Approaches to Syllabus Design Miguel Angel Carranza, MsE.
Historically, the most prevalent is the grammatical syllabus (the selection and grading of the content is based on the complexity and simplicity of grammatical items).
The learner is expected to master each structural step and add it to her grammar collection.
It is based on a theory of language that assumes that the grammatical or structural aspects of language form are the most basic or useful .
The structural syllabus can be said to embrace a theory of learning that holds that functional ability arises from structural knowledge or ability.
The content of the structural syllabus is primarily grammatical form.
The demand of structural syllabi has tended to be limited to the sentence.
Semantically defined sentence types such as statements, questions, interrogatives and grammatically defined types such as simple, compound and complex sentences are seen.
Structural syllabi have most frequently been associated with cognitive methods of language teaching, Audio- lingual, Grammar Translation Method, Silent Way, and etc.
“ Grammar” is frequently expected in a language class and usually constitutes familiar content.
According to that syllabi , grammatical concepts such as nouns, imperatives, plural, gerund are simply better defined than functional ones and also easily measured.
Yet the low transferability of structural knowledge to actual language behaviour severely limits its application in language teaching settings ,at least to language instruction whose goal is the ability to function in the language.
A fundamental criticism is that the grammatical syllabus focuses on only one aspect of language, namely grammar, whereas in truth there exist many more aspects to language.
Finally, recent corpus based research suggests there is a divergence between the grammar of the spoken and of the written language; raising implications for the grading of content in grammar based syllabuses.
Notional Functional Syllabus
Notional/ functional syllabus has been closely associated with what has been called “ communicative language teaching”.
According to communicative approach, language is used as vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. The functional view emphasizes the semantic and communicative dimension rather than the grammatical.
It leads to a specification and organization of language teaching content by categories of meaning and function rather than by elements of structure and grammar
functional/ notional syllabus includes not only the elements of grammar and lexis but also specify the topics, notions and concepts the learner needs to communicate.
Notional/ Functionalism was initially associated with a cognitive type of learning theory that called for explicit presentation of language material, conscious recognition and practice. Sequencing and grading of language material do not seem to be of major concern.
Functions associated with multiple forms are the basis for instruction.
So a few structures can be used to perform many functions. Inviting someone out.
Also, the syllabi is limited to short utterances or exchanges involving the functions in question. Routines are short and presented primarily a vehicle for teaching, formualic utterances generally used to perform some specific function such as I`d love to but I cant.
Situational Based Approach
Situational language teaching is an approach developed by British applied linguists in the 1930s to the 1960s, and which had an impact on language courses which survive in some still being used today.
Language is always used in a social context and cannot be fully understood without reference to that context.
Our choice of linguistic forms may be restricted according to certain features of the social situation and, in any case, we need the language so that we can use it in the situations that we encounter.
We should predict the situations in which the learner is likely to need the language and then teach the language that is necessary to perform linguistically in those situations.
Units in the syllabus will have situational instead of grammatical labels.
A situational syllabus is similar to a functional-notional syllabus in that it will usually contain communication functions and notions, but in this syllabus the choice of functions and notions depends on the situational context.
Benefits The benefits of a situational context are as follows:
It provides for concrete contexts within which to learn notions, functions, and structures, thus making it easier for most learners to envisage
It may motivate learners to see that they are learning to meet their most pressing everyday communication needs.
Warning The potential disadvantage of the situational syllabus is that functions and notions may be learned in the context of only one situation, whereas they may be expressed in a variety of situations.
Also, although some situations have a predictable script, unforeseen things can happen in any situation, requiring a change of script or topic.
Examples of Content
Situational courses do exist. They consist of learning units with labels like 'At the post office', 'Buying a theatre ticket', 'Asking the way' and so on.
In all probability they are successful in what they set out to do, but there are reasons for doubting whether they can be taken as a model for the general organization of language teaching.
The difficulty centres on just what is meant by 'situation'. With examples like the ones above there is no great difficulty. They are situations with fairly evident, objectively describable physical characteristics.
The language interactions that are taking place are closely related to the situation itself. There will be grammatical and lexical forms that have a high probability of occurrence in these kinds of language event.
SKILL BASED SYLLABUS
ESP: English for Specific Purposes
EAP: English for Academic
Skill: a specific way of using language that combines structural and functional ability but exists independently of specific settings or situations. Examples:
writing skills:reports, speeches,
listening skills: getting phone calls
Talking orders in a restaurant
Skill based approaches: Competency based instruction:
What the learner should be able to do
as a result of instruction.
After so many hours of English instruction,
what should you be able to do?
How many hours of driving classes do
you need to be a competent driver?
