a twenty-hour course by Emma Metcalf
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.
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:
assessment: What are my students´needs? How can I assess them
so that I
These are the questions I will now address.
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.
*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.
2. Determining goals and objectives
Firstly it is necessary to specify the difference between 'goal' and 'objective.' Graves, (1996, pp.16-7) defines goals as 'general statements of the overall, long-term purpose of the course' and objectives as 'specific ways in which the goals will be achieved.' (See appendix H for further specification of objectives.) Therefore the goals I have outlined below are what we wanted to achieve by the end of the twenty hours of the course. The objectives consisted of the various activities and tasks that took place in class (as stated in the course plan.) Though specific goals and objectives may be criticised (see appendix I) I would agree with Graves that 'clear goals and objectives give the teacher a basis for determining which content and activities are appropriate for the course.' Nunan also argues that, 'it is undemocratic not to let the learner know what he is going to get of of the educational system.' (1988,p.54) During the course the students were informed about what they were going to do in each class (one teacher wrote a 'menu' on the whiteboard and the students were given explanations as to why they were asked to complete each task/activity (objective). Stern (1992) lays out four 'types' of goals that the syllabus intended to cover. (See appendix J for a more detailed explanation of the different types of goals.) The goals were as follows:
This is a general outline and I will now go on to specify some of the objectives when discussing what was be included in the syllabus.
This was a difficult area. Some of the objectives were easy to establish:
of the students used English on the telephone so a lesson focusing on
telephone language was appropriate.
Other objectives were more difficult to negotiate. One particularly difficult area was grammar. Some students wanted to 'do' grammar in class, whilst others were not too interested. It was decided that the syllabus would not be structurally based mainly because at advanced level it is extremely difficult to predict which grammar areas should be covered. There is always a sense that all the grammar has been 'done' before. Therefore it was agreed that the main areas to be covered were:
- The four
skills (the main focus being on speaking and listening.)
language (situations that would be transferable to the real-world and
covered the areas stated by Clark 1997. (See appendix K)
One last area we wanted to cover throughout the course was learner autonomy. With reference to the travel vocabulary lesson, students were given suggestions on how to record vocabulary. (See appendix L) Learner diaries were also introduced in the first week to help students identify their own 'lacks' and to give us information on how they thought the course was going. (See appendix M)
This course could be described as 'multi-layered' yet paying particular attention to the points mentioned above. The next task was to decide on which materials to include.
Though it may have been easier to follow a course book in terms of selecting materials and organising them, none of the course books catered well enough for our students´needs. Some materials were taken from In Advance (1994) and Streamline Departures (1985). These were mainly used for their content (vocabulary and a listening.) Many of the materials were authentic: newspapers, books, short stories downloaded from the internet, radio news bulletins and videos. The rest of the materials were designed by the teachers, specifically to meet the objectives in each class, which in turn, attempted to meet the students´needs. Though some of the activities were designed for the classroom, an attempt was made to make the objectives transferable to real world situations.
The goals and objectives were intended to be as relevant to the students as possible, but as Hutchinson et al. point out: 'The medicine of relevance may need to be sweetened with the sugar of enjoyment, fun, creativity and a sense of achievement.' (1987, p. 48) The students needed to enjoy the process of learning and therefore we tried to choose interesting topics and texts, design fun activities and vary the pace and dynamics of the classroom by doing lots of pair and group work. The organisation of these materials was the next matter to consider.
of content and activities.
the links are not obvious. For example, cultural differences including
attitudes to women, which linked to the men and women topic. It can be
said, however, that some of the links are rather tenuous and the occasional
lack of coherence was noted by one of the students: 'The bad point is
the lack of connection between some [of the lessons], or continuing with
a matter a couple of days after.' This, and other problems will now be
commented on in the evaluation. Despite this criticism, we did endeavour
to make the lessons link coherently from one to another. One way was to
make the syllabus as cyclical as possible by recycling and revising areas
covered in previous classes. (See appendix N for a definition a cyclical
This was perhaps one of the weakest parts of the syllabus. Firstly, the learner diary entries 'fizzled out' towards the end of the course. As teachers we should have encouraged the diary entries to be more frequent. Furthermore, it would have been a good idea to arrange tutorials for each of the students. Informal chats took place during the breaks where we asked students for their opinions, and feedback was given whenever homework was returned. However, it would have been better to arrange a time with each student so that we could receive and give feedback on the students' progress and thoughts. The students were given an end of course questionnaire (see appendix O) and the response was very positive (the students felt that had learnt and they enjoyed the classes which meant that our goals were achieved.) One external factor that could not be controlled was the fact the students in the class changed (some students leaving, others joining) which made it difficult to evaluate the success of the course as a whole. (See appendix P for some solutions.)
