As the new academic year comes closer, many of you will be starting to plan your upcoming courses. Educational courses are usually governed by the basic principles of Curriculum Design and language courses are no exception. These principles included, among other things, the following:
- Course goals
- Course objectives
- Course materials
However, for many in the English Language Teaching world course design isn’t an integral part of planning and preparation, though it probably should be. Most language teachers simply receive a coursebook from the school and are told to teach it over the course of the year.
The teacher who takes the coursebook and divides it up according to each month of the academic year has already taken a significant step in the right direction. However, this can be taken a little further.
How should a simple language course be laid out? What are course aims? Where does a coursebook fit into a course syllabus? These are some of the questions this post will try to address, so keep reading…
Objectives, goals and aims are three terms which you will have come across numerous times in education, most likely in the context of lesson aims. While they are often used interchangeably in common discourse, they take on very specific meanings in Curriculum Design.
Let’s start with course goals. A course will generally have one overriding goal. This goal will be the absolute basic essence of what the course is trying to achieve. A B1 level course might have the following Course Goal:
To help the learner become an independent language user in accordance with the language skills and abilities set out in the CEFR framework
As boring as this goal might sound, it does reflect the overall intention of a year-long B1 level course: by the end of such a course, you would hope the learner would be able to use language skills and systems to the point where they could function independently in the language, asking for clarification of any unknown terms or difficult language.
All in all, the Course Goal is usually a single sentence which describes the fundamental aim of the course but gives no specifics on what is involved in achieving it – that’s the job of the Course Objectives.
In order to achieve the Course Goal, it is necessary to understand what will be involved in the process. This does not mean the specifics of lessons, but simply what key topics and areas a course will have to cover in order to reach the Course Goal. These are known as Course Objectives.
A course objective is greater than a lesson, yet smaller than a course goal. For example, in a single language lesson you might look at using will for immediate decisions, another lesson might focus on using going to for future plans, and a separate lesson could be dedicated to using the Present Simple for fixed plans. All of these lessons and more will work towards the following Course Objective :
By the end of the course, learners will be better able to use a variety of exponents to talk about the future
As you can see, this objective is too specific to be a course goal in itself but would take many lessons to achieve. In fact, to truly achieve this course, the course will probably have to contain a series of lessons for each exponent as well as regular revision lessons.
In short, Course Objectives are the major language systems and skills that a course contains. However, they aren’t small enough to be individual lessons but are big enough to require a number of lessons to achieve them.
Thinking up lesson aims is something you’re probably most familiar with from formal observations, filling in long cover sheets with language analysis and lesson main aims and sub aims.
There are many reasons why we choose the lessons that we teach, including:
- The topic is interesting and you think you’re learners will enjoy it
- The language point is something you’ve taught for another class and you think it might work with this group, saving yourself some planning time
- It’s simply the next double-page spread in the coursebook
However, lessons should always work towards achieving the Course Objectives, which in turn work towards achieving the Course Goal. So bearing this in mind, when you’re planning your next lesson, be sure to ask yourself: which course objective does this lesson work towards? If you can’t categorically answer that question with Objective 1, 2, 3 etc then you need to reevaluate why you’re preparing that particular lesson.
You’ll most frequently come across this problem with coursebooks, as they have usually been designed for a general audience and not your specific group of learners. Don’t worry if this means that you have to drop something from the coursebook: it’s probably better to use the next lesson for revision than to simply cover something which isn’t actually helping you and your learners to achieve the course objectives and goal.
Planning out a whole year is tough, but it isn’t exactly necessary once you have your Course Objectives set out. You can probably get away with planning your course month by month.
For example, if you have 8 lessons in September, then divide a piece of paper into 8 squares and write in each square the basic topic or focus of each lesson, such as:
- Present Perfect for experiences
- Reading: holiday text
- Vocabulary: lexis for travelling
- Listening: interview with a pilot
Then add to each box the Course Objective the lesson is working towards: a simple Obj 1, Obj 2, Obj 3 etc. will suffice.
You can repeat this process for each month of the academic year, looking back to previous months to see which Course Objectives you have already worked towards, which ones you need to work towards next, and which you will need to revise and repeat in the coming months.
Course In Use
In the end, while you may not have designed a course outright in itself, following this approach you’ll be in a much better position to understand what it is you want to your learners to get out of your course, how you are going to help them achieve this, and what your lessons will generally work towards.
This level of focus is necessary for a better understanding of the principles of a course and it provides a handy framework for you to refer to as you go through the course, not losing your focus along the way.
Have you used a similar approach before? Or even something completely different? How much success did you have with it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.