Instructional Model for E

A Classroom Model for Designing an ESL Course Ayami Gunasinghe University of South Alabama A Classroom Model for Designing an ESL Course The demand for English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses has increased tremendously in recent years. This may be due to many reasons including the pervasive influences of globalization and the Internet revolution, and the general attitude change towards the English language as a whole.In former colonial nations such as Sri Lanka, English is no longer viewed as a tool of colonial oppression. Instead, English is vastly perceived by non-native speakers as a non-threatening, utilitarian language that would be of tremendous advantage to them. In the present context, English departments in countries such as Sri Lanka have been overwhelmed by the huge demand for ESL courses and Extension courses in English. The pressure to meet this demand has led to ESL courses being hastily churned out in great quantity but at the expense of quality.Many of these courses are often poorly designed, generic language courses that lack structure and purpose. They often include outdated content and strategies, and pay little or no attention to specific curriculum goals and learner needs. For this reason, I believe that ESL courses must be designed using a systematic approach that is focused on achieving particular communicative and language goals that meet the needs of the learner. The ESL Course Design model was created to facilitate this task.This model has been inspired primarily by the Kemp, Morrison and Ross Model (as cited in Gustafson & Branch, 1997), which focuses on curriculum planning. It has, however, also been influenced by other classroom-oriented models such as the Gerlach and Ely model (as cited in Gustafson & Branch, 1997)) that emphasizes the specification of content and objectives and the Foresee model (Kid & Marquardson, 1994) that adopts a content-based approach to ESL instruction. Like the latter model, this model also takes note of practical and theoretical considerations involved in course design.However, while the Foresee model emphasizes the need for sound theoretical basis for content design, the ESL Course Design model focuses on the need for designers to consider research findings and established principles of language teaching with regard to every aspect of the language course design process. In addition, the ESL Course Design model is focused on the design process of a curriculum whereas the Foresee model (Kid & Marqurdson, 1994) by contrast, is devoted to integrating content, language and learning strategies instruction in the ESL classroom.The ESL Course Design model advocates a systematic approach to language course design. This does not however mean that this model adopts a linear, lock-step approach. This is essentially a non-linear model that has been created to help language teachers in the design of an effective ESL curriculum. An Overview of the ESL Course Design Model The Three Outer Circles: Needs, Resources & Delivery and Research The ESL Course Design model’s three outer circles are linked to the inner circle via two-way arrows, which indicate that the components of this model are mutually supportive rather than separate and isolated.See figure 1. These three outer circles (Needs, Resources and Delivery, and Research) represent practical and theoretical considerations that will guide the designer during the course design process. A thorough needs analysis of learner needs will result in realistic goals being set and purposeful content being developed, in accordance with the learner’s language learning goals and proficiency level. A focus on available resources and feasible delivery systems will also help designers in their quest to design language courses that are situation appropriate.It is my contention that all these processes must be guided by current research findings and established teaching principles to ensure that the most suitable methods are being employed. Figure 1: The ESL Course Design Model The Innermost Circle: Goals At the heart of the inner circle is a circle with goals at its center. This innermost circle is meant to represent the importance of setting clear goals when designing a language course. As such, in many ways this is a goal-based or goal-driven model although it does pay equal importance to learner analysis and content.In addition, just as Gerlach and Ely (as cited in Gustafson & Branch, 1997) acknowledge the fact that teachers may think about instruction from differing points-objectives or content, this model too makes provisions for the designer’s preference. In this respect it allows greater design flexibility than the afore mentioned model as it allows the designer the freedom to approach the task from any point. The Inner Circle: Content and Sequencing, Format and Presentation and Assessment The inner circle is divided into three components. They are Content and Sequencing, Format and Presentation and Assessment.The Content and Sequencing segment of the design process includes what will be taught and in what order. A focus on content ensures that learners are being presented with the opportunity to further their knowledge and practice of the language. The Format and Presentation segment draws the designer’s attention to how the subject matter will be taught. The Gerlach and Ely and Kemp models (as cited in Gustafson and Brach, 1997) include the above-mentioned segments, as they are vital ingredients in keeping ESL learners motivated and focused.The Assessment segment prompts designers to focus on evaluation instruments and feedback, which are often given step-motherly treatment in language course design but are a prominent feature of classroom models such as the Gerlach and Ely model (as cited in Gustafson