Course Planning -
by Emma Worrell
The aim of this assignment was to plan, execute
and evaluate a twenty hour course for a group of students.
I chose a First Certificate Exam (FCE) class with nine students.
The students are studying at a private language academy (Hyland
Language Centre). They are following an extensive course which
involves twice weekly, one and a half hour classes taught
over 9 months (October to June). I have planned this course
over fourteen classes (a total of seven weeks), which will
finish just before Christmas 2003.
What is a Syllabus?
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) say that a syllabus
breaks language down into manageable chunks; it reassures
clients that their money is well-spent; students have a learning
route; it gives a set of criteria for the selection of materials;
it makes attempts at school standardisation possible and it
provides a visible means for testing. However, it does not
tell us what will actually be learned, nor does it express
factors such as the students' personalities, moods and motivation.
There are various types of syllabuses, including structural,
functional/notional, communicative, task-based, content-based
and multi-layered. In general Nunan (1988: 21) says that all
syllabuses, including methodology and learner assessment and
evaluation are "underpinned by beliefs about the nature
of language and language learning".
What are the considerations when planning a course?
Graves (1996: 13) outlines seven elements that
any course syllabus should include:
1) Needs Assessment: What the students need
and how to assess and address those needs.
2) Determining Goals and Objectives: The purposes
of the course and the expected outcomes.
3) Conceptualising Content: The main thread
of what we teach and what should be included in the syllabus.
4) Selecting and Developing Materials and Activities:
How the chosen materials will be used and the roles of the
teacher and the student.
5) Organisation and Content of Activities: How
the activities will be organised and the systems to be developed.
6) Evaluation: How the students and the effectiveness
of the course will be assessed.
7) Consideration of Resources and Constraints:
Assessing the resources available and other problems.
These criteria will, of course, depend on the
context in which the course takes place. My chosen group are
all planning to take the FCE and have a designated course
book (First Certificate Gold) and schedule for which to complete
various materials. This means that there will be slightly
less freedom to plan the materials for the course (Stage 5
The nine students in this class are all planning
to take the FCE in June. They are between the ages of around
twenty to thirty-five. Four of the students are university
students and want to take the exam to help them find jobs
after university. The other five students work and four of
them use English in their jobs (mainly writing e-mails and
on the telephone) and one student does not use English at
work but wants to change their job. This student feels that
having the FCE will help them achieve this. They have all
studied English at school. Most of the students said they
had Spanish teachers of English at school and that they now
preferred to be taught by native speakers. Half of the students
have already studied at this academy and have had very positive
experiences which I hope to maintain.
Nunan (1988:20) describes how the trend has
moved away from "mechanistic" approaches of needs'
assessment, to a more humanistic approach. This is the belief
that learners should have a direct influence on what they
should be learning and how they should learn it. The emphasis
is on the development of learner "autonomy" and
addresses subjective or "affective issues. Yalden (1983
in Nunan 1988) says that a good needs analysis should identify
the communication requirements, the personal needs, motivations,
relevant characteristics and resources of our students. Hutchinson
and Waters (1987: 55) say that, generally, students' answers
to questions in needs analysis questionnaires often reflect
very subjective needs which are usually different from any
'objective' assessment of what they really need. Even though
all the students are preparing for the FCE exam not many of
them considered exam preparation as a specific goal from the
course . These are some of the concepts I have tried to consider
when designing this syllabus.
The needs analysis used attempts to address
the learners subjective needs. The needs analysis was conducted
in class. The students discussed their answers in small groups
and then as a whole class. During the first class with the
students we discussed the learners' learning history, personal
circumstances, and use of English. The students have been
encouraged to copy the 'menu' (a list of things to be done
in the class which I write on the board at the beginning of
the class) at the end of the classes and to reflect on them,
writing a short personal response to the activities, their
usefulness, effectiveness and how the students felt about
the activity (whether they enjoyed it or not). The students
then discuss what they have written in small groups and then,
when we have a spare five minutes at the end of a class, I
ask for general feedback.
The results of the needs analysis showed
that the students placed most emphasis on the need to be able
to write well in English, to speak more fluently and to improve
their listening skills. All of these needs reflect the requirements
for their jobs (or future jobs). Grammar was given less priority
maybe because they feel they have the necessary grammar to
be able to communicate efficiently. Indeed, at this level
most grammar structures have been presented to the students.
However, as we progressed through some of the units and came
across 'Use of English' exercises the students were beginning
to realise that they needed training in this area. The students
also gave low priority to pronunciation and reading maybe
because the group copes well with the reading activities.
However, I found that some of the students did not feel that
pronunciation was important because they found it easy to
communicate effectively and were usually understood. As I
have been teaching in Spain for three years now I find that
I have 'got used to' the Spanish accent and way of speaking
and if we understand them we focus less on their pronunciation.
This is something I have been trying to address in my classes
more recently. Pronunciation can help the students understand
as much as communicate effectively. The FCE book does not
include much pronunciation work so I have taken this into
consideration in my course planning.
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