A Transformative Approach to CLIL pedagogy in Kazakhstan: Investigating SFL theory and STEM teachers' metalinguistic knowledge

Project: FDCRGP

Project Details

Grant Program

Faculty Development Competitive Research Grant Program 2021-2023

Project Description

It is now accepted that, in the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), language and content are interrelated because it is through language that disciplinary ideas are transmitted. There has been a growing body of research on the integration of language and content. This research includes bilingual content teaching, bilingual subject teaching and content-based language teaching, and it is most often conducted under the umbrella of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) (Cammarata & Haley, 2018; Cenoz, Genesee & Gorter, 2014). The field of CLIL has developed significantly and shows impressive research contributions to teaching methods, language integration, and curriculum and assessment, which specifically include and address the 4Cs (content, cognition, communication, and culture). However, only a limited number of studies have to date investigated the nature and extent of secondary school level teachers' metalinguistic knowledge about how language functions in the teaching and learning of factual information, as well as in science classifications and explanations in the STEM genres (Koopman, Skeet, & de Graaff, 2014; San Isidro, 2019). Forey (2020) argues for a shift from "generic literacy skills and [to] attend more to the concept of disciplinary literacy, where teachers understand the knowledge and the language of their specific subject area" (p.3). This shift is imperative in English Medium of Instruction (EMI) contexts where teachers are often themselves English additional language speakers. A strong probability exists that, if these teachers lack a subjectspecific metalanguage, their students will find STEM learning cognitively demanding because they are, "learning a language, learning through language, learning about language" (Halliday, 1993, p. 113). To become globally competitive, Kazakhstan switched to a trilingual education policy in 2017, which mandated the use of EMI in STEM classes from grade five (MoES, 2016; Zhilbayev et al., 2019).In order to implement this policy, the Kazakh government invested in three types of professional development courses whose focus was English proficiency, the implementation of the new State Compulsory Education Standards, and CLIL pedagogy (Zhilbayev et al., 2019). In addition, they established a Centre of Excellence (CoE) under the authority of the Autonomous Education Organization (AEO) which consists of several Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools' (NIS) with the mandate to transfer best trilingual practices to state schools in Kazakhstan (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2015). While it is commendable that the Kazakh government is investing in the English language skills and CLIL pedagogy of STEM teachers, it remains a matter of concern that the professional development training lacks an explicit focus on the lexico-grammatical features of Science genres. In fact, research conducted at one NIS found that the STEM teachers were, "not aware of the pedagogical intentions behind CLIL and understood it merely as just teaching through another language" (Karabassova, 2018, p.1). This finding suggests unintended complications for STEM teaching because, if CLIL methods are poorly conceptualized by NIS teachers, and these teachers are not explicitly trained in Science registers, then teachers at state schools are at risk of facing similar implementation challenges regarding their pedagogy. Given this situation in Kazakhstan schools, as described by Karabassova (2018), we see CLIL professional development programs as being able to benefit from functional genre-based pedagogies that explicitly focus on language as a meaning-making resource as a means to successfully negotiate disciplinary knowledge (Halliday, 1993; Morton, 2010). In many international contexts, Professional Development (PD) projects are beginning to draw on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to develop STEM teachers' metalinguistic knowledge (Fang & Coatam, 2013; Humphrey, 2017; Schleppegrell, 2018). For the past four decades, SFL research in Australia has been focussing on learners' epistemic access, especially for those learners with limited socio-economic capital and who have to learn through English as an additional language. Morton (2010) shows the relevance of SFL genre-based pedagogy to implementing CLIL's 4Cs (content, cognition, communication and culture) curriculum more effectively, and argues that teachers' lexico-grammar knowledge of Science genres has the potential to advance CLIL pedagogy. For this reason, the project accords centrality to the relationship between language and STEM learning in EMI CLIL contexts, where teachers might not be aware of how to explicitly or practically scaffold the subject-specific literacies. Thus, we pose the following research question: In what specific ways can SFL theory impact on STEM teachers' metalinguistic knowledge, and what CLIL pedagogical bridge/s can it offer at two schools in Kazakhstan? We see the project as being educationally valuable, both locally and internationally, because it contributes to previous SFL Professional Development (PD) research conducted internationally: in Australia (Humphrey, 2017; Rose & Martin, 2012), in Europe (Acevedo, 2010; Coffin, Acevedo & Lӧvstedt, 2013) and in the United States of America (USA) (Gebhard, 2019; Schleppegrell, 2018). These research projects have highlighted the PD rewards teachers get when they implement their SFL knowledge across schools, disciplines, and various educational contexts. Overall, this project intends to shed light on the extent to which SFL theory can contribute to STEM teachers' and learners' subject literacies, their trilingual proficiency as well as the scope it offers for strengthening CLIL implementation in Kazakhstan.
Effective start/end date1/1/2112/31/23


  • Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL)
  • Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
  • metalinguistic knowledge
  • Field
  • Tenor
  • Mode
  • science genres
  • academic registers
  • cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP)
  • STEM teachers


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