APPROACHES to SYLLABUS SPECIFICATION
COURSE and SYLLABUS DESIGN - UNIT 1
J. Skelton & J. Willis
Purposes, outcomes and objectives
· to help you appraise your own experience of different types of syllabus and to describe syllabuses you have used or seen in action
· to broaden your experience of ways in which syllabuses can be specified and described
· to introduce you to some key concepts in syllabus design and to show how these concepts can be used in order to appraise any type of syllabus.
This first unit builds on concepts explored in Unit 7 of the Foundation Module which looked at the field of CSD from four different perspectives. It started by looking at large scale language planning and the concept of 'different world Englishes'; it focused in on to the 'stakeholder perspective', considering the roles of learners, teachers, administrators and controlling authorities and the kinds of influence they may have on syllabus and course design. Then, after examining the nature of language that is taught, it ended up focusing more tightly on syllabus content itself. We assume you have examined and analysed at least one - and possibly more - syllabuses available to you locally and hope that you will go on to make a collection of syllabus statements - these will come in useful later in the Module. Ideally, you will be familiar with chapters 1 and 2 from Graves (1996) and hopefully you will have dipped in to some other chapters in her collection.
This unit begins by giving three alternative overviews of systems for syllabus specification and then, in the discussion of different syllabus types, aims to present some of the key concepts in CSD. These and other issues will be taken up again in later units. The key concepts will come in especially useful as tools for appraisal and analysis of individual syllabus and course designs.
Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A. 1987. English for Specific Purposes: a learning centred approach. Cambridge CUP
Robinson, P. 1991. ESP Today: A Practitioner's Guide. London: Prentice Hall International
Chapters 1 & 4.
Widdowson, H. G. 1990. Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP
White, R. 1988. The ELT Curriculum: Design, Innovation and Management. Oxford: Blackwell
Chapters 1, 2 & 3.
1.1. Some definitions
"Course and Syllabus Design" is the name for this area of study because courses and syllabuses are generally perceived to be two different things, partly it must be admitted simply by customary collocation, given that the two terms are not always used indistinguishably. But a "course" might be taken to mean a real series of lessons (the particular course delivered last year to such and such a group of students and to be repeated again this year), while a "syllabus" can be taken to be something rather more abstract, with fewer details of the blow by blow conduct of individual lessons. Thus you and I might quite properly write rather different courses, with different materials, but based on the same syllabus. This happens a lot in publishing. For example when notions and functions became popular as a basis for course design, each major ELT publishers published a course based on what became known as a 'notional/functional' syllabus, often using the Council of Europe staged language taxonomies as a basis e.g. van Ek, J 1975. And each course was different. However, when one is in the short course market, (often ESP), it can work the other way round as Graves, 1996, shows. This is after all a book on course design rather than syllabus design, and Graves takes White's (1988) definition: 'A syllabus will be defined narrowly as the specification and ordering of content of a course or courses." (Graves 1996:3). So, you may start with the demand for a course, for a specific group of learners over a specific length of time, and then you design a syllabus for it.
As far as the word "design" is concerned, it is fair to point out (and not just, since the other two terms may be challenged to some extent, in the name of completeness), that it too may be tested and evaluated. A major point of debate in contemporary debate in CSD is concerned precisely with how much design should go into a particular course, that is, how much should be negotiated with the learners, how much predetermined by the teacher, and how much left to chance and the mood of the participants on the day. This notion is bound up with the idea of the "focus on the learner", to repeat the title of a well-known book, and more recently with ideas of control and initiative in the classroom. (We shall return to some of these ideas later.)
The above, though, are not major problems for most learners and scholars. Some people, however, get mired down in the task of differentiating between CSD and Methodology, a task it is probably necessary to undertake at the level of broad outline and futile and frustrating if the attempt is made to delve into minutiae. Roughly, one would want to say that CSD is concerned with the content of what gets taught and the organisation of this (into bits of grammar, or functions, or what have you), while Methodology is concerned with the how. This, however, is a question it is best not to consider too closely. It is disingenuous in the extreme to suppose that the "what" of teaching is put together without reference to the "how"; contemporary syllabuses are almost always designed with a particular - generally broadly communicative - methodology in mind. And scholars have muddied the waters still further by misappropriating the word "communicative", which ought to be a matter of methodology but is commonly used to refer to syllabus design, as in Munby's title, and Johnson's, to name but a few. (See MET, Unit 2 for more on this.)