SKILL BASED SYLLABI
The content of the language teaching is a collection of specific abilities that may play a part in using language.
Skills are things that people must be able to do to be competent in a language, relatively independently of the situation or setting in which the language use can occur.
The primary purpose of skill-based instruction is to learn the specific language skill. A possible secondary purpose is to develop more general competence in the language, learning only incidentally any information that may be available while applying the language skills.
Skill based is becoming widely used in adult education ESL programs for immigrants and refugees.
The skills are presented broadly and with varied and variable applications
( e.g. intensive reading of many different types texts) so that specific skills and global ability are developed simultaneously.
Examples of Skill-based syllabi
Advanced reading course:
guessing vocabulary from context
reading for the main idea
critical reading skills
Analysis of paragraph structure.
Positive Characteristics of the skill.
It is useful when learners need to master specific types of language, either exclusively or as a part of a broader competency.
It is easy to predict the skills someone will need to deal with in a given context ( at a college: good writing and reading skills).
Relevance to student-felt needs or wants is an advantage.
Negative side.. Potential drawbacks
- The degree to which ability to perform specific tasks in a language is dependent on or independent of overall language proficiency.
The skills or competencies can be too limited ( for phone operators and not general education: thinking skills. That is too say it can be too technical).
It is appropriate when learners need specific skills, and when the skills are well defined and learners don’t need the other skills.
It has valuable applications in life skills and vocationally oriented language programs for adult immigrants and refugees.
More appropriate for adults
Language programs preparing students for academic work.
The task based syllabus:
The task based syllabus:
The defining characteristic is that it uses activities that the learners have to do for non-instructional purposes outside the classroom.
Tasks are a way of bringing the real world to the classroom: developing surveys.
The intent of task-based is to use learners´real-life needs and activities as learning experiences, providing motivation through immediacy and relevance.
The language needed to carry out the tasks is not provided or taught beforehand, but discovered by students and provided by teachers and other resources as the task is carried out.
The one aspect of language knowledge that may not be addressed by task-based instruction, however, is explicit metalinguistic knowledge, or the ability to make descriptive or prescriptive statements about the language.
The primary theory of learning underlying task-based instruction is Krashen´s acquistion theory.
Language is gained through exposure to and participation in using it
The theory of language most closely associated with task-based learning is communicative
(with its 4 components).
How are tasks selected?
According to students` cognitive skills and linguistic readiness for particular tasks, their need for the particular discourse or interactional type, and availability of resources for carrying out the task.
The following shorter tasks should be undertaken before longer and more complex ones: tasks requiring known information
Advanced learners may be able to handle tasks that extend over several days or weeks: call for a great deal of new or unknown information, require complex processing such as evaluation, comparison..
Examples of task based syllabus
Preparing profiles of class members for other classes or teachers
Planning and carrying out a class outing or picnic or dinner.
Producing a class cookbook
Filling out applications
Examples of task based syllabus
Preparing a handbook to the school to be used by other students
Producing an employement procedure guide- where to go.. Whom to talk to
Writing various types of letters
Producing newsletters for the other students
Designing an electronic portfolio..website..discussion forum
Writing term papers for other content classes.
Doing a price comparison survey of food stores.
Producing collections of the learners` community folklore.
Suitable for learners of all ages and backgrounds.
Functional ability should be a natural outcome of the instructional experience.
Problems lie in implementing the instruction: requires creativity and initiate on the part of the teacher.
If teachers are traditional, or do not have the time or resources, this type of teaching may be impossible.
Traditional students may not like it either: they feel they are not learning anything.
Real life tasks should be devised:
Dilemmas, ranking exercises, survey or
It works better in ESL environments, due to the I+1 ( comprehensible input) students are exposed to.
For our context, if resources are available: computers, internet access, and others, it can be used.
CONTENT BASED SYLLABUS
It is the teaching of content or information in the language being learned with little or nor direct explicit effort to teach the language.
It is closely related to provide instruction/ education to children of immigrants ( LEP, limited English Proficiency ). One solution to the problem of LEP has been controlled immersion programs… but also bilingual programs: but they are costly.
Immersion: students are given content instruction in a language they may not control well or at all.
The learning theory associated with content based instruction is an acquistion theory (Krashen).
Any content based syllabus is by definition identical to the syllabus of a content course at any level in science, social studies, or any other school.
Students learn language and subject matter simultaneously.
There is a perfect match: what is neeed and what is provided.
The motivational aspect of content based instruction, provided that students find the content material interisting.
It can lead to premature fossilization due to lack of corrective feedback.
It is problematic with beginning or low level adult students.