Posted by : Clamp School Saturday, 7 July 2012
DEVELOPING AN ENGLISH FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES COURSE USING
A LEARNER CENTERED APPROACH
Designing a course that can best serve learners' interests and needs is an obstacle for many instructors. How can teachers develop a new course? Where should they start? What can be done about students' poor motivation? How teaching materials should be selected? These are some of the questions that are often asked by many teachers. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to suggest a framework for an ESP course-development process that will help teachers with some of the problems they may come across in designing a new ESP course.
1. Students' Analysis
It is very important to start the course-developing process with an analysis of the target group of students. Many problems in second language classes are a result of teachers not paying attention to learners' interests and ignoring students as a source of essential information. With the spread of communicative language teaching (CLT), much emphasis in second language methodology has been paid to the learner-oriented instruction. As a result, needs analysis has been given considerable attention in making a particular course serve a particular group's interests (Graves K., 1996; Harrison R., 1996; Hutchison T. & A. Waters, 1987). However, students can provide much more valuable information for teachers than an expression of their needs. Therefore, a better term than needs analysis might be students’ analysis.
Students' analysis can give two kinds of information. The first reflects learners' "possession" - their current level in their ESP, field knowledge, motivation, methods of learning they have experienced, etc. The second represents what learners want to achieve - what traditionally has been called "ESP needs".
In the teaching of ESP, the role of mediator will be placed on the teacher, who will start from students' current stage and bring them to the second stage of their needs. There may be different ways of finding information about student’s needs and previous experience.
At the university and high school levels, it can be done through various questionnaires, surveys, group discussions, individual talks, etc. For example, Business English students may be asked to list areas in which everyone known early using ESP (for instance, selling insurance, opening bank accounts, dealing with foreign customers in currency exchange offices, etc.).
Even though very important, students' data should not be overused. Finding out this information does not mean that teachers should teach only what their students want. Of course, teaching can not take place in isolation. There are certain things, such as curriculum, institutional guidelines, and standardization that can not and may not be ignored. However, in developing a new course, students' analysis will help teachers bring together the required and desired in formulating goals and objectives, conceptualizing the content of the course, selecting teaching materials, and course assessment, as we are going to examine in this paper.
· Needs assessment
Curriculum design specialists believe that the breaking down of curriculum into components and sub processes is of vital importance since it simplifies and organizes such a complex process as the curriculum design is (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987, Nunan, 1985). The first component in such a procedure needed assessment - that is obtaining of data- followed by a needs analysis - that is assigning value to those data (Graves, 1996). Therefore, the first issue to elaborate on is the students’ needs and ways of assessing and addressing them effectively.
If needs are clear, the learning aims can be expressed more easily and the language course can become motivating. If the learners’ needs are not taken into account, the course will be based on unsuitable or irrelevant material, will disillusion the students with the value of instruction or their capacity to learn the language and lead to a low motivation (Mackay & Mountford, 1978). To put it simply, the needs assessment provides the teacher with the basis on which to construct the new knowledge. By using what the students know, he/she will explain, exemplify, and conceptualize the knowledge to be conveyed (Swales, 1985).
For the needs assessment in this study the semi-structured interview technique was selected, as it would present clear, unbiased and true information. Another reason for selecting the interview technique was the advantage of having no unanswered questions, as this frequently happens in questionnaires and the opportunity for clarification of misunderstandings (Mackay, 1978).
Before designing the interview questions, the researcher reviewed the literature on how to construct and design questions in needs assessment studies (Jordan, 1997, Mackay & Bosquet, 1981). The interview questions of this particular study were designed by the researcher according to the needs literature mentioned above and divided into the following categories:
1. General information: Students’ age, sex, type of graduation school, E.F.L. certificates obtained.
2. Difficulties in E.F.L. and strategies used to overcome them
3. Definition of terminology, course needs and wants, feelings towards E.F.L. and terminology.
2. Formulation of Goals and Objectives of the Course
Formulating goals and objectives for a particular course allows the teacher to create a clear picture of what the course is going to be about. As K. Graves (1996) explains, goals are general statements or the final destination, the level students will need to achieve. Objectives express certain ways of achieving the goals. In other words, objectives are teachable parts, which in their accumulation form the essence of the course. Clear understanding of goals and objectives will help teachers to be sure what material to teach, and when and how it should be taught. In his book D, Nunan (1988) gives a clear description of how one should state objectives. Depending on what is desired, objectives may sound like the following:
· Students will learn that ...
· Students will be aware of ...
· Students will develop ...
It is also important to state realistic and achievable goals and objectives.
After the needs assessment, the second step in the course development process is the determination of goals and objectives. The first step to follow was the definition of goals and objectives, since most of the times they are used as synonyms. The second was to choose the appropriate goals and objectives for the English for computing course.