1.2. Syllabuses as lists
Let us begin by assuming an air of complete naïveté. Let us temporarily move away from the exigencies of the classroom, the sponsor and our director who want something now, and presume nothing at all. What is a syllabus?
Well, it involves a list. Perhaps we might say, a list of things we want our learners to learn in the English class. So, what do we want them to learn?
There are four problems here:
· what we want them to learn could be extremely varied;
· some of the things we want them to learn are easy to articulate;
· others are not; the "what" and the "how" of learning are intimately, and perhaps inextricably, bound up;
· our formulation assumes that we do indeed want a pre-established list of things to be learned.
We will be returning to all these problems at various points during this module, but I want to begin by looking at what these pre-established lists of things might consist of and giving some overviews of ways in which people have attempted to classify and organise them.
1.3. Ways of specifying content of a language
We have already seen how Graves (1996: 19-25) categorises possible syllabus content using a syllabus grid which she builds up gradually. If you have completed some of the linguistic modules of the Masters course, you may now like to look at the categories in her grid again, appraise them in the light of what you know about language. Decide how you might add to her categories or refine them, and/or maybe think of some alternative examples.
See her grid on page 25. Syllabus Grid from Graves 1996: 25
Another, slightly more systematic, attempt at an overview is to be found in Robinson 1991:35
The bases for language syllabus design (sources: White (1988); ovals, Breen (1987); rectangles, Allen (1984)
Finally, Willis D (forthcoming) summarises major approaches to syllabus design, making an explicit distinction between discrete item and holistic modes, and looking at focus and content for each.
See Approaches to syllabus design Willis D (forthcoming)
a. Compare figures 2 and 3.
What overlap is there?
In what ways do they differ?
b. Could the categories for content offered by Graves fit either of the other systems for classification?
c. Are there any categories used in syllabuses familiar to you that are not accounted for in any of the three diagrams?
d. Take one syllabus known to you and plot it on to any two of the diagrams.
What do you find out from doing this?
Nowadays, you are unlikely to find a course book or indeed a course that uses
only one of these forms of specification. But more often than not, even in the
"Multi-syllabus" Course books, there will be one or two major organising factors,
such as grammar and/or functions, with topics selected to illustrate the grammatical
or functional items. Other features like lexis, phonology, and skills practice
are often subservient to the main strands and are built in along the way.
Prabhu, by contrast, bases his syllabus on sets of tasks, each set grouped around a specific topic, such as school timetables or journeys. This is an example of a totally holistic approach: his syllabus contains no overt itemistic linguistic specifications at all; words, meanings and patterns arise naturally out of the topic and task and are supplied or explained by the teacher when needed, in the same way as a subject teacher would.
Yalden, 1987, in her "Proportional" syllabus, takes discrete item structures as an initial starting point, then gradually introduces tasks.
Conversely, you could instead take as a starting point a set of simple tasks that are built around the use of known words or cognates, and from this lead on to the study of naturally occurring phrases and grammatical patterns - for examples, see Willis J 1996 b): 119-123.
Mohan's recommended starting point for ESL learners is topic and content (Mohan 1986 described briefly in Nunan 1988: pp49-51) Each topic is then exploited systematically within a given framework leading to the production of language teaching materials.
All these approaches have a rationale behind them which stems from what we knew or now know about the 'how' of learning - revealing some truth in the third problem statement in 1.2 above. We will, however, leave these 'how's and 'why's for discussion in Unit 4.
1.4. Towards a critical appraisal of some syllabus
types: some key concepts
In this section we'll look a little more closely at various types of syllabus and consider why they have become popular. In the discussion of each type, I'll be introducing some of the key concepts of syllabus design (these will appear in bold print) which will help us to compare and appraise syllabus types.