and Branch, 1997). The Outermost Circle: Evaluation The outermost circle represents evaluation. This is a much needed aspect of course design which involves inspecting every aspect of the course to determine its value, if it meets the required standard and /or whether it needs improvement.The Kemp, Morrison and Ross model (as cited in Gustafson and Branch, 1997) and the Gerlach and Ely model (as cited in Gustafson and Brach, 1997) both emphasize the importance of evaluation in course design and see evaluation as being closely linked to learner goals. As such, this model also incorporates this vital aspect of course design. Parts of the ESL Course Design Model All the parts of this model in my estimation merit equal consideration by the designer. An elaboration of each of the design processes of this model follows, beginning with the three outer circles.The Three Outer Circles: Needs, Resources & Delivery and Research Needs A thorough analysis of learner needs is imperative for useful course goals to be set. Many language theorists like Nunan and Lamb (as cited in Valdez, 1999) believe that an effective curriculum is one that has been designed after a needs assessment has been done to set out the learning objectives, which guide the teacher. In many respects needs analysis influences every aspect of course design including content, format and presentation, and assessment.Learner needs analysis will yield vital information regarding the learner’s current proficiency level, learning style, attitude towards the language and course, in what context the knowledge and skills gained from the course will be utilized, and what interests the learner. This information is invaluable in developing a course that meets the needs of the learner, which should be the primary goal of any language course. Many language courses have been unsuccessful in achieving the desired learning objectives because of the designers’ failure to take note of individual learner goals and preferences.A case in point was the recently developed ESL course for Business Management students at a major university. This course though well organized, was rooted in linguistic development and subscribed to the traditional ESL emphasis on grammar-based exercises. The Business Management students who viewed English as a business tool were disappointed that the course failed to provide them with practical skills that would help them as they entered the corporate world. They were able to attach very little use or meaning to the grammar exercises that were used in isolation, in this course.This resulted in poor attendance and dropouts among the disgruntled students. As such, if learner needs had been considered this course would have been focused on the communicative aspects of language learning and developing communicative competence, which would have been more favorably received by the learners in question. Apart from learning purpose, an analysis of learner needs may also yield data on learning styles and preferences, which have an equal impact on the success or failure of a course.For instance adapting Willing’s grouping (as cited in Valdez, 1999) there are those who are concrete learners; those who like using games, pictures, films and practicing English outside the class. Then there are analytical learners; those who like to study grammar, and English books, and read newspapers, and who like to study alone, find their own mistakes and work on problems set by the teacher. Others are communicative learners who learn by watching, listening to native speakers, talking to friends, in English, and watching television in English.These students value the interactive nature of group work and activities such as simulations that provide them with meaningful opportunities to practice the target language. Others are authority–oriented learners who prefer that the teacher explain everything and who learn by reading and studying grammar (Valdez, 1999). Learner differences such as these must be considered during course design in order to keep learners motivated and engaged in the course material and activities. Resources and DeliveryThis aspect of the model prompts designers to consider the situation in which the course will be used and the resources that it has to offer. Resources in this model represent many things. It refers to classroom equipment such as video and audio equipment, recording facilities and computers. It also refers to the monetary resources provided by sponsors for the design, development and implementation of the course. In addition, the teacher or instructor too maybe viewed as a resource and his or her skills and knowledge must be a vital consideration during course design.Yet another resource that is a crucial factor in course design is time. The students themselves become a resource in my opinion in the eyes of the instructor as the number of students and their level of competence plays a large part in designing appropriate activities and content. Designers of ESL curricula must pay attention to all these resources during the design process. The delivery system of the course i. e. if it is to be traditional, web-based, computer-based, self-paced, etc is another important consideration for the language course designer, and will depend on the resources available.Computer-based language learning simulations have become popular in certain developed nations as a means of communicative language instruction. In developing countries such as Sri Lanka, designers must seek alternatives to such instruction due to budgetary constraints and the lack of technological skill amongst learners and instructors, especially in the rural areas. Designers need to focus on resources and delivery in order to ensure that the course will be suitable, practical, and realistic.Research I believe that along