ESL CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT SERIES: WHO ARE YOUR STUDENTS?
Here at Your Agora, we understand the Curriculum Development process can be tedious and confusing, especially when you’re starting an ESL school. Through our series on ESL Curriculum Development, we will walk you through the important steps in this process to ensure your successful school will have the best curriculum possible!
In this article, we will address the first two steps ESL educators should take when developing a curriculum for their ESL school or ESL program. Educators should begin by identifying their audience before moving further into the research and development process. Below you will find some helpful tips on how to accomplish these objectives.
Understand Your ESL Student
There are several steps educators must take in order to understand the type of audience making up their ESL classroom. This can either be done as part of school planning or after the classroom is compiled. We will focus on how to determine your ESL audience during the planning process, but these steps can be applied to an active classroom.
Here are the first four questions to ask yourself about your audience:
WILL YOU BE TEACHING CHILDREN OR ADULTS?
First of all, the most basic question is if your curriculum will be for adults or for children. These two audience groups vary in the most basic ways, and there are also very important distinctions to make between these two groups of students, such as:
- Testing – young learners often are studying for basic ESL assessments, or for university entrance programs if they wish to further their education overseas. On the other hand, adult learners are typically studying for assessments to further their professional careers or for immigration purposes.
- Lesson planning – adults can sit through longer, more intellectually strenuous lessons while young learners require shorter classroom time.
- Appropriate games – games always make learning fun no matter what age your student is!
- Personal issues – with young learners, mental and social development are two of the more important aspects to keep in mind. Adults will have different anxieties, discipline, types of motivation, and independence due to their higher level of development.
WHAT ARE THE NATIONALITIES OF YOUR STUDENTS?
Determining the nationalities of your students is important for cultural and social purposes. Different countries often require different types of testing and sometimes even instruction. The two basic types of English used for instruction are referred to as British and American English, but we will talk more about those later in this article.
Educators understand that a student with a complex linguistic history may have more trouble adapting and learning a new language. If this is the case with many of your students, be sure to create time for your educators to learn about their student’s complex relationships with language.
WHAT’S THE AVERAGE LEVEL OF YOUR STUDENTS?
Determining student levels for existing classes can be fairly simple. Here are a few methods teachers use when assessing student levels:
- Creative classroom activities
- Good old-fashioned rubrics
The testing method can have pros and cons. Some educators believe ESL assessment tests to be slightly inaccurate depending on the anxiety levels of the student. However, testing does provide clear, unbiased data about student performance levels.
Different types of activities can be utilized by educators as informal assessments. For example, verbal activities, such as role-playing, are good for students of all ages and can allow the students to use their entire vocabulary and conversational skills. On the other hand, non-verbal activities, such as charades, can be used for both levels to display a different scope of their understanding.
By creating a rubric and assessment criteria from the beginning of your ESL curriculum development planning period, you will provide a natural way for your educators to understand what level their students are at and where they need to go next. If you have made the mistake of not creating a rubric from the start, no fear, you still have time to craft detailed, easy to use rubrics for your classrooms.
While these steps can be taken for an existing classroom, you can also work through this list while planning your ESL school or a new type of curriculum, which we will discuss in the next article of the ESL Curriculum Development Series. If you are in the planning stage, be sure to identify what type of assessment materials you will be providing for your educators within this curriculum.
Determine The Needs of Your ESL Student
Once you have pinpointed who exactly will be in your ESL classroom, then you can begin to determine what the needs of your audience will be. These needs can be either academic or personal depending on the age levels of your students, as mentioned earlier.
WHAT ARE YOUR STUDENT’S PERSONAL GOALS?
Having your students establish clear, personal goals for their course of study can help the students work through the process of learning English by way of clear, attainable steps.
Find a way to answer these questions for your student audience:
What are their career goals?
For students who are trying to decide how they will make money, or adult learners who are already employed, their professional goals can drastically change their course of study. Sometimes students need to achieve a high level of fluency more quickly in order to reach their necessary targets. As mentioned earlier, the career goals of students will change what type of testing they will be preparing for during their course of study.
What are their academic goals?
Much like professional goals, a student’s academic goals will also change the testing they are preparing for, as well as the types of English they are studying. If a student is planning to attend a university in another country they will often need to reach a higher level of fluency before it is time to apply and take the entrance exams.
What are their domestic goals?
Immigration can also be an important factor to consider when determining a student’s personal needs. In addition, a student who is currently residing in an English-speaking nation will also have different personal needs and concerns.