1.4.1 From units of language to a structural
Many language teachers, syllabus designers and testers tend to think in terms of units of language. They tend also to think of these units as being organised in some way, with similar language bits being grouped together, on the grounds that a well-marshalled inventory will be more comprehensible to the learner (and the teacher) than an unorganised list. They frequently also recognise that a list of items which is comprehensible to the student, and to his teacher, may naturally be rather different from a list organised with absolute truth to the facts of the language. To take some obvious examples: if the list is organised into bits of grammar it may well include labels such as "Present Perfect Tense" (the so-called "teachers' tenses"), though a grammarian would recognise no such animal, there being only two tenses in English, past and non-past (Palmer, 1974). Similarly, an elementary syllabus is quite likely to contain as a learning-point the use of the present continuous to describe actions happening "now", though this tense (strictly not a tense, of course) has other uses, and though the now-ness of actions may be described in other ways.
At any rate, syllabus designers tend to list things which can be easily systematised. To put it the other way round, things which cannot easily be systematised cannot really be listed, and this is the problem with some of the more holistic approaches to syllabus design. Bits of grammar can be, because linguists, teachers and many students have a solid grasp of grammar as a concept. This is partly why the structural syllabus came into being. The notion of grammatical analysis does not seem incomprehensible or absurd, the metalanguage for describing it is readily available - even students can often identify verbs, nouns and so forth - and grammatical description gives the impression that it is accurate, and factual.
Of course, grammar crumbles round the edges, as every linguist admits - try this quick task to see what we mean.
Can you think of examples from English grammar (or the grammar of another language) where it is impossible to give rules?
a. which colour adjectives can have "y" or "ish" added to them?
b. "He drove the car to town" - where can you add "quickly" in this sentence?
And there are many rules which have become "hallowed" in the ELT classroom that do not actually work in practice. Think, for example of the most commonly given rule for the definite article. Then spend ten minutes or so on this next series of tasks which are all based on commonly given grammar rules.
Consider the following rules or guidelines often given to students:
a. "Use the definite article when you are referring to something that has been mentioned before".
What about the definite articles in this passage?
He got up late; the sun was already streaming in through the window. He dressed
in a hurry, rushed out of the house and bumped into the postman on his way up
the path. He grabbed his letters, shouted a quick "thank you" and ran to the
While sitting on the bus, he looked at the writing on the envelopes. Who were they all from?
So how sufficient is this rule?
Can you think of a better rule?
Try it out on your colleagues.
b. "The present simple is used mainly for habitual actions. The present continuous
is never used to express habit. So the present continuous is not normally used
with adverbs of frequency".
So what about the following telephone conversation?
A: Look. Could I phone you back about 8 o'clock tomorrow morning?
B; Well, I'm normally having breakfast at 8. With the kids, you know.. - it's all a bit chaotic....
A: O K then. 8.15.
B: That's when I'm generally grabbing my things and rushing out the house.
So what would be a better rule?
What other rules are you aware of that don't always work?
c. What about traditional views of Reported Speech?
What rules do course books give on tense patterns?
Do these sentences fit the rules given?
Are they all grammatically acceptable?
What various meanings could be implied by the particular tense choices here?
Andy said he is staying in a new hotel in Dublin.
Andy said he was staying in a new hotel in Dublin.
Andy said he had stayed in a new hotel in Dublin.
Oh - Andy recommended a new hotel in Dublin. He said it is really nice - the staff are friendly and the food was excellent.
d. Think about this:
Lexical research shows that we report thought and opinion
(for example, after verbs of mental process as in the phrases:
I think that / was sure that / he reckoned that / would imagine that / there is a general feeling that)
far more often than we report speech.
Such sentences follow the same reporting patterns as does speech.
However, learners don't seem to need a set of rules to help them to report thought - in fact 'Reported Thought' (interesting, isn't it, that it doesn't actually have a label). is not generally part of a syllabus, neither is it taught as such. It seems that the only reason such rules are given for Reported Speech is because this forms an important category in Classical Latin and Greek grammars from which traditional descriptions of English were developed.
If you are interested in more examples of this nature, (e.g. the passive voice)
read the chapter by Willis D in Bygate et al (1994).
There are dangers, then, with a 'prescriptive' approach to grammar teaching, but many people feel that it is still possible and useful to specify language syllabuses, at least in part, in terms of grammar. You may like to refer back to FND Unit 6 here, which touches on the themes of prescriptive and pedagogic grammars.
