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1.3 Syllabuses and Coursebooks
The FL syllabus is the main document which lays down the aims and the content of TFL in schools. A school like any other educational institution has a curriculum which states the subjects to be studied, the number of hours (periods) allotted to the study of each subject, the sequence in which the subjects are introduced.
The syllabus lays down the extent of the knowledge; habits and skills pupils must acquire the sequence topics which constitute the academic content of the subject. The syllabus is an essential document for every teacher, and he is responsible for the fulfillment of its requirements.
In the syllabus the teacher will find all the instructions concerning the knowledge he must import to his pupils, the habits and skills he must develop etc. The textbook for every form should correspond to the syllabus.
Common characteristics of a syllabus
A syllabus is a document which consists, essentially, of a list. This list specifies all the things that are to be taught in the course(s) for which the syllabus was designed (a beginner's course, for example, or a six-year secondary-school programme): it is therefore comprehensive. The actual components of the list may be either content items (words, structures, topics), or process ones (tasks, methods). The former is the more common. The items are ordered, usually having components that are considered easier or more essential earlier, and more difficult and less important ones later. This ordering may be fairly detailed and rigid, or general and flexible
The syllabus generally has explicit objectives, usually declared at the beginning of the document, on the basis of which the components of the list are selected and ordered.
Another characteristic of the syllabus is that it is a public document. It is available for scrutiny not only by the teachers who are expected to implement it, but also by the consumers (the learners or their parents or employers), by representatives of the relevant authorities (inspectors, school boards), by other interested members of the public (researchers, teacher trainers or textbook writers). Underlying this characteristic is the principle of accountability: the composers of the syllabus are answerable to their target audience for the quality of their document.
There are other, optional, features, displayed by some syllabuses and not others. A time schedule is one: some syllabuses delimit the time framework of their components, prescribing, for example, that these items should be dealt with in the first month, those in the second; the class should have completed this much by the end of the year. A particular preferred approach or methodology to be used may also be defined, even in a syllabus that is essentially content-based. It may list recommended materials – coursebooks, visual materials or supplementary materials - either in general, or where relevant to certain items or sections.
Different types of language syllabus
A number of different kinds of syllabuses are used in foreign language teaching. A list of these is provided below; it is not, of course, exhaustive, but includes the main types that you may come across in practice or in your reading. Each is briefly explained; some also include references to sources of more detailed information on content or rationale.
A list of grammatical structures, such as the present tense, comparison of adjectives, relative clauses, usually divided into sections graded according to difficulty and/or importance.
A list of lexical items (girl, boy, go away…) with associated collocations and idioms, usually divided into graded sections.
A very common kind of syllabus: both structures and lexis are specified: either together, in sections that correspond to the units of a course, or in two separate lists.
These syllabuses take the real-life contexts of language uses as their basis: sections would be headed by names of situations or locations such as 'Eating meal' or 'In the street'.
This is rather like the situational syllabus, except that the headings are broad topic-based, including things like 'Food' or 'The family'; these usually indicate fairly clear set of vocabulary items, which may be specified.
Functions are things you can do with language, (examples are ‘identifying’, ‘denying’, ‘promising’
7. Mixed or 'multi-strand'
Increasingly, modern syllabuses are combining different aspects in order to be maximally comprehensive and helpful to teachers and learners; in these you may find specification of topics, tasks, functions and notions, as well as grammar and vocabulary.
These syllabuses specify the learning tasks to be done rather than the language itself or even its meanings. Examples of tasks might be: map reading, doing scientific experiments, story=writing.
This is the only syllabus which is not pre-set. The content of the course is negotiated with the learners at the beginning of the course and during it, and actually listed only retrospectively.
How necessary is a coursebook?
In some places coursebooks are taken for granted. In others they may not be used at all: the teacher works according to a syllabus, or according to his or her own programme, using textbooks and supplementary materials as the need arises. A third, 'compromise', situation is where a coursebook is used selectively, not necessarily in sequence, and is extensively supplemented by other materials.