with the practical considerations of language course design, designers must also focus on the theoretical implications of language use, acquisition and teaching. There is much research on how to encourage learning in general, and language learning in particular, which must be used to guide content development along with format and presentation. There are many principles that have been established from this research.For instance, research done by Nunan (as cited in De Dilva, 2001) indicates that learners have “hidden agendas” and that effective learning takes place when the curriculum is expanded to accommodate these hidden individual agendas. Such research supports the principle that individual learner differences and styles must be considered during course design. Designers must explore applied linguistic research and principles related to all the components of this model. They must be guided by this research during their curriculum design journey and quest to establish meaningful content and realistic learning goals.The Innermost Circle: Goals Goals Goals take center stage in this model. Nunan and Lamb (as cited in Valdez, 1999) believe that all language programs should take their form of departure from the goals and objectives that have been derived from an analysis of learner needs. I have placed goals at the center of this model, as it is my belief that it is essential to establish why a course is being designed and what it hopes to achieve from the very outset. Having a clear statement of goals is vital for determining the content of the course, deciding on the presentation, and guiding assessment.What follows is an example of goals that were set for an ESL extension course at a major university in Sri Lanka. The course was targeted at Law Faculty students and was based both on tradition and task-based methodology. This course aims to: a) Assist students in developing communicative competence in the English Language by providing them with meaningful opportunities to practice their language skills. b) Help students understand and master the grammatical rules of English. c) Acquaint students with basic legal terms. d) Develop confidence in using the target language.Establishing clear goals for a course also benefits learners. Crookal and Oxford (as cited in Hill, 2002) suggest that many students, especially graduate students, benefit from being told the goals or purpose of an activity or course. The goals of a course influence the overall design of the course in general and content in particular. The Inner Circle: Content and Sequencing, Format & Presentation and Assessment Content and Sequencing The content of language courses consists of the language items, strategies and tasks that meet the goals of the course. When the goal of a language lass is to promote communicative competence the content of the course centers on task-based activities. Conversely, if the goal of the course is focused on developing grammar skills, course content will then be characterized by grammatical features. A systematic way of checking the content of a course is via lists such as frequency-based vocabulary lists, lists of functions and topics, and lists of subskills and strategies (Valdez, 1999). Working from lists is an effective way for designers to make sure that what should be covered is covered and not left to chance and what is unnecessary or redundant is omitted.It is also my view that these lists should be chosen and adapted as a result of the needs analysis in order to set the language learning content of the course. Content also needs to be properly sequenced for logical learning according to the Kemp, Morrison and Ross model (as cited in Gustafson & Branch, 1997). I believe that the best way to achieve this is by including easier tasks or units at the beginning of the course and then progressively introducing more challenging ones. This helps to build confidence, which is imperative in language learning.The content of a language course should serve to motivate learners by presenting information that is relevant to the learner and is within the purview of his /her experiences and worldview. I believe that what Gredler (1994) states in relation to language skills /communication simulations may also be applied to the content of a language course in that it must be a challenge but not a threat to the learner. In addition, content must also be based on available resources, and current research. Format and Presentation Format and Presentation are often neglected aspects of course design, in my experience.The material in a course needs to be presented in a form that will facilitate learning and achieve the goals of the course. The presentation of a course includes the teaching strategies and activities that will be used. It is imperative that the designer focus on these aspects during the design process as it plays a vital role in keeping ESL learners motivated. The learner analysis and available resources along with current research must guide format and presentation in the design process. Especially vital is the consideration of individual learning styles. For nstance, the format and presentation must appeal to both auditory and visual learners. Some research reveals that learners are more comfortable with “traditional” learning activities over more “ communicative” types (De Silva, 2001). Another study by Pope and Saka (as cited in De Silva, 2001) revealed that stronger (according to test scores and teacher grading) pupils preferred more learner oriented or learner-teacher oriented activities whereas weak students preferred teacher controlled classroom activities. Such findings must be considered when designing a course.During my brief stint as an ESL instructor at a major university in Sri Lanka I began to realize the importance of having a set