Content-based instruction is defined as the concurrent teaching of academic subject matter and the second language skills Brinton, Snow Wesche, 2003, p.2, which means that an English teacher covers not only language but also content. The primary focus is content though rather than language itself. In other words, as what Brown (2008) wrote, "through CBI, language becomes the medium to convey informational content of interest and relevance to the learner", the curriculum is slightly different from the one of writing class which focuses language only. Based on this aspect, Brinton, Snow, and Wesche (1980) provided a helpful and brief explanation to catch the major characteristic of content-based curriculums:
The language curriculum is based directly on the academic needs of the students and generally follows the sequence determined by a particular subject matter in dealing with language problems which students encounter. The focus for students is on acquiring information via the second language and, in the process, developing their academic language skills. (p.2)
The quote above consistently implies that the main focus of CBI is content not language itself. It means that language is practically used to convey certain information. This is what makes CBI highly recommendable especially for high school students who are planning to go to college, because in college, they are required to learn how to write a paper for academic subjects. So, they need to be familiar with writing an authentic paper based on certain content, and they also needs to be trained to build and express critical thinking in actual writing. These can be achieved by content-based writing instruction.
In this respect, this research will investigate the effectiveness of CBI and rationale of content-based approach. It's effectiveness and rational will be the main focus, and also several potential drawbacks of this approach to apply it to EFL settings in which there are no enough teachers who have sufficient understanding in both a content knowledge and a target language are also covered so that several suggestions can be made for teachers to apply CBI in current English classroom in high school EFL settings.
Many professions in TESOL reveal that CBI is the excellent way of teaching writing for various reasons. 'In CBI, language is not merely the object of learning, but also the means of negotiating meaning, organizing information, and acquiring content knowledge.' (Butler, 2005, 229) In this respect, Wesche (1993) wrote that 'students get "two for one" -both content knowledge and increased language proficiency.' Larsen-Freeman (2000) also introduces benefits of CBI in the respect of motivation:
When learners perceive the relevance of their language use, they are motivated to learnâ€¦Vocabulary is easier to acquire when there are contextual clues to help convey meaningâ€¦Learners work with meaningful, cognitively demanding language and content within the context of authentic material and tasksâ€¦.Communicative competence involves more than using language conversationally. It also includes the ability to read, discuss, and write about content from other fields. (p. 146-148)
Celce-Murcia (2001) offered not only good explanation about the concept of CBI but also mentioned the most distinguished feature of CBI from other types of teaching wiring approach, and introduced the instructional goal of CBI:
Content-based second language instruction has strong English for Academic Purposes orientation, and its instructional goal is to prepare second language learners for the types of academic tasks they will encounter in college, or university (p103).
According to her, CBI is for having high school learners be prepared for higher education. When high school graduates enter college, they are supposed to deal with academic subjects, and write about them. While students are writing for conveying certain content, they can improve their critical thinking, which is required for higher education, and they can be trained to express their opinion in English as well. Therefore, high school teachers should consider a content-based approach to teach English.
Brown(2008) recognized that once the purpose of writing is related to students' own interests and their own purposes, writing with a new language can be a very fun and meaningful experience. This means students will be effectively motivated to write a paper with a new language. In this respect, Brown (2008) wrote:
Content-based classrooms have the potential of increasing intrinsic motivation and empowerment, since students are focused on subject matter that is important to their lives. Students are pointed beyond transient extrinsic factors, like grades and tests, to their own competence and autonomy as intelligent individuals capable of actually doing something with their new language. (p. 56)
Content-based instruction can offer students not only authentic but also cognitively demanding writing purposes. While writing, students can be trained to utilize their critical thinking as well etc. Moreover, the language is a mean to convey information, it is appropriate to integrate writing with the actual content in some way. Therefore, it is necessary for high school English teachers in EFL settings to give a special attention on CBI.
Applying content-based instruction is also an excellent option to improve learners' competence in wiring. In CBI, the actual outcome of writing gets the first priority, and a language is a medium to convey the specific content. Students' writing skills and language usage skills are naturally improved while writing with a specific purpose to convey certain information, and it effectively leads not only to the noticeable improvements in their academic writing skills but also to broadening thinking ability. Moreover, since students are writing a paper for their own specific certain purposes, students can be fully motivated for writing. In this respect, CBI is the one of the choice for having high school students being prepared for higher education in college.