In favour of using a coursebook
A coursebook provides a clear framework: teacher and learners know where they are going and what is coming next, so that there is a sense of structure and progress.
In many places the coursebook serves as a syllabus: if it is followed systematically, a carefully planned and balanced selection of language content will be covered.
3. Ready-made texts and tasks
The coursebook provides texts and learning tasks which are likely to be of an appropriate level for most of the class. This of course saves time for the teacher who would otherwise have to prepare his or her own.
A book is the cheapest way of providing learning material for each learner; alternatives, such as kits, sets of photocopied papers or computer software, are likely to be more expensive relative to the amount of material provided.
A book is a convenient package. It is bound, so that its components stick together and stay in order; it is light and small enough to carry around easily; it is of a shape that is easily packed and stacked; it does not depend for its use on hardware or a supply of electricity.
For teachers who are inexperienced or occasionally unsure of their knowledge of the language, the coursebook can provide useful guidance and support.
The learner can use the coursebook to learn new material, review and monitor progress with some degree of autonomy. A learner without a coursebook is more teacher-dependent.
1.4 Educational Technology and Other Teaching Equipment
To teach a FL effectively the teacher needs teaching aids. By teaching aids we mean various devices which can help the foreign language teacher in presenting linguistic material to his pupils and fixing it in their memory.
Computers are seen by many as an important teaching aid. These days learners need to be 'computer literate', and since computers use language it would seem logical to take advantage of them for language learning. They enable individual work, since learners can progress at their own pace, and many programs include a self-check facility. Also, younger and adolescent learners in particular find the use of computers attractive and motivating. However, it takes time to train both teachers and students in their use; and in practice a lot of time in a computer lesson often goes on setting up programs, getting students into them, and then solving problems with moving from one stage, or one program, to another.
For teachers who are familiar with their use computers can be invaluable for preparing materials such as worksheets or tests.
Books are very user-friendly 'packages' of material: they are light, easily scanned, easily stacked and do not need hardware or electricity. They are still the most convenient and popular method of packaging large texts, and a library of them is arguably the best way for learners to acquire a wide experience of foreign language reading.
It is very useful to have a collection of reference books, extra textbooks and teachers' handbooks easily available to the teaching staff; and regular reading of a professional journal can inject new ideas and update teachers on current thinking.
These are useful for presenting visual or written material to classes: they are more vivid and attention-catching than the black- or whiteboards. They also save lesson time, since you can prepare the displays in advance. However, this does mean added work in preparation! Another disadvantage is the need to carry the OHP from class to class, unless each classroom has its own - which true only of the more affluent institutions. And of course, like any other electrical equipment, OHP’s are vulnerable to breakdowns: electricity failure.
Video is an excellent source of authentic spoken language material; it is also attractive and motivating. It is flexible: you can start and stop it, run forward back, 'freeze' frames in order to talk about them. And there are many good programmes on the market. A disadvantage is their lack of mobility: few vide sets are portable, which means that classes need to be specially scheduled for video rooms; and of course there is the problem of occasional breakdowns and technical problems. When planning a video lesson, always have a 'back-up' alternative lesson ready!
Cassette recorders and cassettes are relatively cheap, and easy to use; and they are the main source (other than the teacher) of spoken language texts in most classrooms. They are more mobile and easier to use than video recorders, but lack, of course, the visual content. Again there may be problems with electric on the other hand, most portable cassette recorders - unlike video and most computers - also work on batteries. When buying cassette recorders, make sure that there is a counter, and then use it to identify the desired entry-point; otherwise, if you want to replay during the lesson, you may waste valuable time running the tape back and forth to find it.
Posters, pictures, games
Materials of this kind are invaluable particularly for younger learners, and teachers of children find that they constantly use them. However, if you have time, this type of material can be largely home-made: glossy magazines in particular are an excellent source of pictures.