Of course, very few syllabuses these days are grammatical or exclusively grammatical: in fact no syllabus laying claim to modernity could be merely grammatical, as is shown by the rise in popularity of the "multi-syllabus" course book mentioned earlier, whose tables of contents include several other types of constituents.
There is, though, a further point here. The great thing about a grammatical inventory is its accessibility. The technical terms are there, the facticity is there, the psychological preparedness is there - teachers and learners alike believe in the possibility of grammatical analysis and item-based learning (despite what language acquisition researchers say). It can, therefore, often be articulated with ease, and with shared understanding. You and I may not know, particularly if we are the product of very different cultures, whether we share an understanding of the function "expressing dissatisfaction" (Council of Europe (1975) as reported in White 1988) or of "rational expositions" to name one of Wilkins' "categories of communicative function" Wilkins (1976), but we both know the English past tense form when we see it. Thus the grammatical inventory is extremely tempting - to teachers, testers and course designers (as well as learners) because it is seemingly so accessible. (Though see what Prabhu and Rutherford have to say about this, later...)
Another popular feature of the structural syllabus is that it is, supposedly, generative. Having learnt paradigms and pattern sentences, learners are in a position to use this knowledge to generate their own sentences to express their own meanings. Under what conditions this actually happens is another matter - see FDN Unit 8 - (we all know students who have spent five years at school learning a foreign language, have 'done' all the grammar but who are incapable of generating anything original), but the potential is there, given the right conditions. (These are summarised in Willis J 1996 pp10-19).
However the fact of the matter is that a structural syllabus appears, finally, to be bankrupt. If we base our syllabuses on pedagogic descriptions, there isn't, as it were, that much grammar to learn: and we have all the experience of our students running out of new bits of grammar to be taught before they have begun to master what they already know. Hence the sterility of so much ostensibly "advanced" language teaching round the world, where students are locked into a perpetual cycle of grammatical revision because no-one can think of anything else to do. And in fact, grammar points become more and more arcane, and less and less cost-effective. The concept of bankruptcy, then, is a key concept in syllabus design and will be taken up again later.
So what happens, one may logically ask, to advanced learners? Or indeed, to any learners who have only a short time to learn a foreign language? One suggestion is that they follow an itemised inventory which is not grammatical. So what other alternatives have been proposed? And how far might they be suitable for such learners?
1.4.2 The notional-functional syllabus
This semantically-based syllabus was the first major alternative to be developed. Wilkins (1976) sought to identify the meanings that learners might need to express (the notions) and the communicative acts they would wish to engage in (the functions). Initially, this seems a far better way of organising a syllabus. Learning how to order a meal, how to ask your way around town is obviously useful; this type of syllabus has 'high surrender value' in that even if you leave the course after one year, or even one term, you can still use what you have learnt in practical situations. This is by contrast with the traditional grammatical syllabus, where the past tense is often ignored until Year Two, and hypothetical uses of would - a word more common than do and does - appear even later; learners need to complete the whole course before they are able to do very much at all with the language, hence the notion of such a syllabus being of 'low surrender value' (Surrender value is a metaphor taken from the language of Life Insurance Policy Sales talk; the initial costs of a policy are high, so if you cash it in (surrender it) after only a few years, it's worth very little and you lose out.)
The notional-functional syllabus seemed a very sensible idea at the time; however, even Wilkins himself admitted that there are problems in defining and specifying such a syllabus - due to the enormous complexity of the task of planning the conceptual content of language syllabuses in this way. (Dubin and Olshtain (1986) p88-92, Nunan (1988) p 36-37 and Willis (1990) p44-45 all report on Wilkins (1976) and you should, in due course, take note of what they say).
The notional/functional syllabus, like the grammatical syllabus, also risks becoming exhausted at a relatively early stage, and likewise succumbing to bankruptcy. Certainly, just as there is evidence in some grammatical syllabuses of more and more recherché points being hunted down and served up to the baffled student in a way that is no longer cost-effective, so there is a risk in the notional/functional approach of more and more elaborate confections ("I was wondering if I might possibly trouble you to ...."as an extra polite formal request) struggling into brief and etiolated life in order to fill an empty space on the timetable.