With these various benefits for high school students, the interest in Content Based Instruction in EFL contexts has been growing. However, regardless of these growing interests, there are still only few teachers who implement CBI in high school in EFL settings such as in Korea. Most of the case in Korea, teaching English writing in high school usually lacks contents and many teachers only focus on language discretely such as only grammar etc. Since it lacks the actual specific goal for writing, it leads many students to be de-motivated in writing English.
Actually, many teachers complain several practical problems to apply CBI in EFL settings, and hesitate to adopt CBI in their actual teaching even though teachers are aware of advantages of this approach. They just have their students practice their sentence-writing by practicing discrete sentences according to the day's grammar points- without offering any context. Consequently, students' writing skills cannot be improved, and it becomes no wonder to find only few high school students who can write their thinking coherently and confidently in English.
The fact that these inefficiencies are kept being implemented, even though there's a better option-CBI, implies that CBI is not the absolutely perfect solution in all cases. It does have potential drawbacks to consistently apply CBI especially in EFL settings, so special attention should be given to implement CBI successfully. It is true that many teachers in EFL settings shows their interests of taking Content-Based Approach due to noticeable strengths of CBI as a teaching writing approach. However, in classroom-reality, still just only few teachers who implement CBI in high school exist in EFL settings.
This situation occurs exactly the same in English classroom in Korea, even though considerable numbers of teachers are aware of advantages of this approach, many of them have difficulty to adopt CBI in their actual teaching due to several practical problems. It is well known fact that Korea is one of the famous countries for English fever, so students in Korea are officially supposed to learn English from elementary school to high school. However, it is very common for teachers to notice that most of public high school students show low level of confidence in writing a practical paper in English for conveying certain information regardless of more than 10 years of English learning.
English teachers in Korea don't give their students an opportunity to write a real paper. Most of students in Korea just try writing discrete sentences to make sure what they learned in grammar class. As a result, many students have considerable difficulty in writing academic papers in English after entering the college, makes their 10 years of learning useless. What makes them hesitate apply new teaching writing approach, but just stick to ineffective way of teaching, such as writing de-contextualized and discrete sentences based on the day's grammar point.
The most major cause of these undesirable phenomena in Korea is that there are very few teachers who are competent both in content and in language and it lead burdens of many English teachers to apply CBI in their teaching. Murphy and Sato (2005) left a hint to deal with this kind of problem with the concept of 'team-teaching':
The process of continuing to develop your professional expertise as a teacher is sometimes difficult to manage alone. The challenges of teaching in a rapidly changing profession almost necessitate collaboration with other teachers in order to stay on the cutting edge. (P.125)
Therefore, if an English teacher is not knowledgeable in certain content enough, team teaching with co-teacher who is knowledgeable in certain content can be an option to benefit the advantages of CBI. Supportive relationship between content teachers and language teachers can be one of the solutions to resolve the lack of teachers competent both areas.
Another drawback of CBI that makes teachers avoid applying CBI in EFL settings is that it seems inappropriate for all levels of target language learners. Since CBI requires learners to be exposed a lot of inputs while they are dealing with their paper, which is recommendable for higher than intermediate levels, it can be too challenge for the people who are below intermediate levels. Brown (2008) argued that CBI is not appropriate for all levels of proficiency, and pointed out that it is not inappropriate especially for beginners, because CBI covers academic contents which can be quite difficult.
However, here is an option to resolve this problem, taking "Sheltered-content instruction". Sheltered-content instruction is a form of CBI in which the teacher of a school subject modifies the presentation of material to help L2 learners process the content. (Brown 2008) Since sheltered-based model is to help lower level of learners less than intermediate levels process the content more, it offers extra help for learners so that their language levels are not that high, they can understand the content and try to write about the content with the help of a teacher. (Personal comment: concept of sheltered CBI needs to be more explained)
(Conclusion also should be written at the very last time, so this section will be re-written.)
Throughout this research, abundant advantages of taking content-based approach to teach English wiring are discussed, and potential drawbacks in CBI to implement it in EFL settings - insufficient number of teachers who are both knowledgeable in language and context, and difficulty to imply CBI to below intermediate level of groups - are covered with suggestions to prevent or solve those drawbacks.
Implementing Content-Based Instruction in EFL settings doesn't seem easy at first; however, since CBI has many benefits as a teaching writing approach, teachers should not just abandon it. They are required to give a special attention on CBI, because it contains a lot of benefits in it for second language learners not only for their language, but also for their academic cognitive ability. With more teachers' effort to benefit CBI in class, their learners can be benefiters of CBI.