IATEFL Part 5 – Willy Cardoso on a dynamic ELT Curriculum

An introduction to Willy and his blog was followed by Willy taking us through the two types of lessons he has come across – the book lesson and the conversation lesson. He questions the falseness of the accuracy-fluency dichotomy that has been created, and might be even considered offensive due to the complexity of language and language learning.

Beginning his criticism of a ‘grammar mac nugget’ approach to a grammar syllabus, research has shown that language learning is non-linear and not unidirectional. When talking about curriculum, we tend focus on syllabus and scope of the content, but it is perhaps also important to look at the different views of language, including theories on comply systems and sociocultural theories.

Curriculum is often seen as a noun, and the focus thus on the product. Perhaps we could see it as a verb and a process.

‘While every course ends, the consequences of study are ongoing as they are social and subjective as well as intellectual’ (Pnar, 2011)

‘Educational institutions and the manner in which they are organised and controlled are integrally related to the ways in which specific people get access to economic and cultural resources and power’ (Apple, 2004)

But many coursebooks do not see the curriculum as an ongoing process. Here is perhaps an example of a global coursebook that exemplifies how language learning is often viewed.
They often claim:

‘The perfect balance of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation , and skills to get your students speaking English with confidence’ (New English File Intermediate)
How have the coursebooks found this supposed balance? And how have they made it ‘perfect’?

At other buzzword used in coursebooks to promote their curriculum is the word ‘motivating’ and ‘confidence’.
But does the things that motivate one student necessarily be the sAme that motivates another?
Does a confine Japanese English speaker display the same behaviour as a confident Brazilian English speaker?

Using an example text from a coursebook using the context of family but in fact focusing on a particular language point, sacrificing in-depth discussions on culture in favour of minute language point. The texts we bring to our classroom are a reflection of a reality, and are inevitably value-laden. Yet, many books choose to use language activities that generated unreal sentences and discussions e.g. Find someone who is meeting their brother/sister this weekend. Find someone who isn’t going on a family holiday this year.
Real life conversations flow from topic to topic, with one generating talk of another.
Real life conversations deal with taboo topics and global issues – things that sorts coursebooks do not deal with.

The teacher and coursebook often define and transmit the concept, the students then study and reproduce the desired concept. But we could consider a framework where teachers and students create concepts together, exploring the origin and nature of knowledge. But the curse of the negotiated syllabus is that students come up with topics that are the same as ones in the coursebooks, as that is what they are used to.

Instead, Willy suggests asking complex questions and allowing students to discuss them, allowing for the space for Open Space Technology. As a result, students start to create their own questions and formulate complex opinions.

‘In general, the way we structure the curriculum – the experiences that are included and the relationships that are or can be established among them – will shape the kinds of knowledge-in-action that students ddeavelop. At the beginning, their understanding of the conversational domain may be partial and incomplete, but it will grow as the conversation continues.’ (Arthur Applebee’s, 1996)

Willy ends his talk about trying to see language and language use/learning simplified into the four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and systems (lexis, grammar, phonology, discourse), but as a complex system to be explored.

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

One thought on “IATEFL Part 5 – Willy Cardoso on a dynamic ELT Curriculum”

  1. I gather the point of this post is to describe what is meat by a “dynamic ELT curriculum” and the role of materials (coursebooks mainly). I’ll try to work through some of your ideas by sharing some of my own.

    “When talking about curriculum, we tend focus on syllabus and scope of the content…” I think most would agree that the scope and sequence (usually found towards the beginning of a coursebook) should never be considered a course syllabus. And most would also agree that it can be a challenge to close the knowing-doing gap; that is, closing the gap between what we know we should be doing and what we currently are doing. Let’s change the narrative to focus on how we might begin closing this gap.

    “But many coursebooks do not see the curriculum as an ongoing process.” So to avoid an anthropomorphism, I’ll assume you mean writers of coursebooks do not see the curriculum as an ongoing process. I’ll refrain from assuming what educational philosophy each writer has at the moment of writing a coursebook and simply say that coursebooks don’t kill the learning process, individuals do. Materials are just that, materials. It’s the educator’s job (responsibility) to create an educative environment that is conducive to transitioning the language learner in becoming a more capable communicator. This is done through networking ideas, materials, and social interactions (a material-semiotic if you will) in such a way that gives the language learner a reason for using the target language – just as they might in their native language.

    “The teacher and coursebook often define and transmit the concept…” With regard to this paragraph, I would say that teachers and students co-create reality (“…concepts together…”) regardless to how the curriculum (or framework) is being taught. Whatever approach, method, technique, or strategy that is being used in the classroom, this educational philosophy remains. And if students choose topics that are also included in the textbook, this in-and-of-itself is not a bad thing, IMHO.

    I don’t see the coursebook as the “devil”; I wouldn’t rule out any materials (including a coursebook) that contribute to an interactive, educative process where language and content serve both as means and ends to an overall dynamic learning experience.

    To really begin unpacking the notion of a “dynamic ELT curriculum”, we need to begin discussing what we mean by a written, taught, tested, and implied curriculum, and involve those educational stakeholders who interact with each. It takes a village…

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