STUDENTS LEARN THROUGH GOAL SETTING
Understanding the personal goals of your students is extremely important so your educators will be able to help motivate their students towards attainable and clearly defined personal, academic, and professional objectives.
Through this method, students are able to clearly visualize the outcomes and purposes behind the hard work it takes to complete each activity included in your ESL curriculum. Their personal goals, when integrated into the academic goals of your curriculum, will help them feel as if their time spent in and out of the classroom is fruitful and well spent.
Setting clear objectives based on the goals of your students will improve and simplify your feedback as an educator. This allows your teachers to spend more time doing what they do best: teaching.
WHAT TYPE OF INSTRUCTION DO THEY REQUIRE?
In order to answer this larger question, as you begin preparing your ESL curriculum, be sure to answer these three small questions:
Will you use British or American English?
Many ELT professionals these days believe the distinctions between these two types of English should be taught, but the instruction should stick to one primary type of English so your students will be able to speak and write consistently.
The differences between the two versions of English are not limited to vocabulary. The cultural differences, common phrases, grammar, and dialects also vary. In addition, much like every other point in the section, certain standardized tests require the students to have a complete and consistent grasp of either British or American English as an ESL student (such as the IELTS test).
During this time, refer back to what the career and personal goals of your audience members are, especially if your school is not aligned with specific standards or takes a personalized, one-on-one approach to learning. This way, you can either create, or simply swap out, certain portions of your curricula for the needs and aspirations of your students rather than just the standards of their region.
How interactive should your lessons be?
The interactive aspects of your lessons will vary depending on several factors. One of these factors can be age, but adults benefit from interactive or “hands-on” lessons as well when grasping more advanced, or sometimes even basic, concepts within the English language. The length of your lessons, however, will affect the amount of interactive activities you can incorporate into the time you have with your students. If you are teaching short lessons then you should consider keeping activities or other forms of interaction to a minimum, and provide more out of class exercises for your students.
What are the personal needs of your students?
This question is especially important for younger ELLs because they will often require shorter more engaging lessons, whereas adults can sit through long, less interactive lectures without disengaging. Also, if your students are especially young, they will need more breaks throughout longer lessons, so be sure to incorporate appropriate stopping points throughout the material.
On the other hand, if you are teaching adult learners with busy schedules and families, you should aim to create a more flexible curriculum which can be adjusted according to your students’ schedules.
Beginning to Design Your Curriculum
Now for the fun part! At this point, almost all of the preliminary steps in curriculum creation should be completed. You are now on your way to finally digging deep into the world of curriculum development. Before you do so, however, let’s go over a few more steps which will help this process go even more smoothly!
CONSULT EXISTING CURRICULUM FOR INSPIRATION
This is an important step. Not only can you be inspired by much of the wonderful and comprehensive ETL curriculum on the market today, but you can also find the flaws in existing materials in order to make yours even more competitive.
Through Your Agora’s interactive teaching platform, you can consult with educators from around the globe about the pros and cons of certain teaching materials. This will help you create the best curricula for your platform and audience without researching every type of curriculum on your own. Use the friendly world of ESL education to your advantage!
HOW LONG DO YOU HAVE TO CREATE YOUR CURRICULUM?
This is an important question you should keep in mind while conducting your research and assembling your team. Do you have an entire term to create a new type of curriculum? A month? A week? This will drastically impact what approach you will take when creating your materials. If you have a limited amount of time, return to the researching phase to legally gather more existing materials to adapt to your curriculum.
If you have longer, however, you should have ample time to create the bones of your curriculum as well as other creative activities and assessments. This will allow the educators at your institution to dedicate more time and attention to their students, and will, hopefully, increase student advancement because your materials will be better tailored to suit your ESL school.
HOW LONG WILL YOUR PROGRAM BE?
At this point, you should have the answer to this question. Depending on your platform of instruction and the type of services your school offers, the length of your terms will vary widely. If your services include long and short terms, consider creating the longer version of the curricula first. By creating the longer version first you can break up your longer materials into short, concise segments to be used as supplementary or primary materials during your short-term ESL courses.
Often the lengths of English courses vary widely depending on if they are for General English skills, Test Preparation, Intensives, or ESPs.
If you take the time to complete each of the preliminary steps during your ESL Curriculum Development process, then you will be able to provide well planned, comprehensive materials for your students and educators during the term of your ESL program.
Before you begin creating your ESL curriculum, look more closely at Your Agora’s comprehensive teaching platform. Your Agora provides features which make creating and managing your ESL courses easy. The best part? It’s entirely free for students and teachers!