Another problem with the notional functional syllabus is that it is often taught using a phrase-book approach which, in itself, is not generative. If you know the phrase for the situation you are in, you are OK, but for anything more complex, if you don't have your 'kit of grammatical rules' (to adapt a phrase and a concept from Widdowson 1989:135) that allows you to combine phrases and generate new meanings, you are sunk. So, the lack of generative ability can be a problem with a notional/functional syllabus, especially if it is used on its own and with a 'presentation' style methodology.
1.4.3. The relational syllabus
One syllabus type not named explicitly in any of the overviews above is the relational syllabus - as proposed by Crombie (1985) and reported briefly in White (1988:78). This is based on items such as "notional relations such as cause-effect, or discourse relations, such as question-reply, or clause structure...." White (ibid). As such, it could perhaps be included under the headings of Semantic - Functional - Textual in Figure 3. To our knowledge, however, the relational syllabus has not yet been put into practice - at least not in a published format. And a relational syllabus, like grammatical and notional/functional syllabuses, would seem only to account for certain parts of the total linguistic system. There are whole areas that it would not "cover".
Let's digress for a moment on to the key concept of coverage - which is a vital one as far as syllabus design is concerned. Just what proportion of the language of the target discourse community will be accounted for by a particular type of syllabus? If we want to design a syllabus that really will prepare our learners to cope with the English they will meet in the world outside their classroom we need to ensure the coverage of it is adequate and well balanced. This will be taken up in later units, in conjunction with syllabus design as corpus creation.
Select a page of an English newspaper, or a short section of a book, or indeed any text in English that your students might finally want to be able to read.
Now think back to the syllabus with which you are familiar that you have used with those students.
Examine the text carefully, and underline any bits of the text (eg words, (including meanings and uses of words) phrases, clauses, patterns, discourse features) that are not directly accounted for in that syllabus.
1.4.4 The Lexical syllabus
The lexical syllabus attempts to redress this problem of coverage. A lexical syllabus can be derived from a detailed analysis (normally these days done mainly by computer) of a carefully selected corpus of language that reflects - as far as possible - the language of the target discourse community. This could of course be a specialist or general corpus.
The analysis can offer the syllabus designer lists of the most frequent words, their meanings and information about their typical grammatical and lexical environments, i.e. the collocations and patterns that words occur in. So a lexical syllabus includes grammar, (which is identified through the common words that make up common patternings), expressions of notions and functions (and much more besides - see Unit 6) but the organising principle is lexical, and as such it can account for a far higher proportion of text and offer a more thorough coverage of the language of the target discourse situation than other syllabus types.
Another benefit of a lexical syllabus - with its inventory of words with their collocations, meanings and typical patterns - is that it is clear, unambiguous and accessible - everybody can recognise what a word is, and its phrases and patterns are fairly easily identifiable. But there is one big problem - if properly exemplified, a lexical syllabus would run to at least half a page per word, indeed far more for the common words with their many uses. Most of the 700 most frequent words (which would seem a reasonable target for a 120 hour course) have at least 3 different meanings, making an inventory of 2100 items. And you only need to take a look at the entries for some of the very common words, like of, thing, or take in a Learner's dictionary to understand the potential length and size of such a syllabus. And who - apart perhaps from a serious text-book writer - is going to study a syllabus of, say, 350 pages?
So much, then, for discrete item linguistic inventories, which are referred to by White (1988) as ''Type A syllabuses' and by Nunan (1988) as 'Product syllabuses'. You will find much in your basic reading that will help you flesh out these ideas and introduce other relevant concepts. And we will return to them in later units. But before we go on, I want to add a note about itemised syllabuses and methodology here. Lexical syllabuses, along with other language based syllabuses described above, are indeed specified in an itemised way, but we are not saying that they (or for that matter any itemised syllabus) need to be taught one item at a time in an additive way.
1.5. Other syllabus types
In this section we will introduce briefly some other syllabus types. Some, like the content syllabus, are more common in the USA, where there is a larger proportion of Second Language learners than in UK.
