The 7th Biennial CLIL Symposium at Universidad de La Sabana

Going to academic events is sort of a lottery. I know it might sound rude to say that, but with all the work we, teachers, have to do, devoting two days to an academic conference definitely raises our expectations. Luckily, the 7th Biennial CLIL Symposium held on September 7th and 8th at Universidad de La Sabana was a good money and time investment. If you didn’t attend, you might find this post beneficial in order to know what happened, and if you went, you might add your own perceptions. Here I go.


The plenary sessions

There are always great names at the CLIL symposium, that’s for sure. This year wasn’t the exception. The plenary speakers were Christiane Dalton-Puffer, Ester de Jong, Past President of TESOL, Dario Banegas, teacher trainer and researcher from the Ministry of Education in Argentina and Sarah Lynn, professor and researcher from the Harvard University. Let’s see what each one of them talked about.

Plenary 1: Day 1: Christiane Dalton-Puffer

She is a professor of English Linguistics at the University of  Vienna and she spoke about what empirical research has to tell us about the implementation of CLIL.

I highlight the thorough work she did and the very interesting findings she shared. For example, she mentioned that one of the biggest gaps in CLIL research are studies on materials and classroom discourse. So the field for researchers is open in those areas. Great! I plan to share that information with undergrads who insist on doing their thesis about the effectiveness of learning strategies for reading! (😶).

Dr. Dalton-Puffer also shared some interesting questions that CLIL programs can be asking themselves, such as:

  • How is our program doing?
  • How do participants experience CLIL?
  • What are good materials and how can we get them?
  • What happens in the classroom?

She invited us to realize that it is all in the context. And she mentioned a very interesting idea that kept revolving in my head. She said: “Good CLIL teaching is good classroom teaching”. I couldn’t agree more! Oh and she even mentioned a study of CLIL with the flipped classroom combined! That had me drooling. I will definitely pick up on some of the things she said and share them with my academic networks.

Plenary 2: Day 1: Esther de Jong

Dr. de Jong, Past President of TESOL International Association spoke about the Trends and Issues in TESOL and suggested ways to transform our practice. Unfortunately, I didn’t attend her full talk…I’m sorry! Thanks to Raúl Mora and the Facebook ELT community for the clarification… (you know what I mean!). 

Plenary 1: Day 2: Dario Banegas

This one was my favorite plenary because if the topic and the speaker. Dr. Banegas’ talk named “teachers’ stories of synergy and commitment in CLIL” was a cliffhanger. He talked about a project directed by the Ministry of Education in Argentina and teachers which included some elements of critical pedagogy and teachers’ writing for publication. Dr. Banegas highlighted the importance of support when working with teachers. He also mentioned the need for empowerment these teachers have since their weekly teaching hours are overwhelming and hard to reconcile with more academic work. Dr. Banegas’ findings were very promising for all of us in the teacher education community.

Plenary 2: Day 2: Sarah Lynn

What a way to close the plenary sessions! Professor Lynn started with: “I’m not a doctor, I am a teacher, and the experiences I will be sharing with you are inspired in teaching”. I loved that!!! She was so humble and approachable, but at the same time, one could perceive her enthusiasm for teaching and the consistency between her work and her way of conveying her message. Kudos on getting this great speaker!!

About her plenary, she talked about a hot topic nowadays, brain-based learning. And did so with a very enthusiastic attitude teaching us that three important points to guarantee learning are:

  1. Connection
  2. Repetition
  3. Effort

I want to say that I remembered these three to the top of my head and after a week of the conference, so her points were not only great and relevant but proven!

The concurrent sessions

Continuing with my happy feeling for winning the lotto at the CLIL symposium last weekend, I’m going to tell you now of the great concurrent sessions I attended.

Monica Rodriguez-Bonces

She delivered very active workshop on SIOP strategies. As a teacher trainer myself, I always think teachers enjoy more those sessions where they learn stuff to take to their classroom the following Monday. That was exactly what Monica did. She also did a bit of magic with time. In 45 minutes, she presented the basic concepts of SIOP to an audience where only 1 person knew of the term. She also used experiential learning to get us to feel in a SIOP environment. What I took away from this session was great. She shared a document with over a hundred SIOP strategies to be used in class! I’m definitely using a couple of those in class today! She also reminded me of the importance of modeling when working with teachers! Thanks a lot, MONICA!!!

Geoff Young on film

I went to Geoff’s session because of the title of his presentation. I am into using documentaries and TV shows (mostly Netflix) in class, so I really wanted to learn something new about it. Geoff shared what he has done with his students in advanced English courses at UNINORTE, and it was great. Long story short, Geoff doesn’t only use the films in class (most of us do), but he uses elements of film theory which he compares to writing making it more meaningful and enjoyable for them (brilliant). I will definitely look into film theory and try to use a few elements for the next film we watch in English class. Thanks, Geoff and nice to meet you!

Our own session- Inter-Institutional collaboration to implement CLIL in a Nanotechnology course.

