Chris Sheppard (Waseda, Japan)
In order for an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) language program to be successful, an evidence-based approach to its curriculum design is essential. Nation and Macalister’s (2010) curriculum design model requires a careful consideration of learner’s needs and situation as well as implementation of language learning principles. In this paper, a description of a curriculum design process is provided, then, the choices made while designing a curriculum for a large scale ESP program are discussed with reference to this curriculum design process.
Keywords: ESP, curriculum design, skill based learning, complexity
Damit ein fachbezogenes Fremdsprachenprogramm in Englisch (ESP-Programm) erfolgreich etabliert werden kann, ist ein evidenzbasiertes Herangehen an das Curriculum-Design zwingend erforderlich. Das Modell von Nation & Macalister (2010) fordert eine sorgfältige Analyse der Lernerbedürfnisse, der Lernsituation sowie der Umsetzung der Sprachlernprinzipien. In dem vorliegenden Beitrag wird der Curriculum-Entwicklungsprozess für ein umfangreiches ESP-Programm in Japan beschrieben, und die getroffenen Entscheidungen werden mit Blick auf die Zielstellung und Zielerreichung diskutiert.
Stichwörter: ESP, Curriculum-Design, fertigkeitsbasiertes Lernen, Komplexität
The development of the field of language teaching has availed teachers and course designers of a large, sometimes seemingly infinite, number of choices as to how to teach a course. In this paper, it is argued that English for Specific Purposes (ESP) curriculum design should be approached systematically to ensure that learners be given opportunities to develop skills and knowledge relevant to their own contexts. Following such a systematic design process enables pedagogical choices which are more appropriate for learners.
Hutchinson & Waters (1987: 19) define ESP as
an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on the learner's reason for learning (Hutchinson & Waters 1987: 19)
Students who are learning to be scientists and engineers require specific language content, often called English for Science and Technology (EST), which is based on their need to operate effectively in their target situation. This target situation has quite specific language usage which is distinct from what students learning for other pur- poses may require. It is important to understand how language usage and skills required differ in the various areas, and how we can teach these skills more effectively. Curriculum design provides us with an effective way to do so Nation & Macalister’s (2010) triadic curriculum design framework will be described in the first part of this paper. This description will include the factors which need to be taken into account when designing an ESP curriculum and how those factors contribute to the choices we are required to make. The second part of the paper provides an example of designing a curriculum for a large ESP program. It is hoped that through this description of the curriculum design process, other curriculum designers, be it for a large scale program such as this, or for a single class course, will be enabled to approach what is a complicated task in a systematic way, and go beyond their own teaching experiences to make more effective choices.
2 Curriculum Design Framework
Nation & Macalister’s (2010) triadic curriculum design framework provides a convenient way to investigate the important factors underlying decisions required to formulate a curriculum. There are three main aspects which require consideration. The first one is the needs of the learners. The second aspect is the situation in which the curriculum will be administered and the third one is the selection of principles which will be central to the creating of the curriculum. The essential factors identified in these areas then combine to create a syllabus.
2.1 Learner Needs
The needs of the learner are an extremely important part of curriculum design as they essentially determine what a learner needs to have achieved by the end of the course. The ‘learner needs’ are made up of three parts (Figure 1):
Figure 1: The triadic curriculum design framework
The first part is an estimation of the skills and knowledge that the participants will need in their target situation. This part is usually determined by an examination of the communication tasks that will be most commonly met in the target environment. These can be expressed in terms of a multitude of units, including a description of the structure of the language used, the vocabulary, the speech acts, tasks, and pragmatic content just to name a few. The second part is a description of the learner’s current level. This is important as a starting point, given both the limited amount of time, and the demotivating effects of studying at a level which is too difficult or too easy. The third part is an understanding of what the learners actually expect to learn. If there is a major mismatch between the learner expectations of the course and its content, then the program will lose face validity, and as a result, the learners will not be motivated to work towards the established goals of the course. The combination of the target situation requirements and the learner’s current level helps establish their needs.
2.2 The Situation
Consideration of the situation also influences the choices made in the creation of the syllabus. There are three aspects of situation. The first one represents the constraints imposed by the learning environment. For example, the resources available for learning are important in determining the extent to which the goals of the program can be realistically met. The characteristics of the classroom, the time available for the learning to take place, and the budget available for the administration of the program should all affect planning for instance.
