Skip to main content

Developing a Mindset for Coordinating a Curriculum

Nearly halfway through my first year as curriculum coordinator at an intensive English program (IEP) in Southern Illinois, I've had the opportunity to view English language curriculum and instruction from multiple angles.  My first year requires me to teach through most of the levels of curriculum from beginners to advanced language learners.  I've been absorbing the ideas and opinions of my faculty colleagues, my administrative colleagues, and my students.  These viewpoints have helped me gain a better understanding of what the current curriculum is and what the current curriculum should be.

Positive Teacher-Learner Relationships 

A positive relationship between a teacher and a learner is more important than any curriculum.  This idea is definitely reinforced at where I work, and it is the key component for learner success.  I want my colleagues to know that I value this more than any adherence to the curriculum.  Besides, the curriculum should be designed for the students anyway.  It serves them.

Building positive relationships is more important in an English language learning environment because teachers face a more diverse student body (that can be quite different from them through age, ethnicity, gender, culture, ability, and expectations) compared to teachers in other disciplines.  There are many resources that discuss how to establish and develop these relationships.

A necessary component to building positive relationships is having and maintaining high expectations for students.  Once a teacher has low expectations for a student, it will negatively impact efforts towards successful learning.

Finally, if a teacher is unable to foster positive relationships, then the curriculum will more likely fail because it is the teacher's job to make the curriculum meaningful for each student. 

Outcomes and Assessment

There is a lot of apprehension about the changes I intend to make, but most if not all of these changes will make the teacher's job easier.  Firstly, I am in the process of reducing the amount of (primary) outcomes for each course to make it easier for students to understand the course goals and to make it easier for teachers to design instruction to help students achieve those goals. 

Following the backward design approach, student learning outcomes indirectly affect instruction.  However, they directly affect assessment.  The purpose of instruction is to help students perform well on their assessments, which in our case are exams and projects.

Figure from

From what I have observed so far, it appears that testing will change more than instruction.  Most of the issues we have at my current job are good problems:  excellent teachers with an overabundance of student learning outcomes.  Revising the outcomes and our approach towards assessment will help the teachers and students understand the curriculum more clearly.  With the exception of a few people, the curriculum is bit of a haze.


Learners first!  To elaborate, the curriculum should attend to the learners' needs and the instructors should make sure that the curriculum is serving their needs and that the students understand the purpose of the curriculum, including the assessments and learning activities.  If it doesn't make sense to the students, then the program is just serving itself.  If the curriculum doesn't make sense to the teachers, then it is useless.


Popular posts from this blog

The Horror! A Listening Curriculum for English Language Learning

I've been inspired by Clare Maas' blog post, which was inspired by Dr. John Field's TEASIG/CRELLA talks, to share my shock at the listening curriculum of an intensive English program where I previously worked. To be fair, this listening curriculum was designed twenty years prior and my job was to lead faculty efforts to revise it. Unfortunately, the program went through financial difficulties and leadership changes, resulting in the "non-renewal" of most of the curriculum committee members.
Upper-Level (EAP) Listening (B2-C1) Listening was relatively equally integrated with speaking and reading skills in one course set apart from another course that focused much more on writing. This was the case for the two highest levels for students who intended to matriculate into the university as undergraduates. The highest level was not dependent on any one coursebook, so all of the listening material had to be collected by the instructors. When I was the curriculum coordi…

Research in the ELT Profession & Industry

My career has taken me to the uncomfortable and sometimes exciting spot in English language teaching or education in general: middle management, a term I dislike. As an advocate of teachers, I find my direction and passion by supporting teachers, helping them make their jobs more meaningful. Unfortunately, I have had to work with supervisors that didn't understand or share this vision. I'm not sure if they saw me as someone to "manage" teachers, but it often felt like it. If you don't know what middle management jobs are, and there are a lot of them, they go by many different names. Match any of the words in the left column with the words in the right column to create a job title that can describe the same job.

It seems that most of these job descriptions do not include research, which I believe is essential in developing curriculum and professional learning. It also seems obvious to me that a background in pedagogical research (and for ELT, research in applied …

Media in the Learning: Reflecting on a "New" Media Paradigm

The 21st century has been around for nearly two decades and media has always been used for teaching and learning. I'm trying to think of language teaching without any media, which can be defined as communication tools for storing and delivering information, and I cannot. When we talk about 21st Century Skills and New Media, I think most people don't know what they're specifically referring to. I traced the term "21st Century Skills" to the Framework for 21st Century Learning designed by P21: Partnership for 21st Century Learning. It's a brand that has already grown old with ideas that are even older. However, these skills are often overlooked for mostly political reasons. I believe most teachers would like to focus on these skills more, but that's not what usually counts in most standardized exams.

The other term, new media, is a teacher-centered term because the media is "new" for the teachers who did not grow up with computer-mediated technol…