a twenty-hour course
by Scott Shelton
following document outlines a twenty-hour course designed
for an identified group of advanced learners who are preparing
to sit the examination for the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced
English at the end of the term. It is divided into two parts.
The first provides a rationale for the course, the process
by which the course content has been selected and sequenced,
as well as a brief examination of the principles of syllabus
planning and how these were applied when planning the course.
How this course reflects the learning needs of this particular
group is also addressed, as well as how these needs were determined.
The second part consists of a course outline (appendix A)
and a detailed timetable of the course plan. (appendix B)
duration of the course was fifteen one and a half hour lessons,
over the course of eight weeks, and is representative of the
larger, eight month long syllabus which most of this group
has been taking part in. This portion of the larger syllabus
begins just after returning from Christmas break, and runs
through into the end of February. The class consists of eight
students, many of whom are young professionals, who meet twice
a week. Their initial level was determined by a written entrance
exam, which is standard at International House, where I teach,
and additionally by an oral interview with a trained teacher.
syllabus, as mentioned, was designed to prepare and train
students to pass the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English,
and places particular emphasis on the skills they will need
and the topics they will likely encounter in this exam. The
CAE was introduced in December 1991 and is designed to offer
a high-level qualification to those wishing to use English
for professional or study purposes.
examination consists of five papers: Reading, Writing, English
in Use, Listening and Speaking.
Cambridge CAE handbook (2001:7) breaks down the necessary
skills and expectations for each section, and are as follows:
Learners at this level are expected to be able to read and
understand text taken from a wide range of authentic sources.
They should demonstrate a variety of reading skills including
skimming, scanning, deduction of meaning from context and
selection of relevant information to complete the given task.
Learners are expected to complete non-specialist writing tasks
in response to the stimuli provided (input text and task descriptions).
The input texts are taken from a wide range of authentic sources.
Both audience and purpose are made clear in the task descriptions.
Learners are expected to demonstrate the ability to apply
their knowledge of the language system by completing tasks
based on authentic passages. The tasks include: cloze exercise
types, gap filling, proof-reading exercises, word formation
exercises and text completion.
Learners are expected to understand each text as a whole,
gain detailed understanding and appreciate gist and the attitude
of the speaker. They must also be able to identify and interpret
the context. Texts take the form of announcements, speeches,
radio broadcasts, etc.
Learners must be able to demonstrate a range of oral skills:
interactional, social, transactional, negotiation and collaboration.
to the amount and breadth of reading and writing involved
in this exam, this syllabus places an emphasis on the skills
required to succeed in these areas. Specific training in how
to approach these tasks is given and ample exposure to a wide
range of authentic texts is provided for as well.
and speaking skills are also practiced regularly and are an
integral part of this course as they are also tested in a
variety of ways.
a sufficiently large active and passive vocabulary is a constant
concern at this level and it is focused on continually throughout
grammar is not overtly tested in CAE, this course provides
ample opportunity to revise, and structural accuracy is a
permanent focus of the tasks laid out in this course.
units prepared are based on a theme containing likely topics
to be found in the exam, and a continuous thread runs through
each lesson as different aspects of the theme are explored.
main aim of this syllabus is to give the students in this
group ample training representative of all the exam tasks
they will meet and at the same time taking into consideration
their particular needs, strengths, weaknesses and interests.
passing the exam is obviously its main focus, this syllabus
was designed to be relevant and interesting to the students
at a personal level outside of the exam perimeter and relevant
to their social needs as well.
Planning a course syllabus: Choosing and sequencing course
Richards points out in 'Curriculum Development in language
teaching', (2001:148) a course, to be successful, must be
developed to address a specific set of needs and to cover
a given set of objectives. I concur that considerations of
students' needs should play a part in planning a course as
well as the objectives and proposed outcomes for the group.
He signals that:
choice of a particular approach to content selection will
depend on subject matter knowledge, the learners' proficiency
levels, current views on second language learning and teaching,
conventional wisdom, and convention."
Breen, (1987) in turn, suggests that:
design is a decision-making process which has to be responsive
to a range of requirements including its sensitivity to the
curriculum, classroom, and educational contexts for which
it is designed. In order to meet these requirements, the designer
creates a syllabus on the basis of the four organizing principles
of focus, selection, subdivision and sequencing. The particular
way in which the designer applies these principles will never
be neutral or objective but will reflect views on language,
upon using language, and upon the teaching and learning of
language which the designer shares with the wider community
of specialists in language education.
choosing the content and sequence of content in this twenty-hour
course, the objectives of the group were taken into consideration
(passing a specific exam), as well as their current proficiency
level. Also taken into consideration were the task types they
will meet in the exam, their learning styles and a certain
amount of conventional wisdom based on my previous experience
of having prepared other students for this exam, and through
conferencing with other teacher who have done the same.
order to assess the specific needs of the students in this
group in relation to their exam preparation and their current
rate of progress, I administered a combination retrospective
and prospective needs analysis (appendix C). This was done
in order to gain the insight needed to better understand how
my students perceived the course they had been involved in
up to then, their perception of their progress, and any adjustments
that they felt were needed to better prepare them for the
exam. This, as well as any special needs or problems that
they might be having that I, as their teacher, was not aware
results of the survey were largely positive as the majority
of the class felt that their needs as learners, as well as
their expectations of the course were being met. Many expressed
interest in doing more practice examinations as part of their
preparation but found the course book and supplementary materials
relevant and interesting as well.
As expected, there were discernable discrepancies among the
learners' own perceived strengths and weaknesses. The balance
of skills and systems work selected for the course reflects
an attempt to take into account this wide range of needs.
Content was chosen with the learners' needs in mind although
my experience, and the experience of colleagues who have prepared
others for this exam, also played a part in the selection
and sequence of the course material.
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