Learner characteristics are also an extremely important aspect of situation. These include the background of the learners, their learning styles, and their collective experiences and beliefs. Their motivation and the impact of the course on their lives, and the perceived importance to them of the course they are taking, should also be considered along with the number of learners participating in the program.
The third aspect of the situation to be considered is the teacher. If the ability of the teacher, and his or her knowledge and beliefs are not fully taken into account, it is likely that the teachers in the program will not participate as completely as they could. They will then be more likely to teach according to their own beliefs as to what is most appropriate for the learners, even if this is different from the requirements of the curriculum.
A final point is the degree to which these factors can be changed to enable choices which are more effective for meeting the goals of the curriculum. It is also necessary to understand the resources, if any, which will be required to make such changes. Some factors are resistant to change, or require a large number of resources to prompt change. Buildings and classroom layout are examples of this. Other factors are more malleable or require relatively fewer resources.
The resources required to foster the changes are highly context dependent. What is easy to change in one context may be very difficult to change in another. The effect that the individual factors have will also be different depending on the educational context. Finally, altering factors which are easily changeable may not actually have a positive influence on the choices that can be made during the curriculum design process.
2.3 Language Learning and Teaching Principles
The third arm of the triadic framework for curriculum design is the consideration of language learning and teaching principles. This is where the results of the research from a number of fields are applied to the choices we make in the curriculum. Interestingly, this is a point of contention amongst both language teachers and researchers. Many language teachers approach their teaching with the belief that the generalization of research results to the language classroom has little validity. Researchers also often doubt the applicability of their or others’ results. Robinson (1994), for example, suggested that a language learning (or teaching) theory should be thoroughly tried and tested before being applied to the language classroom. Ellis (1994) responded by explaining that, while it is more desirable to have a complete theory, in reality this development is not currently realistic, and curriculum designers (and language teachers) need to be able to make more effective educational choices for the classes they teach.
Teachers left to their own resources are only able to make choices based on their own experiences. When teaching in a new situation, these may not necessarily provide the choices which best match the new context. The application of the best currently available principles to the design of the curriculum will enable designers and teachers to go beyond their experience and make more effective choices.
Principles can be categorized into four types based on the area of syllabus design they influence. They are content, sequencing, format and presentation, and assessment principles. Each of these will be covered in turn.
2.3.1 Content Principles
Content principles guide the selection of the issues which need to be covered in the curriculum. The first and probably most important one links ‘needs’ to the content. It proposes that the content be relevant to the target situation of the learners. They need to have the linguistic knowledge and skills to enable them to perform effectively in their target environment. Taking this need into account will ensure that what learners are learning is useful to them, and presupposes that, if learners understand that what they are learning is relevant to their future needs, they will probably be more motivated to learn.
The second principle focuses on ordering the content in terms of its frequency of occurrence in the target situation. This ensures that the time and effort spent on learning items will be worthwhile in the target situation. Vocabulary, for example, follows what is known as Zipf’s law of distribution (Zipf 1949), where the most frequent items account for the majority of the usage in the target situation. If the most frequent 100 words account for roughly half of all running words - and we might be lucky to meet a single occurrence of some lower frequency words in one million running words - then time spent learning the higher frequency words provides a much greater return for effort.
Content should also cover instruction in both communication strategies and language learning strategies. In the majority of learning situations, instructional contact time is always a major constraint. There will almost never be enough time for students to learn all the necessary content. In order for students to learn what is necessary to become effective in the target situation, it is important to realize that much of the time they will spend learning will not be in the language classroom. For this reason, syllabi need to be designed to foster autonomy so that learners both understand that they need to be responsible for their own learning and have the tools to be autonomous learners.
Appropriate communication strategies also need to be part of a well-designed curriculum. As mentioned above, learners will rarely have the time to learn all the content they will need to operate at an optimum level of performance in the target situation. Communication strategies are taught so that when learners find that they lack the appropriate knowledge, they will have a strategy to make up the deficit.