format for a course. The university ESL course was structured in such a way that learners would first be introduced to a topic of current interest. This would be followed by a listening activity, a reading activity and finally a speaking task in that order. Having this kind of set format is beneficial as it makes the course easier to monitor and fosters learner confidence, as they become familiar with the learning procedure.Learners are often more comfortable with the predictable than they are with the unpredictable. The fear of “pop” quizzes is testaments to this, although certain surprise elements do need to be incorporated into course design to prevent students from becoming complacent. These “surprise” elements may include a role-play activity or a simulation in a traditional grammar-based language course. Course design according to this model is not a linear process. As such, it may be necessary to alter the content or sequencing to suit the lesson format and meet the learning goals. Content must also focus on and facilitate assessment.Assessment Assessment plays a key role in determining if a course has achieved its goals. As such, it is a useful and recurring part of the design process. Of the many ways assessment may be carried out, tests take precedence over the other methods. These tests are an important consideration in course design. Language courses are associated with both proficiency tests and achievement tests. Proficiency or placement tests are usually held prior to the commencement of a course to determine the learner’s level of language knowledge and which level of the course best fits him or her.Based on this knowledge ESL learners at a major university in Sri Lanka are enrolled in three different courses, simply labeled level one, level two and level three. Level three courses cater to the more proficient learners while level one courses are focused on the needs of learners with little or no knowledge of the target language. These students are subjected to achievement tests that monitor their progress and identify knowledge gaps, at the end of each unit. They are also subjected to a comprehensive achievement test at the end of the course.Such tests elicit valuable information on the effectiveness of the course. As such, designers must pay careful attention to the structure of such tests and their place in the overall course design. Curriculum design must also make provisions for the inclusion of other non-test-based assessment such as observation, journal entries, simulation debriefing outcomes and student accounts of their learning. Data gathered from such methods of assessment may in some cases prove to be more valuable than tests in determining the strengths and weaknesses of the course design.The Outermost Circle: Evaluation Evaluation Apart from using assessment data, a course maybe evaluated via learner and instructor input gathered through surveys, interviews and focus groups. This information will determine whether the course meets the required standards, is deficient and needs improvement or needs to be discontinued. Although immediate or formative evaluation of a course is vital, the true worth of a language course can be evaluated only after some time has elapsed allowing learners to utilize the knowledge and skills gained from the course in the desired setting.The effectiveness of a language course in my view lies in how it has impacted the life of the learner. In this regard summative evaluation is an important part of the design process. The evaluation process maybe regarded as a backstage process that is imperative for the successful completion and realization of center stage processes such as setting realistic and purposeful goals and content. Responsible curriculum design must therefore include ongoing evaluation of the course. Conclusion The ESL Course Design model serves language teachers in course design, which is often seen as an arduous task.It portrays course design as a process and emphasizes the importance of considering learner needs, resources and applied linguistic research as a practical and theoretical basis for course design. According to the model, this knowledge will hold designers in good stead as they proceed to the other vital components of course design. Goals, content, format and presentation and assessment are all vital aspects of this model that must be given equal consideration. Evaluation too, is given prominence and designers are advised to conduct continuous evaluations to ensure that the curriculum design is effective and viable.The ESL Course Design model testifies to the fact that course design is not a linear or static process. It also implies that ESL course design is a constantly evolving process that needs careful consideration and planning. References De Silva, R. (2001). Students’ perceptions of the English teaching / language experience in the classroom. In David Hays (Ed. ), Teaching English: Possibilities and opportunities ( pp. 85-91). Colombo: The British Council. Hill, J. L. (2002). Playing with the three pigs. Simulation & Gaming, 33 (3), 353-359. Gredler, M. (1994). Design & evaluation games & simulation: A process approach.Texas: Gulf Publishing Company. Gustafson, K. , & Branch, R. (Ed. ). (1997). Survey of instructional development models (3rd Ed). New York. Eric Clearinghouse. Kidd, R. , & Marquardson, B. (1994, March). The Foresee approach. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the teachers of English to speakers of other languages, Baltimore, MD. Valdez, M. (1999). How learners’ needs affect syllabus design. Forum, 37(1), 30-34. ———————– Format & Assessment Presentation Content & Sequencing Goals Needs Research Resources & Delivery Evaluation Evaluation Evaluation Evaluation Evaluation

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