There were three teachers on the course, teaching from two to three sessions a week. The classes started at four o´clock in the afternoon which meant that many of the students arrived late as they were coming straight from work. The students had to get used to being observed by not only the teachers, but also but the teacher trainers whenever an official observation took place. Despite these circumstances, the class still fully participated.
Cassette recorders and video were easily accessible whenever needed and students were always provided with necessary worksheets to take home.
I am used to teaching general courses with classes taking place just twice a week so I really a noticed a difference when teaching this course - the progress the students made was a lot more noticeable (for example when recycling vocabulary) . Despite the fact that the students were busy and could not always intend class, they were all extremely motivated and it was a pleasure to teach them. I hope they enjoyed the course as much as I enjoyed teaching it.
Gardner, R.C., and Lambert, W.E., Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning, (Newbury House: 1972)
Graves, K., (editor) Teachers as Course Developers, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1996)
Hutchinson, T., and Waters, A., English for Specific Purposes, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1987)
Nunan, D., Syllabus Design, (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1988)
Saphier, J., and Gower, R., The Skilful Teacher, (Carlise, Mass: 1987)
Stern, H., Issues and Options in Language Teaching, (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1992)
White, R., and Arndt, V., Process Writing, (Longman, Essex: 1991)
Articles and Journals
Davies, A., and Currie, W., 'Aptitude and Nativeness.' Paper prepared for the BAAL Conference, University of Essex, 1971
Wingate, G., English Teaching Professional, 'Multiple Intelligences.'
Nunan, D., Language Teaching Methodology, Prentice Hall, Hemel Hempstead: 1991)
Woodward, T., and Lindstromberg, S., Planning from Lesson to Lesson: A way of making lesson planning easier, (Longman, Essex: 1995)
Primary sources used in the timetable
Fielding, H., Bridget Jones´Diary (Picador, London: 1996)
Side, R., In Advance, (Nelson, London, 1994)
Townsend, S., The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, (Methuen, London: 1983)
Viney, R. et al., Streamline Departures, (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1985)
Articles and Journals
English Teaching Professional, Issue 4, July 1997 (for needs analysis)
Nunan looks at various attitudes towards syllabuses:
Yalden (1984): '[The syllabus] replaces the concept of "method," and the syllabus is now seen as an instrument by which the techer, with the help of the syllabus designer, can achieve a degree of "fit" between the needs and aims of the learner (as the social being and as individual) and the activities which will take place in the classroom.'
In my course plan I have taken 'syllabus' to mean the content, the materials, tasks and activities and the organisation of the materials. For simplicity I have not made a clear distinction between 'syllabus' and 'methodology,' although the distinction should be noted.
Widdowson (1984): 'It only becomes a threat to pedagogy when it is regarded as absolute rules for determining what is to be learned rather than points of reference from which bearings can be taken.'
Widdowson highlights the need to be flexible. Syllabuses have to adapt to different needs that may appear during the course. Just as a text book is adapted, so should the syllabus.
Breen (1984): 'Any syllabus will express - however indirectly - certain assumptions about language, about the psychological process of learning, and about the pedagogic and social processes within a classroom.'
This is inevitable. The advantage with working on a syllabus with a group of teachers is that everybody brings different assumptions that can then be negotiated to design a syllabus that is believed to be effective. Of course, different teachers and course designers have different priorities. That is why there is such a wide variety of syllabuses to choose from. The teacher can then select (and of course adapt) the syllabus s/he thinks is most appropriate for his/her students´needs.
NB: All the above were quoted in David Nunan´s Syllabus Design, (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1988) pp.5-6.
Hutchinson et al. (1987) points out some of the advantages of a syllabus:
'Language is a complex entity. It cannot be learnt in one go. We have to have some way of breaking down the complex into manageable units. The syllabus, in defining the constituent parts of language knowledge, thus provides a practical basis for the division of assessement, textbooks and learning time.' (p.83)
It is also pointed out that a syllabus, 'gives moral support to the teacher and the learner, in that it makes the language learning task appear manageable.' (p.83)
Hutchinson et al. still point out that syllabuses still have to be used with care and should not be followed 'to the letter.'
