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    Think tanks

Think tanks within the ECML 5th medium-term programme: Languages at the heart of learning

The ECML 5th medium-term programme consists of two strands, development and mediation. The development strand includes ECML projects and the new ECML Think tanks.

Why think tanks? 

The aim of the new ECML think tanks is to create a network of expertise from across ECML member states and beyond which can advise the ECML secretariat on how to address the following key priorities in language education:

  • Whole-school approaches to the language/s of schooling ( September 2016)
  • Early language learning (December 2016)
  • Pathways for learning/autonomous learning (2017, date to be confirmed)

How do they work?

The first step in the think tank process is the development of an online questionnaire for each theme which is then disseminated as widely as possible so that a picture of the current state-of-play emerges, revealing both success stories as well as challenges. The second stage involves a first analysis of the questionnaire results and the selection of between fifteen and twenty of the respondents to form the think tank group itself. A date is then set for the group to meet in Graz; the group is tasked with providing concrete recommendations to the ECML secretariat on how the Centre might best use its resources and structure to address the topic within the remainder of the 5th medium-term programme, 2016-19. 

What are the benefits? 

As well as offering an innovative and flexible way in which to respond to these areas of need, think tanks also allow the ECML to involve more stakeholders in the discussions. No fixed outputs are pre-determined: these might take the form of a new project or a series of events or something completely different. 

Think tank report

Professor David Little, Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College, Dublin, has kindly produced a report in relation to the first two think tank topics which can be downloaded here

Where are we now and where do we go from here? 

Whole-school approaches to the Languages of schooling

  • A new thematic area has been created on the ECML’s website, dedicated to the language/s of schooling. This will be updated on a regular basis. 
  • A project team is now in place to take forward the new two-year project. The team members are:
    Rebecca Dahm (France), coordinator
    Selin Öndül, Switzerland
    Nermina Wikström, Sweden
    Katri Kuukka, Finland
  • There will also be associate partners – details to follow.
  • The ECML intends to develop a new module on whole-school cooperation in the language/s of schooling to expand the existing modules on offer within the joint ECML-EU training and consultancy initiative, “Supporting multilingual classrooms”. This should be available from 2019 onwards.

Early language learning

A new two-year project has been agreed and the team selected.

The team members are:

Flore Schank, (Luxembourg), Coordinator
Déirdre Kirwan, Ireland
Dana Musilova, Czech Republic
Jakob Patekar, Croatia
Ingeborg Birnie, United Kingdom

The draft objectives and expected outputs of the new project are:


  • to develop a professional learning community based on ECML resources adapted for the primary sector with a focus on pre- and in-service training and development for teachers
  • to provide continuity  in terms of teacher development from pre-primary through primary and into secondary
  • To enable a whole-school approach

Expected outputs

A web-based platform with:

  • Tools for pre- and in-service teacher training (pre-primary/primary) covering areas such as:
    • developing a reflective approach to teaching
    • working with multilingual classrooms
    • teachers discovering  their own plurilingualism/considering their attitudes towards the plurilingual resources of their students (emergent plurilinguals)
    • developing literacy skills across languages 
    • observing and documenting progress in the children’s learning
    • reconsidering ways of assessing children
  • examples of living multilingual classrooms, including videos of teacher training and classroom situations with guidelines 

These are activities of the European Centre for Modern Languages within its "Languages at the heart of learning" programme 2016-2019.

Go to the programme webpage

Think tank: Language learning pathways

Think tank meeting, 18-19 January 2018


In preparation for the think tank meeting, which took place at the ECML in Graz on 18-19 January 2018, the moderation team consisting of Marisa Cavalli (ECML programme consultant) Jonas Erin (France), David G Little (Irland), Anne Ontero (Finland) carried out a detailed analysis of the responses to the online questionnaire, launched by the ECML in September 2017 and which received 40 responses from 22 countries. This analysis then formed the springboard for discussion among the 16 language experts from 12 different European countries and Canada who were selected to take part. In addition to an introductory presentation on the ECML on day one, and a presentation of key Council of Europe resources pertinent to the topic of language learning pathways on day two, group work was complemented with individual presentations from the coordination team. Links to all of these presentations can be found below.

The meeting resulted in a list of recommendations on how the ECML could support its member states in developing language learning pathways. The ECML Secretariat will now review these recommendations with a view to formulating a concrete proposal which will be presented at the meeting of the Bureau of the Governing Board in March 2018. This website will be updated once a decision on the proposal has been taken. The ECML would like to take this opportunity to express its gratitude to everyone involved: all those who took the time to answer the online questionnaire, those who participated in the think tank meeting itself and, of course, to the coordination team who so skillfully prepared and managed the event.

You can download the PowerPoint presentations of the think tank meeting here:

Supplementary reading

Read more

Think tank: Whole-school approaches to the language/s of schooling

The online questionnaire produced a total of 107 complete responses from 33 different countries, including 7 non-ECML member states. Nearly 20% of the respondents were teacher trainers, closely followed by academic researchers (18%). Most encouraging was to see that in addition to these two key ECML target groups, responses were received from parents, language teachers, teachers of non-linguistic subjects as well as head teachers. This is an endorsement of the ECML’s decision to focus this think tank not only on the language/s of schooling but specifically on whole-school approaches.  Moreover, teacher respondents came from all sectors from pre-primary to upper secondary. 
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Think tank: Early language learning

 The online questionnaire triggered a very positive response from across the world. 156 completed responses from 31 different countries were received, with strongest interest from Switzerland, Romania and Greece. There was a wide array of respondent profiles including parents, pre-school and primary teachers, specialist language teachers, teacher trainers, head teachers and researchers, data which helped the ECML secretariat and the think tank moderation team identify the key challenges as well as examples of innovative practice and to use these as a basis for discussion at the think tank itself.

The moderation team and participants were selected.

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