A goal is something we want to achieve and in the case of language learning, goals are “general statements of the overall, long term purposes of the course” (Graves, 1996:17). Thus, they are related to the acquisition of a job in the future or the communication with the members of the target language community (Harmer, 1991). They should aim not only at the acquisition of certain knowledge and skills but also at the development of a positive attitude towards language and culture.
On the other hand, objectives are defined as “the specific ways in which the goals will be achieved” (Graves, 1996:17). They may refer “to activities, skills, language type or a combination of them all”(Harmer, 1991:269).
Another issue to take into account was that the goals should be realistic; otherwise the students would be de-motivated.
Objectives should be equalled to the goals and relevant to how the teacher conceptualizes the content of the course (Nunan, 1988). For example, the teacher should state that “the students will know, the students will learn, the students will develop an attitude towards, etc.”
Based on the literature, the needs analysis and the overall curriculum for the computing courses, taught in the Institute of Vocational Training, the researcher identified the goals and objectives of the English for example in Computing course:
The goal of the course will be to familiarize the students with the terminology used in the operation of a computer. After the end of the course the learner must be able to comprehend basic computer terminology and produce relevant material in English, from simple letter writing to more complicated texts. He/she must also be able to understand, analyses and present quantitative data. He/she must be able to communicate effectively in job related situations, establish, and maintain relationships with members of the target community.
The researcher decided to divide the objectives in conjunction with the five skills (translation being the fifth one), for better comprehension.
Ø To understand native speakers and professionals, speaking about their job.
Ø To understand experts talking about aspects of computing science
Ø To communicate about computing topics.
Ø To understand a wide variety of texts, using computer terminology, job advertisements, and quantitative data.
Ø To write descriptions and explanations of components and processes
Ø To write study and work related letters.
Ø The students will be able to translate from English to Indonesia and on the contrary texts of computing, from simple to more complicated ones.
3. Conceptualizing the Content
From year to year, different students with the same or similar majors had to use exactly the same textbooks and syllabuses. But all students are different and with the rapid development of the world, changes in student’s needs and interests are inevitable. Therefore, ideally, in establishing a learner-centered approach there should be a shift in second language pedagogy in the selection of the content of the course. This shift should serve the learners' interests and needs.
Conceptualizing the content is not a context-free process. When taking into account information about the students, goals, and objectives, teachers need to determine which aspects of ESP learning will be included, emphasized, integrated, and used as a core of the course to address students' needs and hopes. There may be different ways of conceptualizing the content. Teachers can focus on developing "basic skills", communicative competence, intercultural competence, vocabulary awareness, etc. For example, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course for high school students who are going to participate in a foreign exchange program can be conceptualized around second language culture.
One of the goals of this course, for instance, is to achieve intercultural communicative competence. Students are developing language skills, but it is accomplished through the integration of the socio-cultural component into the teaching various elements of the language.
It should also become clear that even though separated in structural charts, all skills and aspects of the language are correlations in the real communication. Therefore, they should be treated, taught, and tested as one can’t split unit.
4. Selecting and Developing ESP Materials
For many teachers, selection of teaching materials is based on their availability. Furthermore, chosen materials determine the content of the course. Quite often it serves as a truly and explanation of the use of the same syllabus with different students. In student-centered instruction, the appropriateness of materials includes student comfort and familiarity with the material, language level, interest, and relevance.
However, in some situations teachers are dependent on the materials and are required to use the same textbook over and over again. Potentially there is nothing bad in using the same teaching materials, if everything is conceptualized through a learner-centered approach. The same article or audio story can be used for developing reading or listening comprehension skills, cultural awareness, expanding vocabulary, etc. Teaching materials are "tools that can be figuratively cut up into component pieces and then rearranged to suite the needs, abilities, and interests of the students in the course (Graves K., 1996: 27).
5. Course Planning
After formulating major objectives and choosing teaching material, many teachers start planning a new course. There may be different ways of organizing activities. In communicative language teaching (CLT) the following pattern is traditionally used: "pre-activity? - Activity? - Follow up". Teachers start with what students already know or with almost simple task, and then pass to more complex activities. Another approach to "bringing back" materials has recently become quite popular. Students learn information about the second language country and then recycle it in the activity about the English as a mother tongue country. In this way, the "Dialogue of Cultures" principle is achieved. It is recommended that teachers be flexible in course planning, i.e. that they be ready arrange the syllabus and make a little change in the course while teaching, so that they can best address students’ interests and needs.
6. Evaluating the Course
Course evaluation is the last, but not the least, important stage. Teachers should evaluate their courses to improve and promote their effectiveness. Evaluation can be done in two different ways: implicitly and explicitly. Implicit evaluation takes place during the semester, when learners, by their grades, participation, and motivation, give clues to the teacher on how their learning is going on. Explicit evaluation may take place at the end of the course or after students have experienced it. Using questionnaires, surveys, talks, etc. teachers ask the students to express their attitude towards the subject matter, instructional methods, activities, and teacher’s role and so on. Evaluation of the course is a brave step for the teacher. He should be open-minded in hearing and implementing learners' comments.