demonstrating subject-specific skills in English in various domains, such as appropriately justifying claims, signalling communicative intentions, or linking ideas. In the case of group A, who received two treatments, ratings improved significantly both in terms of academic language skills and history competences, with the bigger leap in performance in their second round. In contrast, the scores in group B, who received one treatment, increased only moderately (but statistically significantly) in the linguistic domain, while content results remained steady. Finally, this thesis has also demonstrated that the CDF construct is a useful and manageable tool for research. Yet, to ensure reliable coding, further specifications for different subjects may be needed, which this thesis intends to provide for the subject history.