Nunan (1988) gives a brief history of syllabus design. He states how syllabuses started with a bottom-up approach with lists of grammatical, phonological and vocabulary lists. In the seventies the communicative approach came popular with more emphasis on meaning rather than form. English for Specific Purposes also became popular, recognising the fact that 'general English' did not meet many students specific needs particularly in a work situation. Nowadays a top-down approach is more popular with the influence of task-based learning.
et al. (1987) also discuss various types of syllabus which include:
For a more detailed explantion see English for Specific Purposes ( CUP.p.80.) I would argue that most syllabues incorporate all of these elements.
The positive learning cycle - ultimately, what every teacher wants to achieve. Appears in Gardner, R.C., and Lambert, W.E., Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning, (Newbury House, 1972.)
Problems with the needs assessment:
the needs assessment referred to methodology, it did not identify the
students´previous learning experience. This obviously affects their
attitudes towards learning since previous learning experience forms opinions
on what is considered to be a 'good' or 'bad' methodology.
Hutchinson et al. (1987, p.42) gives a brief summary of some of the learning theories that appeared in the twentieth century. He outlines the following:
Behaviourism: The Audio-lingual method which advocated the stimulus-response
· Mentalism: Main influence was Chomsky (1964) who argued that learning conists of acquiring rules, not forming habits. This acquirement of rules is not conscious, but more instictive.
· Cognitive Code: Views learners as thinking beings. Learning is defined as the learner actively making sense of data.
It could be said that all these theories appear actively in the classroom. Drilling still plays a very important part in the classroom, even in advanced groups. Mentalism perhaps plays its part when, as teachers, we encourage students to rely on instinct, to rely on what 'sounds right' for them. Finally, tasks performed in the classroom often problem -solving which reflects the cognitive side of learning. Interestingly enough, many of the students on the needs assessment stated that problem-solving tasks was an area of methodology that interested them the most.
These results are taken from the beginning of the course. (They refer to when students had most contact with English and areas they were interested in.) Some of the students left the course and other students joined. Unfortunately, I do not have information about the new students as they joined in the last week of the course.
translation, speaking to friends, memos, notes and songs.
Saphier and Gower (1987) define objectives more specifically:
objectives: What will be covered?
So, taking my literature lesson as an example (Monday 23 July) my objectives were the following:
objectives: Two different reading texts, problem vocabulary that appears
in both texts.
Objectives can be criticised because teaching cannot be equated with learning. The teacher may have certain objectives for a class but there is no guarantee that the student will learn specifically what the teacher had planned. As Allwright (1984) states: 'What is planned and what actually happens in the lesson are two different things.' One way to combat this is to keep the objectives open-ended, so learners can achieve at least something.
Stern (1992) describes goals under the following headings:
goals: Competency/mastery of the four skills/specific language behaviours.
This was referenced in Nunan´s Syllabus Design (1988) p.86.
Clark (1987) in ALL PROJECT referred to the following fuctions that seem most applicable to our syllabus:
Establishing and maintaining relationships and discussing topicsof interest.
(Our syllabus covered various topics and looking at agreeing/disagreeing/expressing
This is the format of the lexibase that helped students to record vocabulary.
An example of the learner diary - in the bottom half of the coursebook page.
Graves (1996, p.29) outlines the difference between the a cyclicar and a matrix syllabus:
A cyclicar framework puts emphasis on the regular cycle of activities, following a consistent sequence. It therefore highlights the need to focus not only on a lesson but also on a course level. This principle of recycling material (students encounter previous materials in news ways i.e. a different skill, a different activity or a different focus) is one we have tried to incorporate in our syllabus.
A Matrix framework consists of a course of material and learned activities to be conducted within a given time frame. The one disadvantage of the Matrix is that it is difficult to establish how long the learning process will take.
At the end of the course we asked the students to complete a questionnaire. The questions were as follows:
1. How do
you feel about the course?
I have included two of the feedback forms from students who continued with the course for the whole month.
1. In terms
of catering for specific student needs it would have been a good idea
to give 'tailor-made' homework. For example, in the case of Africa who
wanted to do Business English, a self-access pack could have been prepared
so that she could study at home. She was very motivated and did all her
homework so I think she would have been pleased to receive some extra
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