In summary, a curriculum’s content items need to be selected based on the needs of learners and then on their frequency of use in the target situation. A good language program would then also include strategies to assist with communication and build autonomy in learning.
2.3.2 Sequencing and Ordering Principles
After determining what content is to be taught, the next decision is how to order it. If content can be sequenced in such a way that it makes it easier for students to learn, then that would make the learning process more efficient and increase the amount of content that can be covered over the duration of the course. Language learning theory has made various attempts to determine what the best order of acquisition / learning is, but to date no definitive answer has been provided, and this topic is still the subject of extensive debate (e.g. Skehan 2001, Robinson 2001). The following are some guiding principles for the ordering of the content.
The first guiding principle is that the syllabus needs to progressively move forward in developing learners’ knowledge towards meeting their goals. One way to do this is to order the items with gradually increasing complexity (Skehan 2001). The idea that increasing complexity is effective comes from research based on three theories originating in cognitive psychology. The first theory explored the automaticity of skills (Anderson 1982). The second one investigated limited attentional capacity and the third one looked at the noticing hypothesis (Schmidt 1990).
The results of investigations into these theories suggest that learning takes place through a conscious noticing, which makes a connection between the incoming noticed information and the long-term memory, essentially creating new connections and memories. This noticing process requires attentional resources. In Anderson’s model of skill learning, the consciously controlled processes gradually become automatic, requiring less conscious attention. This is the process of automatization.
Two important processes in language learning require attentional capacity. Attentional mechanisms are located in working memory, and working memory capacity is limited (Gathercole & Baddeley 1993). The result is that the amount that can be noticed, or become automatic, is limited. This processing limitation has implications for how the content in a given course should be organized. Information should be provided in such a way that learners need to process only the new information (the learning focus of the task), and have all other aspects of the task under their control. This can be done by controlling for the complexity of the task and, as the course progresses, gradually increasing the complexity so that it approximates that of the target situation. (Although see Robinson (2001) for a rebuttal to this idea.)
In addition to gradually increasing the complexity of the learning tasks, based on Anderson’s (1982) ACT theory, spaced repetition should also be incorporated to foster successful learning. In order to automaticize new knowledge, it needs to be processed repetitively, thus increasing the fluency of the learning. In accordance with the principle generated from Anderson’s theory, content should be repeated in a number of different contexts throughout the syllabus.
Thus, in summary, and although there is not a consensus from the field of cognitive psychology, its complexity can be used to determine the ordering of the information we require learners to acquire, and this information needs to be repeated at spaced intervals.
2.3.3 Format and Presentation Principles
The curriculum designer will also need to make choices about exactly how the content will be presented. This is the how of curriculum design. Many teaching ‘methodologies’ are directed at this aspect of curriculum design. The audio-lingual approach, the communicative approach, and the task-based approach are all examples of ways to format and present content1. Nation & Macalister (2010) have again suggested several guiding principles which will assist in the choices that need to be made here.
The first principle is that the content should be presented in such a way that learners have the opportunity to focus on form as they learn the content. Learners should also be given the opportunity to have both meaning-focused input and output, requiring them to understand and process the content in a manner meaningful to them. Finally, there needs to be the opportunity to focus on the development of fluent (automatic) usage of the items.
The second guiding principle is that the content should be introduced in such a way that learners are focused on the target content as much as possible. Deep, meaningful processing needs to be fostered to increase the chances that the target content will be learned and to make the establishment of form-meaning connections easier.
2.3.4 Assessment Principles
The final aspect of curriculum design is assessment, which may be formative or summative. This process determines if learners have actually met their learning goals and is often referred to as achievement testing.
A basic principle in assessment is that any test must be a valid and reliable assessment of what it purports to be measuring. A valid assessment is a good measure of what it claims to measure. If validity is not at an acceptable level, among other things, a given test will have two main problems. This first one is that it will not provide important information regarding the learner’s attainment of the goals of the course. The second one is that learners will perceive the tests to be unfair and thus lose confidence in the program.
A second principle is that assessment procedures need to be designed and timed in such a way that they ensure feedback to learners. As noted above, there are many purposes for a test. However, for educational purposes, it should provide feedback to learners informing them whether or not they have attained the goal which was being tested for, and, if not, what else they might need to do in order to develop their knowledge or skills to attain that goal. In addition, the feedback must be provided in a timely manner so as to ensure that learners have time to make the appropriate adjustments in their performance and make further progress towards the goals of the curriculum.