1.5.1 A content-based syllabus
With content-based instruction learners are helped to acquire language through the study of a series of relevant topics, each topic exploited in systematic ways and from different angles, as outlined in Mohan's "knowledge framework", (Nunan, 1988:49-50.) Content syllabuses certainly give learners a lot of exposure to the language, which is good. Content-based syllabus are fully described in Mohan (1986) and Graves (1996:206) has some more references to sources of literature on this syllabus type.
But is it sufficient to produce a syllabus that is merely a list of topics ? How will teachers know which particular items of language to focus on more closely? Which items will, in the long run, be of more use to the learner? Or are Mohan and others like him who design content-based "immersion programmes", relying, like Prabhu (1986), entirely on natural acquisition happening, with no overt focus on language form? And if so, how do we ensure that the topics and texts chosen will give a sufficiently balanced exposure to the language that is representative of the target situation? This question is a vital one, and relates closely to the concept of linguistic coverage. How can adequate and balanced coverage be assured? The syllabus designer must, in all fairness, produce a syllabus that is accountable to sponsors, testers, future employers, and of course the learners themselves. Here we have another key concept - that of accountability.
1.5.2 Process syllabuses
The above questions apply equally to the process syllabus, or in fact any type of syllabus that is largely based on project work, tasks or activities and can be, to some extent, negotiated by the learners. In some cases, learners are encouraged to choose for themselves, albeit with guidance, which "pathways" to follow through "banks" of activities and materials, motivated by their own interest. But the problem of checking that they each receive an adequately balanced exposure to the language of their target discourse community is indeed a difficult one. And of course drawing up a standardised test that will be fair to all students is another.
With a task-based or procedural syllabus as used in the Bangalore Project, (Prabhu, 1986), even though the tasks were chosen and led by the teacher, the problem is still one of ensuring suitable coverage of language experience for the learners. As Tickoo (1997:276) points out in his appraisal "Forward from Bangalore" there seemed - often for practical reasons to do with control of large classes, to be an imbalance of task types used; a high proportion of reasoning tasks and insufficient tasks of other types that would engage learners of secondary age, and give them broader experience of language in use. So both process and task-based syllabuses risk criticism when the criteria of coverage and accountability are applied.
1.4.4 Skills-based syllabuses
Here is a list of reading objectives.
How far could they be used as a basis for syllabus design?
To enable students:
A to infer meaning from content
B to skim/scan effectively
C to improve reading speed
D not to worry in the face of difficulties
E to use a dictionary efficiently
As you will also see from the example of a skills-based syllabus in the Hutchinson
T and Waters 1987 chapter (attached), these may not much more than a list of
skills and micro-skills to be practised. But can we really depend on a syllabus
which is merely a list of skills? And, more importantly, will teachers be satisfied
with such a syllabus? At one University where Aston participants have taught,
when a pure skills-based syllabus was introduced for a one year EAP course,
teachers felt obliged to supplement it with traditional grammar and vocabulary
teaching. After all, in order to infer meaning from context, or to understand
discourse signals and clause relations, there are linguistic operations to be
made, and words to be learnt, not just skills to be performed. Teachers also
felt at sea because they felt they had little or no guidance in the choice of
texts to use in order to for students to practise these skills. More or less
any text could potentially be used for any skill, and when reading or speaking
we don't normally use only one skill at a time.
Another problem is what list of skills could ever be understood in the same way by all likely participants? If a syllabus aim is to understand common uses of basic verb tenses, there will at least be approximate agreement about what is meant. On the other hand, if the aim is to "infer meaning from context" it is harder to know what would count as success; and if the aim is something as amorphous as "to deal efficiently with customer complaints on the telephone" then one cannot even know for certain that this will be interpreted in the same way by teacher and student, or indeed by either on two consecutive days. We would certainly need to be far more precise about the 'micro-skills' involved and of course look at some actual linguistic realisations of these skills being performed before we could get a handle on what might need teaching. (Remember Williams's research on the language of meetings reported in FND unit 7?)
1.5.5 Some concluding comments
What is really at stake here, however, is not so much the skills or tasks themselves as the abilities they are designed to foster, which we cannot define because we understand them poorly, but which we may tacitly understand in different ways. "Success" on the telephone with an irate customer is partly linguistic: but it is more broadly and more importantly cultural (different societies have different norms of politeness and tact) and more than that, it is a matter of successful presentation of one's whole personality. Then, finally, if it is "efficiency" that is in question, as we suggested it was, all this will have to be done with all possible speed, since time is money and a long-winded receptionist may cost the company as much as a lugubrious or discourteous one. Even this example is deliberately curtailed: if we change this hypothetical service encounter to one which is face to face, then kinesics too plays a very important role, along with such additional cultural trappings as dress.