LECTURE 2 LEARNING AND TEACHING PROCESSES
2.1 The teaching process
The process of teaching a foreign language is a complex one: as with many other subjects, it has necessarily to be broken down into components for purposes of study. There are three such components: (1) presenting and explaining new material; (2) providing practice; and (3) testing.
In principle, the teaching processes of presenting, practising and testing correspond to strategies used by many good learners trying to acquire a foreign language on their own. They make sure they perceive and understand new-language (by paying attention, by constructing meanings, by formulating rules or hypotheses that account for it, and so on); they make conscious efforts to learn it thoroughly (by mental rehearsal of items, for example, or by finding opportunities to practise); and they check themselves (get feedback on performance, ask to be corrected).
In the classroom, it is the teacher's job to promote these three learning processes by the use of appropriate teaching acts. Thus, he or she: presents and explains new material in order to make it clear, comprehensible and available for learning; gives practice to consolidate knowledge; and tests, in order to check what has been mastered and what still needs to be learned or reviewed. These acts may not occur in this order, and may sometimes be combined within one activity; nevertheless good teachers are usually aware which is their main objective at any point in a lesson.
This is not, of course, the only way people learn a language in the classroom. They may absorb new material unconsciously, or semi-consciously, through exposure to comprehensible and personally meaningful speech or writing, or through their own engagement with it, without any purposeful teacher mediation as proposed here. Through such mediation, however, the teacher is to provide a framework for organized, conscious learning, while simultaneously being aware of - and providing opportunities for - further, more intuitive acquisition.
2.2 Presentations and explanations
It would seem fairly obvious that in order for our students to learn something new (a text, a new word, how to perform a task) they need to be first able to perceive and understand it. One of the teacher's jobs is to mediate such new material so that it appears in a form that is most accessible for initial learning.
This kind of mediation may be called ’presentation’; the term is applied here not only to the kind of limited and controlled modelling of a target item that we do when we introduce a new word or grammatical structure, but also to the initial encounter with comprehensible input in the form of spoken or written texts, as well as various kinds of explanations, instructions and discussion of new language items or tasks.
People may, it is true, perceive and even acquire new language without conscious presentation on the part of a teacher. We learn our first language mostly like this, and there are some who would argue for teaching a foreign language in the same way - by exposing learners to the language phenomena without instructional intervention and letting them absorb it intuitively.
However, raw, unmediated new input is often incomprehensible to learners; it does not function as 'intake', and therefore does not result in learning. In an immersion situation this does not matter: learners have plenty of time for repeated and different exposures to such input and will eventually absorb it. But given the limited time and resources of conventional foreign language courses, as much as possible of this input has to become also 'intake' at first encounter, hence the necessity for presenting it in such a way that it can be perceived and understood.
Another contribution of effective teacher presentations of new material in formal courses is that they can help to activate and harness learners' attention, effort, intelligence and conscious learning strategies in order to enhance learning - again, something that does not necessarily happen in an immersion situation. For instance, you might point out how a new item is linked to something they already know, or contrast a new bit of grammar with a parallel structure in their own language.
This does not necessarily mean that every single new bit of language - every sound, word, structure, text, and so on - needs to be consciously introduced; or that every new unit in the syllabus has to start with a clearly directed presentation. Moreover, presentations may often not occur at the first stage of learning: they may be given after learners have already engaged with the language in question, as when we clarity the meaning of a word during a discussion, or read aloud a text learners have previously read to themselves.
The ability to mediate new material or instruct effectively is an essential teaching skill; it enables the teacher to facilitate learners' entry into and understanding of new material, and thus promotes further learning.
What happens in an effective presentation?
The learners are alert, focusing their attention on the teacher and/or the material to be learnt, and aware that something is coming that they need to take in. You need to make sure that learners are in fact attending; it helps if the target material is perceived as interesting in itself.