In summary, it can be stated that principles need to be applied to the learning program in order to determine what content will be taught, the order that the content will be taught in, how the content will be presented and taught to the learner, and how the attainment of the goals will be tested. The principles chosen here have been largely adapted from Nation & Macalister (2010). It is important to point out that there are a multitude of other principles available for selection, many of which may contradict those that are listed here as they are based on competing learning theories.
2.3.5 The Syllabus
The syllabus is the practical side of the curriculum. Each aspect of the syllabus should reflect the principles of curriculum design: the content and sequencing, the format and presentation, and monitoring and assessment. Once the goals have been determined, materials to convey the content must then be designed.
The goals are statements of course objectives, a description of the skills and knowledge that learners are expected to attain by participating fully in the program. The goals are determined by first looking at what students need and then limiting it to the most useful content through application of the relevant principles. Then analysis of the situation suggests what is actually possible given the available resources. At the end of the process, the goals will be a list of language items, attitudes and skills to be acquired.
The sequencing principles are then applied to this list to determine (1) the order of instruction, and (2) which items will actually be taught. Following this, they should be reformulated and grouped into courses and lessons. The format and presentation of the content is determined by the selection and application of the appropriate teaching methodology and principles. Finally, a valid and reliable testing program should be set up which considers both the situation and the opportunity to provide feedback to learners.
3 Application of the Framework
This part of the paper briefly summarizes the ESP curriculum design process for tertiary science and engineering students at a large private university in Japan. Following the curriculum design theory described above, first, the needs of the students will be analyzed and then, the situation will be described.
3.1 Students’ Needs
The needs of learners depend very much on their target situation. According to the results of the exit survey, shown in Figure 2 below, in 2012, roughly 90% of the students continued in the field of science and engineering, with the majority continuing on to graduate school. Thus, any ESP program needed to develop English skills required in science and engineering. In particular, many of the students needed to be able to conduct research in science and engineering.
The Faculty consists of seventeen different departments from a broad range of science and engineering disciplines, some empirical in nature and some rational. The English required to conduct research in each of these target fields is varied. However, there are commonalities across all of them. These include the ability to read, comprehend, and critically evaluate research papers, the ability to conduct research in a group, the ability to participate in international conferences, including giving oral and poster presentations, and, finally, the ability to write both proceedings and full research papers.
Figure 2: Where students go after graduating
The entry level of the students’ English language is another consideration. The majority has come through the Japanese education system, and has learned English for at least six years, and perhaps longer. Japanese schools spend a large amount of time working on reading and translation skills. The best students are very proficient readers through translation and also have a vocabulary of about 3,000 words and a good knowledge of fairly complicated grammar. In contrast to this, as the Japanese education system seldom focuses on productive skills, these students cannot speak or write very well. It is important to note, that, while the majority of students are products of the Japanese education system, there are a small number of foreign students and returnees who have studied in a foreign secondary system.
Another major constraint arising from the current knowledge of students is that their mastery of English to date is extremely variable. Their TOEIC-IP scores vary from 10 to 990 (the average being 460). This is the full range. In addition, methods of entry differ. Students are selected for entry to the university and the Faculty of Science and Engineering through an entrance examination which includes an English component. This examination allows some control over the entry level of English. However, only just over half of the students are admitted through the entrance examination, and the rest are admitted by high-school recommendation and through studying in schools affiliated to the university.
Many of the students on the course have little understanding of their English needs as researchers. They respond to questions about personal goals for English with a variety of wants regarding their future use of English, which are often related to using English during overseas travel and making friends with non-Japanese speakers. Many students also respond that they have no particular need for English and that their original purpose for learning English was mostly to meet university entry requirements.
The results of the needs analysis demonstrated that most of these students will have a very clear necessity to operate as science and engineering researchers in the international community and need good English skills to achieve this. In addition, while the students entering the university are fairly homogeneous in what they have studied, the degree to which they have mastered the material is widely varied. Finally, many of the students on the program have a personal preference for learning English to make friends and travel.