It will be seen that the list can be indefinitely extended. What matters is that if we attempt a syllabus specification which is other than narrowly linguistic we open up the possibility of including an open-ended set of indefinite words to describe our wishes. And we trail this indefinable baggage along with the words that we put on the page.
1.6 Audiences for syllabus statements
We have in this unit so far taken for granted that the syllabus is a document that teachers, learners and text-book writers may want to refer to, but are there other possible audiences?
a. What other possible groups of people may want to refer to a language syllabus?
Make a list.
Can you think of three?
b. Can you envisage a situation where you may have to provide two or three
different descriptions of the same syllabus or course?
Give an example.
What we have tried to do in this first unit is to reflect briefly on various approaches to syllabus design, to raise some questions about ways in which syllabuses can be specified, as well as considering what can and can't be clearly articulated.
We have introduced and exemplified some key concepts in syllabus design, including:
· forms of specification - what types of items described in what depth,
· coverage - of the language representative of the target discourse setting,
· bankruptcy - of some types of syllabus,
· high and low surrender value - concerning the type and order of items,
· accessibility and audience - who is the syllabus written for?
· accountability - to sponsors, future employers, testers.
· generative capacity - how far will the learner be able to build on what he/she has learnt and redeploy it to suit their own circumstances?
These concepts give us criteria to use when appraising, evaluating and comparing
types of syllabus in the abstract and actual syllabus statements.
We have so far taken for granted that we do need some kind of linguistic specification - after all, we are in the business of teaching language, and we surely need to be able to specify what a course of language instruction should contain.
What we have not touched on at all in this unit is the influence of learning theories and implications of language acquisition research findings for syllabus design. These are important issues and will be discussed in later units.
In Unit 2, we shall go on to specific statements from the literature about approaches to syllabus design and shall consider the status of ESP syllabuses.
Tasks for consolidation and reflection
a. In the light of the reading you have done, reflect on and discuss with colleagues the various types of syllabus currently and previously in use in your own language learning and teaching situations.
How many different ways of specifying a syllabus have you already experienced?
How many exist/have existed in your local environment?
b. If you haven't already done so, you should collect some syllabus statements
and course descriptions from your own professional circle.
Appraise these carefully in the light of the key concepts listed above.
1.8. Discussion of tasks
1. a) Difficult to say with certainty - which is precisely the point.
In general it appears that natural languages have up to around 11 "basic" colour terms "black", "white", "red" and so on, and may have many others whose function it is to define an area within one of the larger ones. Roughly, approximators like "y/ish" can be used with the basic list, but with a varying number of others depending on the person - I could say "crimsonish" (I think) but not "ochreish" - probably.
1. b) As follows:
(2) drove the car
(3) to town
(4) But would you accept:
*He drove quickly the car to town.
If not, what about:
He studied closely the picture on the wall
which I could say, but you may disagree.
(An easily accessible study of a few aspects of this problem is in J Skelton and H Nesi (1986), "Report on the BSO Project", in the Reference Collection).
2. a) Have a look at a good reference grammar for this one.
We say "the sun" because there is only one.
By "the house" we understand it must be the house that he has been sleeping in.
Houses normally only have one path, so we know which path the writer means.
But do we know which bus? We can suppose it is the one he usually takes in the mornings?
What about postman?
Could we answer the question "Which one/s here too?
Perhaps a better "rule" might be:
If you can answer the question "which one/s" then use "the"
Can you think of any exceptions to this one?
2.b) Think about this one with reference to what is taught about the "interrupted
past", often with timelines, showing a point in time arrowed on to a time line.
The standard "The telephone rang while I was having a bath" example could also happen surely in the present or future.
He always rings while I'm having my bath.
When I get home tonight Dave will be cooking supper.
Isn't it generally to do with the meaning of the progressive use of -ing?
