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Designing a twenty-hour course
by Scott Shelton

- 2

Performance objectives for the group

Nunan (1988:63) defines performance objectives as, what learners should be able to do as a result of instruction, and states:

"Most syllabus planners who advocate the use of performance objectives suggest that they should contain three components. The first of these, the performance component, describes what the learner is to be able to do, the second, the conditions component, specifies the conditions under which the learner will perform, and the final component, the standards component, indicates how well the learner is to perform".

Gronlund (1981 in Nunan 1988:65) argues in favor of specifying objectives:

"The effort to specify objectives in performance terms forces us to be realistic about what it is feasible to achieve, and they greatly facilitate student assessment".

In relation to this course plan for advanced learners, the ideas behind these two statements can be clearly linked to the goal of passing an official exam and are reflected in the content of their coursework laid out in the timetable in part two of this paper.

The performance component is broken down into the specific tasks they are expected to do, such as in writing a transactional letter or completing a set of notes after listening to a related monologue.

The conditions are in a classroom situation and are practiced in such a way to prepare for a future exam situation.

The standard expected, as well as being at Cambridge Level Four, also falls within Level four of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE).

A description of a "competent user" at this level, (although not being a specification for the examination content but referring to language activities in real-world, non-examination contexts) is found in Appendix D (Cambridge CAE handbook: 2001:6).

Additionally, performance sub-goals within the classroom can be stated from a success-in-the-task perspective; its desired outcome being continued motivation. In my experience, sustaining motivation, especially on the Cambridge examination preparation courses, is clearly important as the courses are quite intensive, the standard is high, and the learners are continually being challenged. As Dr. Littlejohn (2001) points out:

"While both teachers and school systems have drawn on both intrinsic satisfaction and extrinsic reward as sources of motivation in learning, the third source, success in the task: the combination of satisfaction and reward, is perhaps under exploited in teaching. This is the simple fact of success, and the effect that it has on our view of what we do. As human beings, we generally like what we do well, and are therefore more likely to do it again and put in more effort. If we put in more effort, we generally get better, and so this sustains our motivation".

Taking this on board when designing a syllabus necessarily has as much or more to do with grading tasks, as selecting and sequencing content. This course is pitched at the advanced level throughout although there is an appreciable progression in the exam tasks leading to fuller exam-type tasks as the course progresses. This is especially evident in the tasks leading up to and forming part of a mock exam and the subsequent tasks, which make up the lessons coming afterwards.

In summary, it should be evident that this particular syllabus has been designed with very specific goals in mind. However, in achieving these goals, it has been taken into consideration that maintaining motivation throughout the learning process, though grading and projected success in the inherent tasks, is of great importance.

Selecting a syllabus framework

Richards (2001:152) describes a syllabus as:

"The major elements that will be used in planning a language course and which provides the basis for its instructional focus and content."

Reilly, (1988) lists six types of syllabi (see appendix E for a full description)
and goes on to say this about choosing and integrating syllabi:

"Although the six types of syllabus content are defined here in isolated contexts, it is rare for one type of syllabus or content to be used exclusively in actual teaching settings. Syllabi or content types are usually combined in more or less integrated ways, with one type as the organizing basis around with the others are arranged and related. In discussing syllabus choice and design, it should be kept in mind that the issue is not which type to choose but which types, and how to relate them to each other."

In designing this course, my point of departure was the course book that is set for this group of learners by the larger curriculum of the school (CAE Masterclass 1999), the students' needs collected by means of a needs analysis survey, and the performance objectives set out above.

Supplementary materials are also used throughout the course and come in several forms. Some example are news articles from 'The Independent' (A British daily broadsheet) which are relevant to the current classroom theme and adapted to practice exam related skills such as reading for gist and detail, or for work on noticing and recording lexis and structures. Authentic video from the BBC with worksheets adapted to practice listening comprehension skills, and adapted transcripts to work on system related skills are used as well. Published Cambridge practice exams are also included for exam practice specifically under 'real' exam conditions.

The overall organizing principle is largely skills-based, concentrating on the four basic skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking with structure being integrated as an internal element of the tasks set, which in turn practice each skill. Discrete grammar points are also revised and practiced.

Evaluation and conclusion

The evaluation of this course is based primarily on student feedback, through counseling, mock examination results and reflection on the part of the teacher and students.

From the student needs analysis it was apparent that although some individually perceived needs were not fully being met, overall - the general collective class needs were largely being met. The teacher and the course were seen in a positive light, the students perceived class time being used wisely and felt they were being provided appropriate materials for their present level and goals.

A mock exam was administered over two days and included representative sampling of all areas of the Advanced Certificate Exam including; reading, listening, use of English, and writing. All were subject to an appropriate time limit.

Seven of the nine students in class did well enough to warrant a pass while two others did not. A full class feedback session was held after the exams, as well as individual counseling, in order to get an authentic response from each student on their progress and the course, and to give any necessary advice to the student.

The majority of the responses were favorable in that everyone felt they were improving although many felt they did not have enough time to spend outside of class on their studies. In the exam results it was clear, however, that everyone could benefit from more work on proof-reading and syntactical grammar exercises. The need to practice with exam level listening exercises was evident, while reading was a strong point for all and writing was generally good. The necessary changes will be implemented in the rest of the course to follow, to adjust to these results.

Through exam results and the outcome of teacher-student counseling, I feel that the course planned was quite successful in reaching its objectives. The students are positive about their time spent and their progress. While it is apparent that changes in emphasis will be implemented in the future, a well balanced course focusing on the different skills and exercise types needed in the exam has been largely successful for the majority of the class.

Bibliography

Richards, J.C. (2001) Curriculum Development in Language Teaching, CUP

Nunan, D. (1988) Syllabus Design, OUP

Nunan, D. (1991) Language Teaching Methodology, Prentice Hall International, Edinburgh

Breen, M.P. (1987) Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design, Language Teaching, 20/3 1987

Reilly, T. (1988) Approaches to Foreign Language Syllabus Design, Eric Digests 1988

Littlejohn, A. (2001) Motivation: Where does it come from? Where does it go?. English Teaching Professional issue 19 April 2001.

Richards, J. C. (1990)The Language Teaching Matrix, CUP

Gray, K. (1990) "Syllabus design for the general class: what happens to theory when you apply it. ELT Journal Volume 44 October, 1990

Richards, J.C. & Rodgers, T. S. (1986) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching , CUP

Biodata

Scott Shelton has been involved in EFL teaching since 1991 and has taught adults from all over the world. Currently residing and teaching in New Zealand, Scott has also taught multilingual groups at St. Giles College in San Francisco and Spanish speaking learners at International House Madrid, Spain. He was awarded the Cambridge Diploma (DELTA) in 2002, having followed the course at the British Language Centre in Madrid, and earned his CELTA from St. Giles College International a very long time ago.
Scott

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