3.2 The Situation
The situation will be described in terms of the available resources, the teachers on the program and the learners. The first major resourcing problem is the contact time available. Students are required to study English for two 90 minute sessions per week for the first two years of their studies. Courses are available in their final two years of undergraduate studies, but they are optional.
Funding for teachers is also limited. This influences the number of students in classes which average 35 students. Such large groups place major limitations on the kinds of interaction that can take place in the classroom and the types of assessments that can be conducted. Although teacher funds are limited, there is access to a computer-based content delivery system and a learner management system. The classrooms have access to wireless Internet, DVD / CD / Blue-ray players, projectors, and blackboards. Computers can be borrowed for classes. Photocopying facilities are available for all teachers, and, in principle, there is no restriction on the number of copies made. Finally, students are charged a yearly fee that provides a budget for running the program, and are expected to pay for textbooks.
Apart from a small number of permanent staff, who may also teach in other areas, the resources available only allow for hiring part-time teachers. All have at least a Master’s degree in language teaching or equivalent, and at least two years of teaching experience at tertiary institutions. In addition, an understanding of a principled approach to language teaching and an understanding of what is required to teach in a coordinated curriculum are necessary. Finally, preference is given to teachers who are able to spend at least 90 minutes of preparation and grading per 90 minutes of contact time.
As previously mentioned, many of the learners are high school graduates who believe that they have little need for English. However, they are very effective learners. As they have chosen their fields of study and, thus, are interested in science and engineering, they are more motivated to learn content related to these fields. The intake is very large, with 1,700 to 1,800 students being accepted every year. The implication of this is that there is great variety among students, and a large number of personality differences. 90% to 95% of the students are male. There are also a small number of students with learning disabilities and social disorders. In addition, between 5% and 10% of the students fail the courses, and are required to retake them in order to graduate.
3.3 The Syllabus Overview
The syllabus was created as a result of choices that have been made due to the situation described above. The needs have been organized into a set of goals which were ordered based on the principles. In the following section, the syllabus will be described.
The brief summary of the program demonstrates that it has taken into account the analysis of the situation. First-year students take four compulsory courses: two in their first semester and two in their second semester. They are Communication Strategies 1 and 2 and Academic Listening Comprehension 1 and 2. The course Communication Strategies focuses on developing speaking and discussion skills, and the course Academic Lecture Comprehension focuses on developing critical listening skills. Second-year students are expected to take an additional four compulsory courses. Concept Building and Discussion 1 and 2 is a task-based course which requires students to design simple research projects, collect the data, and report the results of their studies both orally and in a research paper. In the course Academic Reading 1 and 2, students develop reading strategies and reading fluency. In their third and fourth years of study, students are able to take elective courses called Technical Presentation and Technical Writing. As their names suggest, these courses focus on developing research presentation skills and technical writing skills. Similar courses are also available at graduate school level for students who did not take these courses at undergraduate level.
3.3.1 The Syllabus Goals
The above needs analysis demonstrated that most of these students will need the ability to participate in international research groups. In order to do this, they must be able to discuss, and explain their ideas, ask and answer questions, and support their own opinions. As they have little experience of speaking or of critical thinking, these two goals were included in the syllabus with the aim of enabling full participation in research-based discussion. Students also need the ability to present information to a larger audience. In order to do this, they must be able to create visual aids, give a comprehensible talk to an international audience and be able to answer questions. Thus, a presentation goal was added which has these three components. A third skill required is the reading of technical papers, and the critical evaluation of these papers. A reading goal aims to increase the reading fluency of the students, and encourage the development of other comprehension strategies than just translation. Writing proceedings and full papers is another required skill. In order to develop this facility, a writing goal was established. The final goal was to improve skills allowing students to participate fully in international conferences. In practice, students must be able to listen critically to oral and poster presentations. This requires a listening goal, a critical thinking goal, and a goal aiming at the ability to ask questions after a presentation. A second part aims at developing the ability to interact with other researchers during conversation. The discussion goal was adapted to include this skill as well. In total, a list of six goals was developed. These included ‘to develop the ability to use English to confidently take part in: scientific discussion, technical presentation, technical writing, technical reading, listening, and critical thinking’ (see Figure 4). In addition, it was determined that, while most students had a large vocabulary based on translating the meaning of English words into Japanese, they were not really able to use a lot of these words in communication. For that reason, a vocabulary usage goal was also added.2
3.3.2 Content and Sequencing
Swale’s (1990) move’s analysis suggests that texts with similar communicative functions have common ‘moves’. His ideas can be applied to communication of a high volume of information when much of the information is organized in similar ways. For example, a paragraph describing a process typically begins with a topic sentence describing or introducing the process. Then each subsequent sentence provides a step in the process with predictable transitions between each of the moves (steps). The syllabus content was built around models of common “structures”, which occur in the presentations students give or listen to, the discussions, and the papers they should be able to read and write. These structures were abstracted from activities like describing a process, supporting an opinion, solving a problem, and describing data, to name a few.