Thanks to Alis Pataquiva and her nanotechnology we had a great session. People were very interested in the topic and enjoyed the construction of a Carbon nanotube with balloons. We also shared the how we got together in this project thanks to Dayana Cortés and her trust in Única’s work. We had lots of questions and very interested participants. Can we ask for more??

Rebecca Graham and her talk about her Writing Center at the Tecnológico de Monterrey Sede SantaFe and Mexico City.

I went to this session because of two reasons: 1. El TEC is a huge referent in Latin America and I love to learn from what they do, and 2. She was going to talk about a writing center and I love writing centers!!! Rebecca’s presentation was great. Her beautiful tone of voice and her amazing and hard work were definitely engaging elements in her presentation. She also shared her challenges and lessons learned from the project which was very inspiring. She also talked about the use of corpora for teaching writing at the center and made me reflect on the importance of this element for our own writing improvement. Thanks for sharing Rebecca.

Juan Carlos Torres and the presentation of his almost immortal thesis project. (My love to you JC)

I chose this session because JC is a friend and I wanted to support him, and I was happily surprised with an amazing and inspiring project. JC looked into teachers’ views of their own use of CLIL at 5 different schools in Cundinamarca and found a gap between theory and practice which opens room for more research and the design of effective outreach projects for the rest of us. Thanks, Juan Ca! Now, let’s eat some cake!

Q&A with the plenary speakers

Liliana Cuesta mentioned they had decided to change the format of this last part of the conference to avoid “the typical boring panel with the plenary speakers” and I think they nailed it. Having each plenary speaker in a room to answer questions was a great idea since we could feel close to.them and ask what we hadn’t been able to ask because of the time at the end of the plenary.

I went to Dario Banegas room along with other 30 people (or so). We asked him about teacher training, writing for publication, critical pedagogy, etc. And he responded with his characteristic approachability, warmth and very informed wisdom. I felt this was a great part of the conference and enjoyed the time a lot! Thanks, Dario for all of what you shared with us and Thanks Rose for moderating..we wouldn’t have gotten started without you.

My takeaways

There were many things that I took away from this event and that I want to share with you!

  1. There is a gap in research on CLIL materials

This idea was shared by Christiane Dalton-Puffer and then repeated throughout the sessions. It is a very interesting invitation for everyone doing research on CLIL. I think I might suggest this idea to a couple of thesis students to invite them to go beyond the typical and repetitive topics some of them propose.

  1. The importance of Lesson Planning

This idea was also recurrent in the different presentations. Darío mentioned that, for example, in Argentina, because of the teaching conditions, for some teachers, the coursebook was their lesson plan. In Monica’s session, she mentioned the importance of including different SIOP strategies in class in order to develop different skills in students, but she mentioned that to know what strategies to choose, lesson planning becomes crucial. And Juan Carlos Torres and Liliana Cuesta (PhD) came up with a very detailed and at the same time simple lesson plan format for their teachers to reflect on the need to include various aspects related to CLIL.

  1. Good CLIL teaching is just good teaching.

Many of the presenters (including us) talked about student-centered strategies, being aware of students’ needs and interests, teaching beyond the book, accommodating instruction students’ needs, “connection, repetition and effort”, and many other ideas that proposed good teaching. Anyway, when we use innovative strategies, we are doing so to enhance our students’ learning and to make what we teach long-lasting and relevant. So, good CLIL teaching is just good teaching!

I found the 7th biennial CLIL symposium as an awesome platform to share and learn from professionals from all around the world. I enjoyed the two days very much and had lots of fun seeing colleagues and old friends. Thanks to the organizing committee for such a thoughtful and well-organized event!


Can’t wait for the 8th CLIL symposium in Barranquilla! See you all there!!


Facebook Comments


  1. Diana says:

    I focused my thesis on the use of metacognitive strategies to improve the reading comprehension of science texts, I think it is not repetitive or predictable. It depends on the way you approach your research and the new elements you can incorporate to take the most of the pedagogical intervention.

    • carolina says:

      Dear Diana,
      You may have done a very responsible analysis and found out that researching reading strategies was the best possible topic for your students. However, as you can read in my post, I said “to undergrads who insist on doing their thesis about the effectiveness of learning strategies for reading!”. We all know reading strategies work because the research work on them started in 1990 and has continued ever since (that’s almost 30 years of research on a topic). My point being, undergraduate students need to go beyond “safe” topics and identify real gaps like the one on CLIL materials proposed at the symposium. I am sorry if you felt my comment was targetted for you (it wasn’t). It was for undergrads who refuse to do a thorough needs analysis before researching and try to go for a safe topic such as reading strategies. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Diana says:

    Thanks Caro for your reply, I understand your point of view and I highly appreciate you always encourage us to research on new topics and go beyond our confort zone 😊

    • carolina says:

      I’m glad you understand where I’m coming from, my dear! Would never say anything to make you, my former students, bad about your work. Actually very proud of what you guys do! Love you tons!

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