A CLIL approach, in many cases, is based around the 4Cs framework of content, cognition, communication and culture. Content is king and should not be sacrificed for language, higher order cognitive processes should be promoted, communication should be fostered and intercultural awareness should be developed. These are ambitious, but worthwhile aims and many centres of education are working towards them at primary, secondary and even tertiary level. This is less true of infant level, however.
Some people might argue that it is really rather difficult to implement a CLIL approach at infant school level. After all, the children are likely to be pre-literate, i.e. they still cannot read and write, and so using texts to access contents is out of the question. In any case, the contents at infant level might appear rather modest or limited. It might also be said that children at that age are too young to be thinking at a high level, too young to be at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy analysing, evaluating and creating. Certainly such young learners are limited in the amount of language they have for genuine communication in a foreign language, and others may claim that it is rather soon to be learning about culture and that they need to walk before they can run.
However, the beauty of teaching at this level is that teachers and learners are not as constrained by a rigid, contents-based syllabus as they are in primary and secondary – they have more freedom. This makes CLIL at infant level a great opportunity to work on competences and form a foundation for the future, meaning that CLIL teachers at this level can start as they mean to go on. A lot of infant teaching is about developing literacy, promoting a positive attitude towards reading, becoming familiar with the relationship between phonemes and graphemes, exposure to a variety of text types and starting to become aware of how texts are organised and function. This focus on literacy is very much in line with CLIL principles. With such multicultural classrooms being our reality these days, it is also not hard to imagine how teachers can take advantage of the diversity of cultures present in the classroom to promote and celebrate intercultural understanding.
Content and language can be integrated at a young age. A learner-centred approach which makes learners the centre of the process in which communication and higher order thinking skills are fostered and rewarded can be used. It is certainly ambitious, but unless we aim high it is less likely that we will be successful. Pupils will get used to this form of learning from the very beginning and will have fewer problems in continuing in this way through their school life. It is not easy, but it is possible with the right approach and a positive, can-do attitude. CLIL at infant level is a great opportunity and one which should be seized.