10th July 2018


The challenge of balancing content and language: Perceptions of Dutch bilingual education history teachers

Huub Oattes, Ron Oostdam, Rick de Graaff , Arie Wilschut



The role of subject teachers in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) has received little attention, since most research focuses on language learning results of students. This exploratory study aims to gain insight into the perceptions of Dutch bilingual education history teachers by comparing teaching CLIL with regular history teaching. We used questionnaires and interviews to collect data. Results show that bilingual education history teachers perceived their dual task as language and subject teachers to be challenging. Teaching in English also enriched their teaching skills and eventually had a positive influence on their level of job satisfaction.


3.2 Comparing bilingual and mainstream history teaching practices the Dutch Bilingual Education History Teachers (or BHT’s) perceive both similarities and differences in the preparation and execution of history lessons in mainstream and bilingual stream grades 7 and 9. Table 4 shows significant differences and similarities between and within grades.

Table 4

Items (scale: 1= strongly disagree, 5= strongly agree) Mainstream grade 7



grade 7


Mainstream grade 9



grade 9


1. I start each lesson activating prior knowledge 3.56 (0.97) 3.56 (0.97) 3.63 (0.93) 3.63 (0.93)
2. I use extra visuals during instruction 3.90 (0.86) 3.96 (0.88) 3.77 (0.81) 3.79 (0.83)
3. I have no problem drawing up a good test 3.24 (1.15) 3.04 (1.21)* 3.30 (1.10) 3.14 (1.18)
4. I spend a lot of time preparing lessons 3.14 (0.88) 3.88 (0.92)* 3.23 (0.75) 3.98 (0.86)*
5. I set high teaching goals 3.68 (0.74) 3.68 (0.77) 3.84 (0.69) 3.93 (0.70)*
6. I succeed in reaching the set goals every year 3.74 (0.85) 3.44 (0.93)* 3.79 (0.80) 3.60 (0.88)*
7. I offer writing aids with written assignments 2.56 (1.20) 2.74 (1.32)* 2.56 (1.16) 2.74 (1.30)*
8. My lessons are teacher driven 3.56 (0.79) 3.50 (0.86) 3.47 (0.91) 3.40 (0.90)
9. Lesson content is divided into smaller parts 3.50 (0.84) 3.64 (0.88) 3.28 (0.91) 3.35 (0.95)
10. I build in many checks 3.32 (0.68) 3.54 (0.73)* 3.09 (0.72) 3.16 (0.79)
11. I use assignments that stimulate oral language use 3.40 (0.78) 4.04 (0.73)* 3.44 (0.80) 4.00 (0.69)*
12. I tailor the written assignments to students’ language proficiency 3.74 (0.90) 3.98 (0.89)* 3.60 (0.93) 3.77 (0.90)*

Note: statistically significant differences within grades 7 and 9 between main and bilingual stream are marked with an asterisk in the column of the bilingual stream, differences between grades 7 and 9 within main and bilingual stream are marked in bold italics.

There are perceived differences as well as similarities in preparing and teaching

mainstream and bilingual stream grades 7. Teachers stated it was easier to draw up a good test

(item 3) and to reach set goals (6) in mainstream grade 7. Teaching in bilingual stream grade

7 requires significantly more: time preparing lessons (3), writing aids (7), checks during

lessons (10), assignments that stimulate oral language (11) and specially tailored written

assignments to meet students’ language proficiency (12).

When comparing lesson preparation and teaching in mainstream and bilingual stream

it was perceived to be easier to successfully reach set goals (6) in mainstream grade 9 than in

bilingual stream grade 9. Compared to mainstream grade 9 bilingual stream grade 9 is found

to be more demanding when it comes to preparing lessons (4), setting high teaching goals (5),

and writing aids (7). The stimulation of oral language use (11) and the need to tailor written

assignments to the students’ language proficiency (12) were also perceived as significantly

more demanding in both bilingual streams. “In the beginning preparing for CLIL lessons

took up a lot of my time and teaching CLIL slowed down my history teaching for sure”

(Teacher B, May 26, 2015).

Teachers perceived no significant differences in activating prior knowledge (1), using

extra visuals during instruction (2), drawing up a good test (3), dividing lesson content into

smaller parts (9), building in many checks (10) or the teacher driven nature of the lessons (8).

The final comparison, between bilingual grades 7 and 9, showed significant

differences only on three scored items: the teaching goals (5) are set higher in grade 9 than in

grade 7. Not unexpectedly, bilingual grade 7 is more teacher driven (8) and more checks are

built in (10) as compared to grade 9. No relevant differences were perceived on the remaining

9 items of lesson planning and execution (See Table 4).

Item 1, activating prior knowledge, draws attention because it had an identical score in

mainstream and bilingual stream grades 7 (3.56) and in mainstream and bilingual stream

grades 9 (3.63). And finally, reaching set goals for bilingual education is perceived to be more

difficult than for mainstream education.

The perceptions of the interviewed history teachers on this topic seem to be at least

partly inconsistent with the results described in Table 4. While Table 4 showed a significant

difference in reaching set goals in mainstream and bilingual grade 9, all interviewees agreed

that the bilingual education students in grade 9 reached at least the same level of history

knowledge and skills as their mainstream counterparts. All interviewed teachers stated very

clearly that the bilingual students performed much better than mainstream students on writing

assignments. This is not surprising as language output is supposed to be an integral element of

each CLIL lesson as it develops the language and processes the subject content (Bertaux et

al., 2009; Dale & Tanner, 2012; Mehisto, Marsh & Frigols, 2008). Through oral and/or

written assignments students recycle and acquire the subject content and the corresponding

genre-based academic language. Mainstream students are expected to be proficient L1 users

and thus are less frequently challenged with written output assignments.


Abstract Cloze Exercise https://www.lextutor.ca/cloze/n/users/youThe_challenge_of_balancing_content_and_language:.html