ELT Curriculum and Syllabus Design and Assessment
This project presents and evaluates a course designed for use in teaching English to trainee Kindergarten teachers in Korea.
Part One presents the research undertaken before implementing the course design. First of all, it defines the key terms in this project: ‘Curriculum’; ‘syllabus’; ‘aims’; and ‘objectives. It then goes on to analyse and discuss the national context of English language teaching in Korea. This includes how the combination of government policies, educational and business organizations, and processes of globalization have created different sets of demands for the balance between written accuracy and communicative fluency in English language learning. It concludes with the observation that, despite Government attempts to introduce more communicative strategies, there is still too much focus on grammar and writing in Korean ELT. The local context looks specifically at the group of Kindergarten trainee teachers who will make up the learners.
Part Two focuses on the course design and the rationale behind it. Research in Part One led to the conclusions that the most appropriate form of course would be a task-based syllabus, and a communicative approach. The relevance and importance of communicative approaches are discussed in detail, drawing on relevant literature in order to consider why they are important in this chosen learning context, and to highlight any particular difficulties and how they could be overcome. This then leads to a consideration of specific classroom strategies to be adopted in the implementation of the syllabus.
Part Three makes up the evaluation process. It includes an analysis of feedback to the course design and a consideration of measures that could be taken to improve it in the light of this feedback.
Part One: Pre-Course Research
1.1. Defining Terms
It is necessary first of all to define the key terms that will be used here. ‘Curriculum’ has been defined in a variety of ways. It is employed differently for example in the UK and the US. While in the US, it is synonymous with ‘syllabus’, in the UK it refers generally to a broader system of educational aims, of which the syllabus is a more specific part (White, 2003, p.4). Syllabuses themselves have also been designed, as White has argued, “with considerable variation” (2003, p.3). For the purposes of this course design the definitions proposed by Carter and Nunan (2001) will be adopted. ‘Curriculum’ is defined as:
The aims, content, methodology and evaluation procedures of a particular subject or subjects taught in a particular institution or school system. (p.221)
‘Syllabus’ is defined as:
The selected and organized content (areas of knowledge and particular skills and abilities) appropriate to the particular aims of a course (p.227)
The curriculum, then, defines the general aims of the course, and the syllabus provides the concrete means to achieve them. Both definitions place a key focus on ‘aims’, which, as White has proposed, is important as it provides a focus for the course (2003, p.27). This focus can be increased by also creating ‘objectives’, although this is another term, which has been defined in a multiplicity of ways (Nunan, 1988, pp.61-2). White’s distinction is useful here, describing objectives as the short-term targets necessary to reach long-term aims (2003, p.27).
1.2. National Context
The Korean Government has implemented policies in order to increase levels of English as a whole nationally, in order to more effectively compete economically in the global marketplace. US-Korean business relations have been highlighted as particularly important and this drives governmental language policy. Students are very motivated to learn English because they realize its importance for their future job prospects, and for college-entrance exams (Kim, 2006, p.35). Most Korean students have six years experience of studying English at school, and as the National Curriculum has always focused on a written exam, they have good grammatical knowledge, writing skills, and a broad range of vocabulary (Lee, 2009, p.111). However, this can mean that most of the students have little confidence in speaking English due to the lack of oral practice and exposure. This was addressed through the 1995 ‘globalization policy’ in Korea, which attempted to reform language programmes in order to focus more on oral proficiency than on reading and grammar (Kim, 2006, p.35).
Globalization has had a huge impact on language learning in Korea. Learners are motivated to understand English because of the huge output of Western English language popular culture in Korea. This has had a major effect on Koreans, youth in particular, increasing desire to learn English. It has also, as Wallace points out, broadened the range of ‘Englishes’ on offer as official discourses mix with local cultures, producing new and various shifting idiolects (Wallace, 2002, p.109). Richards and Rodgers have argued that such linguistic shifts lead to the importance of developing more practical, flexible and functional language abilities (2007, p.151). The long-term effect of the dominance of English in global discourses, however, remains uncertain, as the rise of China as a global superpower may challenge the dominance of Western culture, as well as the importance of US-Korea relations in the future (Shapiro, 2008).