The learners see or hear the target material clearly. This means not only making sure that the material is clearly visible and/or audible in the first place; it also usually means repeating it in order to give added opportunities for, or reinforce perception. Finally, it helps to get some kind of response from the learners in order to check that they have in fact perceived the material accurately:
repetition, for example, or writing.
The learners understand the meaning of the material being introduced, and its connection with other things they already know (how it fits into their existing perceptions of reality, or 'schemata'). So you may need to illustrate, make links with previously learnt material, explain. A response from the learners, again, can give you valuable feedback on how well they have understood: a restatement of concepts in their own words, for example.
The learners need to take the material into short-term memory: to remember it that is, until later in the lesson, when you and they have an opportunity to do further work to consolidate learning. So the more 'impact' the original presentation has - for example, if it is colourful, dramatic, unusual in any way - the better. Note that some learners remember better if the material is seen, others if it is heard, yet others if it is associated with physical movement (visual, aural and kinaesthetic input): these should ideally all be utilized within a good presentation. If a lengthy explanation has taken place, it helps also to finish with a brief restatement of the main point.
Explanations and instructions
When introducing new material we often need also to give explicit description or definitions of concepts or processes, and whether we can or cannot explain such new ideas clearly to our students may make a crucial difference to the success or failure of a lesson. There is, moreover, some indication in research that learners see the ability to explain things well as one of the most important qualities of a good teacher (The problem of how to explain new language well is perhaps most obvious in the field of grammar).
One particular kind of explanation that is very important in teaching is instruction: the directions that are given to introduce a learning task which entails some measure of independent student activity
Guidelines on giving effective explanations and instructions
You may feel perfectly clear in your own mind about what needs clarifying, ai therefore think that you can improvise a clear explanation. But experience shows that teachers' explanations are often not as clear to their students as they are to themselves! It is worth preparing: thinking for a while about the words you will use, the illustrations you will provide, and so on; possibly even writing these out.
2. Make sure you have the class's full attention
In ongoing language practice learners' attention may sometimes stray; they car usually make up what they have lost later. But if you are explaining something essential, they must attend. This may be the only chance they have to get some vital information; if they miss bits, they may find themselves in difficulties later. One of the implications of this when giving instructions for a group-work task is that it is advisable to give the instructions before you divide the class into groups or give out materials, not after! Once they are in groups, learners' attention will be naturally directed to each other rather than to you; and if they have written or pictorial material in their hands, the temptation will be to look at it, which may also distract.
3. Present the information more than once
A repetition or paraphrase of the necessary information may make all the difference: learners' attention wanders occasionally, and it is important to give them more than one chance to understand what they have to do. Also, it helps to re-present the information in a different mode: for example, say it and also write it up on the board.
4. Try to be brief
Learners - in fact, all of us - have only a limited attention span; they cannot listen to you for very long at maximum concentration. Make your explanation as brief as you can, compatible with clarity. This means thinking fairly carefully about what you can, or should, omit, as much as about what you should include! In some situations it may also mean using the learners' mother tongue as a more accessible and cost-effective alternative to the sometimes lengthy and difficult target-language explanation.
5. Illustrate with examples
Very often a careful theoretical explanation only 'comes together' for an audience when made real through an example, or preferably several. You may explain, for instance, the meaning of a word, illustrating your explanation wit examples of its use in various contexts, relating these as far as possible to the learners' own lives and experiences. Similarly, when giving instructions for an activity, it often helps to do a ‘dry run’: an actual demonstration of the activity yourself with the full class or with a volunteer student before inviting learners to tackle the task on their own.
6. Get feedback
When you have finished explaining, check with your class that they have understood. It is not enough just to ask ‘Do you understand?’; learners will sometimes say they did even if they in fact did not, out of politeness or unwillingness to lose face, or because they think they know what they have to do, but have in fact completely misunderstood! It is better to ask them to do something that will show their understanding: to paraphrase in their own words, or provide further illustrations of their own.
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