And 8 o'clock and 8.15 being points in time when something else is happening and continuing to happen?...
2. c) Over to you and past issues of ELT J.
(Especially (ELTJ 42/2 April 1988 and 45/2 April 1991)
3. These are fairly standard objectives.
For longer lists see Munby (1978) (of course), and Nuttall (1996, Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language.
Something like this particular set was hammered out after a week of intelligent and lively discussion at a University in the Middle East - but my point here is that these phrases mean nothing on their own - or at least, not much. They become summatory labels for the seminar discussion that gave rise to them, and therefore have an institutional meaning rather than an absolute one.
4. Audiences: Testing bodies, people sponsoring students, educational institutions which may accept students from your Institution, future students, future employers and so on.
Of the following, White & Nunan have been already suggested. Yalden and Dubin & Olshtain are also recommended. Introductory overviews of approaches to ESP course design that are also of interest to the teacher of 'general' English can be found in both Hutchinson T and Waters A., and Robinson P. Wilkins was extremely influential in the years immediately following publication, and his is a historic book (sadly now out of print) - if you can find it in a library do have a quick read of it. Prabhu's book and his ideas are most stimulating and he is frequently referred to in later Units. The other titles are here simply because an aspect of their content has been referred to or quoted in this unit. There is no need for you to even attempt to read these, but you may, at a later stage, find you wish to follow up a particular reference.
Allen, J.P.B. 1984. 'Functional-analytic course design and the variable
focus curriculum' in Brumfit CJ. (ed.) The Practice of Communicative Teaching.
ELT Document 124, Oxford: Pergamon Press in association with the British Council
Breen, M.P. 1987. 'Contemporary paradigms in syllabus design' Parts 1 and II [State of the art articles] Language Teaching Vol 20. 2. pp 81-92; vol 20.3 pp.157-174.
Bygate, M. Tonkyn, A. and Williams, E. (eds) 1994. Grammar and the Language Teacher Prentice Hall.
Crombie, W . 1985. Discourse and Language Learning: A Relational Approach to Syllabus Design. Oxford: Pergamon.
Dubin, F. & Olshtain, E. 1986. Course Design. Cambridge University Press.
Fulcher, G. 1991. Conditionals Revisited. ELTJ 45/2 164-8.
Graves, K. 1996. Teachers as Course Developers CUP.
Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A. 1987. A English for Specific Purposes: a learning-centred approach CUP Chapters 7 and 8.
Maule, D. 1988. 'Sorry, but if he comes, I go': Teaching Conditionals ELTJ 42/2 117-23.
Mohan, B . 1986. Language & Content. Reading Mass: Addison Wesley.
Nunan, D. 1988. Syllabus Design OUP.
Prabhu, N. S. 1987. Second Language Pedagogy OUP.
Palmer, F. 1974. The English Verb Longman
Robinson, P. 1991. ESP Today : a practitioner's guide Prentice-Hall International (UK)
Tickoo, M. 1997. Forward from Bangalore in Kenny, B. and Savage, W. (eds) Language and Development: teachers in a changing world. pp269-279
van Ek, J 1975. Threshold Level English Oxford, Pergamon (also known by the overall title of 'Council of Europe').
White, R. 1988. The ELT Curriculum: Design, Innovation & Management Oxford: Blackwell.
Widdowson, H. 1989. 'Knowledge of language and ability for use.' Applied Linguistics 10/2.
Widdowson, H. 1990. Aspects of Language Teaching . Oxford OUP: Chapter 9.
Wilkins, D. A. 1976. Notional Syllabuses. Oxford OUP.
Willis, D. (forthcoming) Language Description for Language Teachers. (working title).
Willis, D .1994. 'A Lexical Approach to Grammar' in Bygate, M. et al (eds).
Willis, D. 1990.The Lexical Syllabus London: Collins Cobuild ELT.
Willis, J. 1996. A Framework for Task-based Learning Longman.
Yalden, J. 1987. The Communicative Syllabus: Evolution, Design and Implementation Prentice-Hall International (UK).
Widdowson, H. 1990. Aspects of Language Teaching Oxford OUP
Chapter 9 ''The problems and principles of syllabus design' pp127-155
Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A. 1987. English for Specific Purposes: a learning-centred approach CUP