1.3. Local Context
The course outlined here is a general English course for Kindergarten education department students in Korea, who will go on to careers as Kindergarten teachers in the state education system. These students have good proficiency in English, in reading and writing skills in particular. Most kindergartens in Korea have English classes and basic communicative English is required. The level of proficiency in L2 is intermediate and the classes are sixty minutes. The class consists of eighteen female students. They have traveled and experienced English culture, but none of them have lived or studied English abroad. In Korea, generally students interact well but there can be a tendency, as in common in classroom situations, for dominant students to monopolize attention. The teacher must be aware of this and adopt strategies to avoid it. My personal experience suggests that, despite the ‘globalization policy’ of 1995 there is still an overfocus on grammar and writing in Korean education, as written exams still play such an important role in the education and business sectors. As Kim outlines, there have also been problems with moving away from grammar-based approached to more communicative approaches, such as the inability of many teachers to communicate efficiently in English (Kim, 2006, p.35).
In this context, as communication in a globalized world becomes increasingly important, and shifts in relations between global and local politics challenge the dominance of ‘official’ narratives of English learning for tests, it is proposed here to address the imbalance by producing a task-based syllabus and adopting a communicative approach to language learning.
Part Two: Course Design
|Week||Topic||Type of Task (general outline)|
|1||Language learning & Course Expectations||Information-gap|
|2||Relationships(Family & Friends)||Role-play|
|3||Relationships(Men & Women)||Negotiation|
|4||Interests and Hobbies||Reviewing (films, books)|
|5||Food & Drinks||Making a recipe|
|7||Problems in Society||Discussion / Debate|
|8||Modern Technology||Technological based task|
|9||Getting on in the World||Giving a speech|
It is a task-based syllabus with the aim of improving communicative fluency in the group of learners. Its timeframe is two sessions of 50 minutes, twice a week.
2.2. Needs Analysis
White has emphasized the importance of constant systems of ‘needs analysis’ as ways of establishing learner need. These are procedures, including for example questionnaires and interviews, whereby the needs of the user community (the learners) can be understood and incorporated into syllabus design (2003, p.91). My own needs analysis can be summarized as exposing a situation where students have strong passive knowledge but are not good at communicating, which research into contexts (see Part One) suggests is also typical of many Asian learning contexts. The interviewed learners preferred team activities or discussion to individual activities, a culturally-influenced attitude to learning that is driven by the social group ethic, common in Korean and other Asian societies (Lee, 2009). Finally, the learners interviewed had a strong desire to improve their communicative ability and that is their ultimate objective for learning the target language. Bearing this analysis in mind, it is important for a teacher to reduce the gap between their knowledge and their performance by teaching them how to use structures in a communicative context. The learners have the knowledge but they lack the actual experience that leads to effective communication. The analysis also showed that they lack experience in studying abroad and have little experience of western culture directly, although they are familiar with it through the media. This still demands more focus on communication, as mediated interaction with culture is more passive than social interaction.
Korean language learners have good grammatical knowledge but do not have sufficient communicative skills due to a lack of exposure to communicative situations. A task-based syllabus, adopting a communicative approach, has been produced to compensate for this. This focuses on the importance of what different roles the learner will play within a social context, settings which will be relevant to using the target language, and which topics will be most appropriate for aiding this communication and use of language. Using this approach means that learners will be constantly involved in sharing information, interaction and negotiating meaning – all key elements of communication. Activity design therefore focuses on the completion of tasks that involve negotiation and the sharing of information. Communicative approaches place emphasis on the use of several skills simultaneously in order to have a more realistic relation to language in use. Because of this, the lesson plan integrates reading, speaking and writing, and incorporates grammar as an integral part of these activities, rather than as a separate field.
The rationale for this approach is taken from relevant ELT literature. Rather than taking ‘structure’ as the most important element of language, the communicative approach focuses on “the functional and communicative potential of language” (Richards and Rogers, 2007, p.153). The aim of ‘communicative language teaching’ is defined by Paul Knight:
The desired outcome is that the learner can communicate successfully in the target language in real situations, rather than have a conscious understanding of the rules governing that language. (2007, p.155)
The teaching focus on this course, therefore, is not on creating a situation in order to analyse a particular grammatical structure, but, instead, on the pragmatic use of language in a more realistic setting. In role-play exercises, for example, students will be asked to apply for a job over the telephone. What is important here is not necessarily the conscious understanding of the structures used, but the ability to successfully understand and be understood, and make the appropriate application, as the student will have to in a real-life situation. This course design reflects this emphasis not only at the level of syllabus design and tasks set but also through teacher feedback, organization and grading at classroom level. Its approach can then be seen as emphasizing communication over structure, or as Littlewood defines the communicative approach, “it pays systematic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language” (1981, p.1). It is based on:
An approach (and not a method) that aims to (a) make communicative competence the goal of language teaching and (b) develop procedures for the teaching of the four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication. (Richards and Rodgers, 2007, p.155)
As it is not a prescriptive ‘method’ then the communicative approach is open to being interpreted in differing ways. Ways of implementing communicational methodologies have been varied. Some have argued that the syllabus should be abolished entirely to allow a focus on the needs of individual learners (Richards and Rodgers, 2007, p.165). Others suggest a “grammatically focused syllabus around which notions, functions, and communicational activities are grouped” (p.165). The task-based syllabus is retained here in order to maintain course focus and make it easier to implement and manage.