The content was then sequenced based on the two principles described above, complexity and repetition. Thus, the basic language structures were repeated several times throughout the syllabus as the communicative tasks which required their use increased in complexity, gradually approximating the tasks that need to be performed in the target situation. Figure 3 below provides an example of this, aimed at meeting writing goals. The process structure was covered at multiple times throughout the syllabus. It was first provided in the first year as a task requiring a summary paragraph of a process lecture (in Academic Lecture Comprehension). The second repetition in this spiral format required students to complete a spoken task following the process structure and then write out the task (in Concept Building and Discussion 1). A third repetition required students to do a research project, including description of their research method as a process during the class, in a progress report and in written research papers (Concept Building and Discussion 2). Finally, in Technical Writing 1 and 2, students are required to describe their own research methods in a format approximating that of their research field.
Figure 3: The development of the process structure
Figure 4 provides a brief summary of how each of these goals is developed through the program. The speaking / discussion goal is developed first by beginning with spoken fluency tasks. These are designed to get students to use the large amounts of knowledge they have built up through their high-school years in actual communication. The next step is to provide more structured tasks, whose learning goal is the acquisition of the structures discussed above. Here, students start to learn how to express their opinion, for example. Following this, in their second year, students are expected to develop group research projects beginning with group discussion.
Presentation skills are developed first by establishing the students’ ability to ask and answer questions. This is done by explaining common questioning structures and also by looking at types of questions to be asked. Advanced students begin by presenting their opinions in their first year. In their second year, students present their research, first in groups, and then individually. Students are also required to ask questions which the presenters answer. Finally, students present their research accurately, following the genres common to their field of study.
One goal shown in Figure 4 is a writing one. The skills to achieve this are built up initially by asking students to write single paragraph summaries following a particular structure. In the second half of the first year, this task becomes more complex, requiring multi-paragraph summaries. In the second year, the focus moves from producing summaries to reporting of students’ research, which combines structures to result in a full Introduction-Method-Results-Discussion paper. Finally in their third year, students produce a full proceedings-style paper which approximates the papers written in their fields of study:
Figure 4: The syllabus goals sequenced
The development of reading skills begins with the reading of single pages on the same (science-based) subjects that have been listened to in oral presentations. This process aims to build up reading fluency. In the second year, reading strategies are taught to provide students with more strategy choices for text comprehension than the grammar-translation strategy most have been taught in high school. In addition, students are taught critical Internet search skills, and how to read an academic paper. Technical reading is also integrated into the third-year advanced courses.
Listening begins with lectures and talks which are created around the model structures. In their first year, each talk is built around one structure. In their second year, students have the opportunity to listen to, and evaluate, presentations produced by their peers. In addition to listening, the ability to ask questions is also taught. This starts by explaining the discourse structures and the moves required when asking a question. Students are also taught the different types of questions they can ask, and some sample phrases they can use to scaffold their questions. Students are also required to ask questions during presentation.
The vocabulary learning part of the program is the most obvious application of the frequency principle. In their first year, students are expected to further develop their knowledge of the most frequent 2,000 words. In their second year, the focus is on the academic word list. Beyond this, the aim is that students will build a general technical vocabulary and then the technical vocabulary which is specific to their field of studies. The vocabulary that is covered in the program is nowhere near what a native speaker would have access to, but it is hoped that it will be enough to begin to communicate effectively in the target situation and allow further development in future years.
