Friday, January 30, 2015

Entry 44 IDT1415 - Toohey's 5 Approaches to Curriculum Design

Toohey (1999) specifically places these 5 approaches within the context of university and college (p. 48). Would you say that her typology is less/more/equally relevant to your own professional context?

                Toohey says that for some 'alternative views are literally unthinkable' and how what is to be taught remains unchallenged simply because they reflect what has been 'so commonly held... accepted without question' and this made me think about the prescriptive curriculum most language schools follow in a rather 'traditional approach' as defined by Toohey. In my current context, the curriculum is tightly linked to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), what the publishing market offers in terms of course books and local demand so it suddenly becomes apparent that these seem to be axiomatic. It is true that we have the freedom to design courses on demand, but these are or should be more often than not perfectly in line with the CEFR, what imposed by the larger national and international organisations we belong to and what's available in the market as totally new courses e.g. English for Speleology (the study of caves) are more the exception than the norm so confined to what is 'accepted without question' in Toohey's words (1999:44). 

                This prescriptiveness in my own context seems to go hand in hand with a performance approach (p51) and so I wonder whether this is really possible. I can see Tyler's (1949 in op.cit.) 4 questions as relevant and also part of our mission as a school and seem to be in line with Romiszowski's (1984 in op.cit.) three phase process: 'establishing precise and useful objectives, planning study and testing them' as this is a familiar process I am required to go through - mainly steps 1 and 2 - whenever deciding on course design matters at work.  I fully agree with Toohey when she says that this approach offer the promise of accountability as this is something that is often in my mind when defining aims while trying to ensure they are clear enough so that they can be easily measured not only by me but by anyone delivering the course. I personally think that this accountability is a positive aspect because it adds clarity to the assessment process and expectations for those involved are clearer (p53).  Notwithstanding, I would still argue that even following these performance guidelines I feel we're still very much bound by the traditional approach above especially in terms Toohey's questions 4 and 5, content and assessment respectively.

                Moving on to the cognitive approach I can say that in my field, Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) this approach became more evident in the 1990s when there was a shift thanks to the work of Rubin & Thompson (1987), O’Malley, Chamot and Küpper (1989) and Oxford (1990) where Cognitive and Metacognitive Strategies or learning strategies that help the learner construct, transform or apply language knowledge and strategies in the cognitive dimension which help the learner control via Planning, Organising, etc., their cognitive strategy use (Oxford 1990:289 in Martínez, 2012). This is also an approach we encourage in my work place and in my current practice as a teacher trainer through training on awareness raising of such strategies and their importance for teachers and students so that they can then replicate these in the classroom thanks to their own understanding of these rather than because it is required of them. I must say though that this approach is applied in my context in a looser way and can be defined as integrative rather than as differentiated.

                As regards the Experiential or personal relevance approach I find the difference made by Knowles (p59) between andragogy and pedagogy relevant to and clearly identifiable in my context in the courses and programs offered and the methodology used in our field through the labels used i.e. Very Young Learners, Young Learners, Teenagers, Adults. In addition, the characteristics described also find clear reference in the ESOL classroom and the well accepted philosophy that e.g. the atmosphere should be conducive to learning, rapport is essential for classroom dynamics, etc. However, the part that does not fully match the description in the ESOL sector in general may be that of 'the students nominating the skills and knowledge that they would like to acquire and the kinds of problems they would like to be able to deal with' (p60) as students may be asked about what they would like to cover in class and this may inform specific course design under very specific circumstances but I would say that it is not the norm or at least I have not seen it happen that often in my 20 years in ELT.  A place where this is possible makes me think of a Dogme classroom as it appears to share many of its characteristics while being based in Freire's words on the view that 'education is communication and dialogue'. (Meddings and Thornbury 2009:7 in Akca 2012).  

                This brings us to the last of Toohey's list: the socially critical approach which I find fascinating because of the implications and fully identifiable even more so in my own context - a private sector language school which automatically shouts Toohey's words at the end of page 63 '...the system is designed by and for the socially advantaged'! Coming from a not socially advantaged background myself these words take a powerful meaning and fill me up with pride and frustration about the fact that I have worked hard to be able to study and learn and continue to learn, but also angry about the fact that Toohey's words are so true and will continue to be so as education is only available to those with the means. Although I know that many institutions offer scholarships and bursaries - I would not be able to afford my current MA in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching had I not been able to secure one of the many scholarships offered by the University of Nottingham - I still believe that more can be done for those who cannot afford even free education. 

                In light of the reflections above, I would agree with Toohey's argument that most educational settings still see a traditional or discipline-based approach as a prevalent model (p67) with some if not most the reasons given for higher education being shared by institutions in the private sector e.g. ignorance regarding education especially in schools which are run by business suits who want bums on seats rather than educators, or educators who are comfortable with their one year's experience twenty times as opposed to twenty years of experience and a passion for education. I must acknowledge that I am in a privileged environment as the powers above are represented by an educator herself who cares about the students and her staff and is open to dialogue with a vision for continued professional development and growth.


 Akca, C. (2012). Dogme Unplugged. In Institute of Language and Communication Studies (ILCS)(Eds), International Symposium on Language and Communication: Research Trends and Challenges–Proceedings Book (pp. 1743-1756).

Martínez, R. (2012). Beliefs and Practices in the Initial Teacher Training Community regarding Receptive Skills Development and the Pre-Teaching of Vocabulary. Sheffield Hallam University.

Toohey, S. (1999). Beliefs, Values and Ideologies in Course Design. In Designing courses for higher education (pp. 44–69). Buckingham, SHRE and OUP. Retrieved from <Go to ISI>://WOS:000088259300016

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