2.4. Implementation and Classroom Strategies
As the focus is on communication, classroom activities emphasise processes such as “information sharing, negotiation of meaning and interaction” (Richards and Rodgers, 2007, p.165). Examples here include having one student describing an image, which another would have to guess. This would be what Littlewood classifies as a ‘functional communicational activity’ (Littlewood, 1981). The course will also include what Littlewood defines as ‘social interaction activities’, say, role-plays or debates. ‘Information gap’ activities will be used, when one student has some information, which they have to share with others in order to make a decision or solve a problem. What is important is that they are more focused on the information they are communicating than on the structures they are using to communicate it. As Harmer explains, “they should use a variety of language rather than just one language structure. The teacher will not intervene to stop the activity” (Harmer, 2001, p.85). Another intention here is to use Information Gap activities alongside uses of technology. Joanna Norton for example has developed an activity “that involved learners using mobile phones to send pictures and use email attachments” (NATECLA, 2008, p.4).
As Raptou points out:
These types of activities are extremely effective…They give every student the opportunity to speak in the target language for an extended period of time, and students naturally produce more speech than they would otherwise. (Raptou 2001, p.1)
Rather than a ‘teacher-centred’ scenario where the teacher is the main speaker and leader, while students mainly listen and respond, here the teacher plays the role more of a ‘facilitator’, allowing a more student-centred model. These scenarios may be more fun for students than, say, the repetition of drills, and allow for an aware teacher to notice where problems lie and help students in appropriate ways, which may of course be different for each student. Raptou describes another advantage of this approach in that “students are forced to negotiate meaning because they must make what they are saying comprehensible to others in order to accomplish the task” (Raptou, 2001, p.2). This, she claims, leads to increased motivation, even participation, and an acceptable level of accuracy. Breen and Candlin have emphasized the role of “learner as negotiator” (Breen and Candlin, 1980, p.110), and the focus in this approach is definitely on the learner and the way they can negotiate the classroom procedures and activities to get meaningful results.
2.5. Assessment and Resources
One of the issues that needs to be addressed in relation to a task-based syllabus and the communicative approach is how students can be effectively assessed. There has been much research into the nature of assessing communicative language ability (Carter and Nunan, 2001, p.140; Richards and Rodgers, 2007, p.232) and this must be taken into account. Testing based on ‘real life’ situations has been proposed but this has been criticized for having no underlying theoretical model upon which it is based (Carter and Nunan, 2001, p.140). As the focus of this course has been on emphasizing communication over the grammatical and written focus of Korean entrance exams then such a theoretical model for establishing communicative proficiency must be found. In this case, it will come down to personal teacher feedback on individual student’s proficiency throughout the course, and in one-to-one oral examinations. This is possible in this context of a small group, and also allows flexibility for the teacher. In terms of resources, the emphasis would be on ‘real-life’ equipment that would be encountered day to day by students. This would include TV equipment, DVDs, and computers, as well as the use of textbooks and tape scripts.
2.6. Coping with Potential Problems
There are also problems with a task-based syllabus based on a communicative approach however. Firstly, Richards and Rodgers point out that the “range of exercises is unlimited” (2007, p.165), which on one hand may be good, but may also make implementation difficult, especially for teachers lacking imagination themselves. Secondly, communicational activities requires a certain level of knowledge of the language already, so would be harder to implement with students at a very basic level. Thirdly, it may be hard for the teacher, as ‘facilitator’, to have control over difficult situations which may arise . Fourthly, while a student-centred focus may be ideal for certain (positive-minded) students, it could be seen by others as offering the potential for laziness. Also, such emphasis on the learner may not be suitable for less able or less imaginative students. Fifthly, communicational activities are harder to assess than more grammatically focused exercises, and this may lead to more errors that go unnoticed or uncorrected. Accuracy may be sacrificed at the cost of communication. Bearing the advantages and disadvantages of such approaches in mind, it is still appropriate to adopt this model in this context, as the students are motivated, beyond basic level, and in need of developing skills of communicational fluency rather than just exam-centred accuracy.
Part Three: Evaluation
Ask for feedback and explain any adaptations made because of this
3.2. Response to Feedback and Conclusions
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