The final goal described here is critical thinking. This goal is developed on several fronts. The first is in expressing opinions. Here, learners are first taught that, when expressing an opinion, they are required to support it with a reason. This is further built upon by explaining that reasons need to be evidence based. Following this, students are taught how to evaluate the quality of evidence. Finally, they need to integrate whatever knowledge they have acquired into an academic discussion where they argue and support their own interpretation of research results. A second area aimed at developing critical thinking involves asking questions. Here, students are taught to ask questions by focusing on the quality of evidence. They are also taught how to express their own opinions through the use of questions. A final area aimed at establishing critical thinking is the development of students’ ability to evaluate published research. This last area of the syllabus is still in development.
3.3.3 Format and Presentation
The syllabus is supported by a combination of in-house and commercial textbooks in conjunction with supplementary materials. The textbooks are Communication Strategies 1 (2013) and Communication Strategies 2 (2013), Academic Listening Comprehension (2006) for the first year; Concept Building and Discussion: Foundations (2009), Concept Building and Discussion: Applications (2009) and Reading Skills for Academic Success (2004) for the second year; and Writing Up Research in Science and Engineering: Foundations (2011), Writing Up Research in Science and Engineering: Developments (2012) and Presenting Research in Science and Engineering (2009) for the advanced courses.
The organization of the in-house Communication Strategies textbooks follow the four-strands principle described above, which states that a course should equally cover focus on form, meaning-focused input, form-focused output, and meaning-focused output. A typical unit begins with meaning-focused input which contains the target structures. Here, students need to process the meaning of the input to complete a communicative task. The next step is the provision of a section focusing on form. The form of the target structure is explained here, with examples. In addition to the introduction of the structure, some communication strategies are also taught, which provide assistance in actually applying the structures in practical communication tasks. Once the structures are taught, students are able to check if they have understood them by listening to examples of meaning-focused input again, this time focusing on the form. Form-focused output is next. Students are required to create self-contextualized role plays which allow them to integrate the learned structure into controlled output. The final section presents meaning-focused output. Communication tasks are provided, which can be effectively completed by use of the structures taught in the unit. Examples of the structures in use are also provided.
The last part of the syllabus is the assessment of the goals. Here, a criterion-referenced approach was adapted. A criterion, or set of criteria, was selected for each goal, and students were required to demonstrate that they were capable of meeting this minimum requirement before they were able to pass the course. The criterion reference was used to ensure that students had attained a minimum standard required to pass the course. In addition to determining if the students had attained the criterion, each assessment was graded based on the degree to which the goal had been attained. This score determined their course grade.
As the criteria are referenced to the skills that will actually need to be demonstrated in the target situation, it is assumed that assessing the extent to which they are met is providing valid and reliable assessment. However, as there is a large number of teachers using these assessments, it is difficult to determine their validity and reliability without doing an empirical study. This is planned for the future.
Each criterion was measured several times during the course, and it is hoped that teachers have provided timely feedback to students. In this way, students would be able to see which of the criteria they were not meeting and which overall goals they were not achieving well on and how they could alter their performance during the next test or task to demonstrate that they had attained the knowledge or skill required for the course. Again, whether this is actually happening course-wide is a subject for further research.
The triadic ESP curriculum design process (Nation & Macalister 2010), consists of first conducting a needs analysis and a situation analysis. This is followed by selecting language learning and teaching principles which are most relevant for the situation. Once this is done, the language learning content is determined by separating the needs into teachable units and sequencing them based on learning principles. The resulting list becomes a list of program goals. Following this, the format and presentation of the syllabus are determined, which results in textbooks and materials designed to assist the learner to attain the goals effectively. Finally, an assessment program is designed to both test the student’s attainments of the goals, and to provide useful feedback to assist in the final attainment.
This paper has provided a brief summary of the curriculum design process. It is hoped that by providing this example, both language teachers and curriculum designers will be able to not only better understand the links between language learning and teaching theory, and the language classroom, but also be able to create better links between theory and practice, which, in turn, will make their teaching more effective.
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1 These approaches also inform other aspects of curriculum design, sequencing and assessment in particular.
2 There is also a plan to develop students’ autonomy. However, this will be added when further resources are available.