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Designing a twenty-hour course
by Emma Metcalf
- 1

Part One

Introduction

This assignment consists of designing a syllabus for a group of advanced learners. It is divided into two parts: Part One will look at the considerations which were taken into account when designing the syllabus; it will include explanation and justification of why particular choices were made and criticisms of these decisions with solutions that may be considered for future syllabus design. Part Two will include the course outline and the course plan.

The course lasted a total of four weeks (seventy-eight hours.) The students attended the course for two hours a day, from Monday to Thursday. The syllabus has been designed for a total of twenty hours, starting from week two up to the first two days of week four. (For a list of what was covered in week one see appendix A.)

The syllabus was designed specifically for a group of advanced learners (though levels of proficiency did vary,) mainly young professionals who worked in different companies. Their level was tested by means of an oral interview.

Designing a syllabus is a difficult task. Syllabuses have their advantages and disadvantages (See appendix B) and have gone through various 'fashions.' (See appendix C.) Moreover, designing an effective syllabus for a group of advanced learners becomes even more complicated. (See Conceptualising Content.) Gardner and Lambert (1972) point to a 'positive learning cycle' that ultimately any EFL teacher wants to achieve. (See appendix D). Bearing in mind that the students were professionals and, consequently, tired after coming straight from work, our (*1) aim was to design a syllabus that promoted learning but was also enjoyable and not too 'heavy going.'

Planning a course: Considerations

Kathleen Graves (1996, p.13) asks the questions that need to answered when planning a course. These are the questions I have attempted to answer when designing this particular syllabus. The components to consider are the following:

1. Needs assessment: What are my students´needs? How can I assess them so that I
can address them?
2. Determining goals and objectives: What are the purposes and intended outcomes of
course? What will my students need to do or learn to achieve these goals?
3. Conceptualising content: What will be the backbone of what I teach? What will I include in my syllabus?
4. Selecting and developing materials and activities: How and with what will I teach the course? What is my role? What are my students´roles?
5. Organisation and content of activities: How will I organise the content of activities?
What systems will I develop?
6. Evaluation: How will I assess what students have learned? How will I assess the effectiveness of the course?
7. Consideration of resources and constraints: What are the givens of my situation?

These are the questions I will now address.


1. Needs assessment

The needs assessment was carried out on the first day of class (week one.) It was taken from The English Teaching Professional and asked students to rank in preference various points under the areas of topics, methods, language areas, out of class and assessment. (See appendix E). It was felt that the needs analysis did not cover the area of when students actually used English so an extra part was added to the back of the sheet. Graves points out a disadvantage of using a questionnaire for needs assessment since, '…one of the challenges in designing a questionnaire is choosing questions that will be interpreted correctly.' (1996, p.15) Therefore, after completion, the group was divided into pairs and each teacher chatted informally about what the students had commented on the sheet. (See note on Appendix E for problems with the needs assessment.) The informal chat was a great opportunity to not only 'get to know' the students but also to find out about their attitudes and preferences. (See appendix F for language learning theories.)

After analysing the data it became clear that there were points that the majority of the group shared in common. For example, under the assessment heading, every student wanted to see if they could use the language learnt in class in real-life situations. On the other hand, only one student was interested in how to give a presentation. (See appendix G for a summary of what areas each student was interested in.) One aspect that all the group shared in common was their motivation. The majority of the group´s motivation was instrumental, (the students wanted to improve their English generally in a work situation) though one of the student´s motivation was integrative (she was planning to live in England) and many of the students commented that they used their English whilst travelling (English as an international language.) Therefore the syllabus needed to provide language that would cater for all these needs. Firstly, however, it was necessary to define the term 'need.'

Hutchinson et.al split needs into two types: target needs (what the learner needs to do in a target situation (*2)) and learning needs (what the learner needs to do in order to learn). (1987, p.54) Target needs are then sub-divided into necessities - the type of need determined by the demands of the target situation; lacks-what the learner knows already and from that, decide what the learner lacks; and wants-what the students perceive to be important for their language development. (*3)) Both target and learning needs were taken into account when determining the goals and objectives of the syllabus.


*1 Whenever I refer to 'us ,' 'we' or 'our,' I am referring to the teachers on my teaching team who all collaborated in the syllabus design.

*2 I am taking 'situation' to mean any area that may be covered in class (grammar/vocabulary etc.). I do not mean English for specific situations such as in a bank or going shopping.
*3 As Davies and Currie (1971) suggest: 'A method which frustrates the predictions of the learner is patently bad …Much of the satisfaction of learners will come when they feel that the hurdles they themselves have predicted have been cleared.'

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