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Effects of Education Context on Curriculum

1a How can the curriculum offer and delivery vary according to the education and training context or purpose?

The education and training context in this instance varies according to community outreach venues, specifically chosen to reach the parents of children needing ESOL teaching, who have low levels of first language literacy and so require potentially different means of supporting language learning. Different approaches to curriculum design are going to influence how the teacher develops the syllabus or the scheme of work, because this will affect how they select each topic to be taught, how sequence topics and themes, language stages, based on whether this is a process or product based syllabus, notional/functional syllabus, Communicative Syllabus, Top-based syllabus.[1] For example, a content-based syllabus, based maybe on grammatical structure, would be organised according to sequencing structures, while a communicative syllabus might be more functional or based on identified needs.

Syllabus design is one of the means by which teachers can approach the process of facilitating language learning[2]. However, in language teaching, syllabus design has been largely neglected. Curricula are ways of organising learning, indicating lesson content and learning progress, while syllabuses are much more concerned with what actually goes on in the classroom, forming part of ongoing development, review and refinement of the syllabus[3] to meet the needs of the learner while satisfying the requirements of the institution or awarding body. Syllabus design is the selection and grading of content, and is argued to also relate to the selection of tasks and materials[4]. Because of the complexity of language learning, selection of tasks and selection of content may be different than in other types of learning.[5] “Lesson planning involves reinforcement with frequent feedback on learning, delayed feedback, allowing trial and error, and praise, marks and prizes.”[6] All of these means of ordering learning are focused on what and how the ESOL student will learn.[7]

In this context, the focus is on ESOL Keeping up with the Children – Family Learning, and so the curriculum is designed with this in mind, but the needs of learners in ESOL can vary, including a more academic approach, such as ESOL in FE[8], or intensive ESOL training for Job Search, or Vocational ESOL (eg ESOL embedded in something else, like Catering). This would then require a more functional syllabus which would be focused much more on vocabulary, and schemes of work would take this into account, practicing key elements of communication rather than simply grammar. Dynamic language learning is more complex than simply the repetition of sounds, words and sentence structures, and so the communicative approach may be much better suited.[9] However, all of these approaches could also potentially serve to help ESOL students integrate into the social world as well.[10]

However, the syllabus design and development in this case is also constructed within the requirements of the awarding body, thus requiring that students learn sufficient and in the right manner to meet the assessment requirements, and develop a general English vocabulary which covers personal details and experiences, work, education & training, housing, family and friends, health, transport, weather, buying goods, leisure, UK society. The scope of such learning is significant, and cannot all be developed in one term, but the provision of vocabulary lists, and the implementation of constructive methods of learning can be built into the syllabus to allow for ongoing linguistic development which builds upon learning session by session.[11],[12]

1b How might the different approaches to curriculum design you have outlined influence the outcomes for individuals and groups?

The kinds of outcomes which relate to the curriculum here include looking at what skills, vocabulary and language structures will have been learnt in the different educational settings or contexts[13]. For example, the work or occupational based ESOL courses will be limited to the kinds of vocabulary which relate to work activities and practices, and will be quite specialised, while the kinds of programmes which are to do with family learning are likely to relate more strongly to more practical language which can be used in the home and in key scenarios such as learning how to communicate with school teachers and other people about the child. But over-defined objectives can limit learning, rather than support the dynamic forms of learning which are often more suited to ESOL.[14] One of the problems is that the primary contexts for learning, particularly if they are very specialised, such as the occupational learning context, or even learning English as a tourist, can lead to bad habits, because language learning is a process of developing attitudes and habits.[15]

Thus the habits that have been developed in one context, may benefit or hinder the use of language and the learning and development of further language skills in another setting. However, supporting a degree of learning awareness and self-direction in learning is important, and depending on whether the curriculum is didactic or communicative, this could be more easily achieved or else become more difficult. A communicative approach is much more focused on the needs of the learner, and so is more dynamic, and more likely to foster self-direction in language learning. [16] Self-direction and the identification of structural regularities in language, such as learning applied grammar, can be enhanced by more directed learning approaches, or by a mixture of content-focused syllabi and communicative approaches[17], which has been the author’s experience in their current context. Despite the strengths of different approaches, the context of learning is very significant in how and how well students learn.[18],[19] However, language learning curricula, and the impacts of different approaches to teaching and learning, are still relatively poorly researched, and it would be useful to have more, diverse research and case studies which identify what kinds of approaches have been proven best in which settings.[20], [21]


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Zamel, V. and Spack, R. (2006) Teaching Multilingual Learners across the Curriculum: Beyond the ESOL Classroom and Back Again. Journal of Basic Writing (CUNY), 25 (2) 126-152.



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