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The role of syllabus curriculum
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The role of syllabus curriculum

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  • 1. The Role of Syllabus/Curriculum 1
  • 2.  "Syllabus" is a word customarily used in the The United Kingdom, identical to the concept of a "curriculum" in the United States. A syllabus outlines the sequence and content of a language program, and how language learning is to be "carried out". Syllabus and Curriculum are also referred to as "designs" within a teaching methodology - not a method unto themselves but a kind of map of how the material is to be delivered to the learners. They are seen as embodying the general and specific objectives of language learning course. 2
  • 3.  A syllabus/curriculum can be as simple as a sequential order of textbooks to be studied, or it can be more elaborate and include types of testing, learning objectives according to level, accompanying Phonics materials, teaching aids, homework schedule and assignments. Unfortunately, syllabus/curriculum is all too often seen as a "progress indicator" unto itself - that is, the ability and progress of students are dictated by what "stage" in the syllabus/curriculum they have reached or about to advance to. 3
  • 4. A syllabus of this nature focuses on grammatical features as the "organizers" of a language learning program. The linguistic elements that are construed as being simpler/easier come first, and are followed by a sequence of language items that become progressively harder/more complex. 4
  • 5.  Methods that typically have a high emphasis on form (note the Grammar Translation Method and the Audiolingual Method) more than likely sequence their language items according to this model. A curriculum of this type may be quite stringent, and its designers/advocates are likely to resent any perceived "jumping ahead" to more complex structures, even if it "fits in" with the communicative needs/desires of the students. As an example, a teacher instructing students in the present simple tense would be discouraged from teaching them past tense forms (even if the students are attempting to communicate about things they did yesterday/last week), as this represents a "jump" to a kind of linguistic structure the students are not "ready" for. 5
  • 6.  These syllabuses began appearing in the 1970s, and are also known as NFS. This kind of syllabus moves away from grammatical form and concentrates instead on "functions" and the pragmatic purposes to which we apply language. This might include such functions as identification, asking permission, advice, offers, invitations, apologies, etc as the "organizing" elements of the syllabus. Textbooks that advocate "communicative" language learning are usually organized according to a NotionalFunctional Syllabus. 6
  • 7.  The next revolution in terms of language teaching methodology coincided with World War II, when America became aware that it needed people to learn foreign languages very quickly as part of its overall military operations. The "Army Method" was suddenly developed to build communicative competence in translators through very intensive language courses focusing on aural/oral skills. This in combination with some new ideas about language learning coming from the disciplines of descriptive linguistics and behavioral psychology went on to become what is known as the Audiolingual Method (ALM). 7
  • 8.  This new method incorporated many of the features typical of the earlier Direct Method, but the disciplines mentioned above added the concepts of teaching linguistic patterns in combination with something generally referred to as "habit-forming". This method was one of the first to have its roots "firmly grounded in linguistic and psychological theory" (Brown 1994:57), which apparently added to its credibility and probably had some influence in the popularity it enjoyed over a long period of time. 8
  • 9.   It also had a major influence on the language teaching methods that were to follow, and can still be seen in major or minor manifestations of language teaching methodology even to this day. Another factor that accounted for the method's popularity was the quick success it achieved in leading learners towards communicative competence. 9
  • 10.  Through extensive mimicry, memorization and over-learning of language patterns and forms, students and teachers were often  able to see immediate results. This was both its strength and its failure in the long run, as critics began to point out that the method did not deliver in terms of producing long-term communicative ability. 10
  • 11.  The study of linguistics itself was to change, and the area of second language learning became a discipline in its own right. Cognitive psychologists developed new views on learning in general, arguing that mimicry and rote learning could not account for the fact that language learning involved affective and interpersonal factors, that learners were able to produce language forms and patterns that they had never heard before. 11
  • 12.  The idea that thinking processes themselves led to the discovery of independent language rule formation (rather than "habit formation"), and a belief that affective factors influenced their application, paved the way toward the new methods that were to follow the Audiolingual Method. 12
  • 13.      The audio-lingual approach dominated foreign language teaching in the 1950s and 1960s. • Its rise is partly due to the fact that because of the rapid increase of international trade, travel, and commerce, ever more people needed to learn English (the new lingua franca). That includes „intellectually less gifted‟ people. • The major aim is to enable all learners to use English in everyday oral communication. Speaking is put before and above writing. • The claim is that by the imitation of good examples and the fast correction of errors everyone can learn a second language. There is no need for abstract rule knowledge. (“Englisch für alle”, 1964). • Pattern drills and the use of the language laboratory are typical of the teaching methods used under the audiolingual approach. 13
  • 14.      Behaviouristic theories of learning, paired with a linguistic approach that takes an interest in the surface structures of language only, form the scientific background of the audiolingual approach. The radical behaviourist position is that people are like animals and learn „things‟ by trial-and-error and/or the imitation of what others say/do, not by a creative (cognitive) construction of phrases. Behaviourists claim that all learning rests on an association which is formed between a stimulus and a response (S-R theories). Famous experiments to prove that are Pavlov‟s experiments with dogs, and Thorndike‟s experiments with pigeons and rats in mazes. If learning rests on imitation then teachers must use English only in class. And their English must be good (correct) English. Behaviourists claim to have discovered „laws of learning‟. 14
  • 15.     The Law of Contiguity. The claim is that a condition for learning (= the association of a specific stimulus with specific response) is that there be a close temporal relationship between them. [Didactic consequence: Use the language lab because it provides each learner, and all the time, with instant feed-back on her/his responses]. The Law of Frequency. The claim is that frequent repetition leads to better learning. [The didactic consequence: Make the learners say/practice the same „thing‟ over and over again (overlearning)]. The Law of Effect postulates that only those behavioural responses that are closely followed by a satisfactory result (positive reinforcement) are likely to lead to habit formation. [Didactic consequence: Minimize a learner‟s „chances‟ of making errors (guided teaching). Use „slot and filler‟ exercises (which critics call „mechanical‟ and „stupid‟)]. The Transfer-of-Training Theory states that what is learned in one sphere of activity 'transfers' to another sphere only when the two spheres share common 'elements'. [Consequence: Present English in contexts in which the learners will later want to use their English]. 15
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