- does technology have a place in the design of your chosen course?
- if yes, does technology support the overall approach of your chosen course?
- if not, would technology have supported the overall approach of your chosen course?
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In this reflection task, I have chosen New English File Elementary (NEFE) as it is a course book and coursebook series which I am familiar with and regularly use on both my English and Teacher Training courses (amongst others of course!).
Structure & Language Teaching Approach
NEFE is a very popular ESOL course book part of a series which covers all but one of the levels available in the CEFR: Beginner (A1), Elementary (A1/A2), Pre Intermediate (A2), Intermediate (B1), Intermediate Plus (B1/B2), Upper Intermediate (B2), and Advanced (C1) with Proficiency (C2) missing.
NEFE is divided into 9 units and each unit into 4 main sections or topics: A, B, C and D. These topics cover Grammar, Vocabulary and Pronunciation and follow a combination of a Text-based and Guided Discovery approach to language teaching as all language is presented via a Reading or Listening text which provides the context and embeds the Target Language. The tasks are in line with these approaches as they are to a great extent inductive as students are required to observe the TL in context in order to answer questions about it which highlight patterns and how language works. There are a further 3 separate sections in each unit which deal with Practical English (Functional Language), Writing Skills and Revision.
The NEF series and not only the NEFE course also offers a wide range of online resources via a dedicated site linked to the coursebook called StudyLink and which provides students with 9 extra sections for self study or in my case specifically allocated homework tasks as well as self study. The online StudyLink is composes of different types of exercises with features such as self correction and keys available. All activities available have bee mapped onto the course book content and structure and so they are easy to navigate.
Content & Course ware
As regards content, NEFE includes a wide range of Reading and Listening texts which are set and although the third edition tries to incorporate current topics and issues, I would argue that it has a Western-centric approach which can be very limiting if used in other cultures.
NEFE also offers a Teacher’s Book with extra in-class activities and detailed guidance for novice teachers. There is also Video available in the MultiROM, a workbook, class CDs, a dedicated website and a StudyLink logo used throughout the coursebook to indicate extra online activities are available for that specific unit or topic.
In terms of approaches it can be said that although traits from several approaches can be identified, the main one present throughout is a Traditional Approach as the course book is divided into units and these built around topics and concepts. Knowledge is viewed here as a body of pre-established theory or concepts which are presented to the students regardless of their specific needs. I would argue that although this is so in the course book, it is the Teacher’s responsibility to adapt it to suit their students’ needs. After all, teaching the course book needs no training and this I would argue makes the difference between suitably trained teachers and unqualified practitioner. The process of learning is static if the course is followed as it is as topics are set and so these are transmitted to students directly and these embed the information, facts and concepts needed for study. This is also in line with the goals and the choice and organisation of content as the main goal is to acquire the linguistic skills needed at A1 level (CEFR) and the way the topics are sequenced generally in line with the CEFR descriptors for this level. Assessment methods include Progress Tests (Checks) after each unit available in the Teacher’s Book and also separately in a Test Builder CD which also includes final achievement tests. There is also an online TestMaker tool for students to practise through tailored tests. Resources and infrastructure are tangible as most work is based on established coursebooks.
However, I would argue that while the traits above are more static as they are clearly recognisable in the materials, traits of other approaches are variable. For instance, on reflection of my language teaching experience and varied cultural contexts in which I have worked (8 different countries in 4 continents), I would argue that all the organisations I worked for were in favour of an eclectic approach which incorporated traits from other approaches to one extent or another. Traits of a Performance Approach typical of language teaching easily come to mind:
· Focusing on the best way to achieve the course objectives – thus giving freedom to the teacher to make informed decisions as to how to do this;
· Teaching towards the goal and evaluate whether goals have been achieved – mainly through progress and achievement tests which are not only written but also performance and behaviour-related.
The process of learning is aided by the analysis of tasks and how this translate into knowledge and skills (clearly outlined and labelled in the coursebook) with teacher roles which vary and help them make informed decisions as to what should be acquired depending on classroom performance. This gives a bigger sense of clarity for the students whenever they are informed about their learning paths (we strongly encourage this in my current context). This combined with regular feedback on performance aims to increase student's confidence and sense of achievement. In NEFE Goals can be said to also be performance-based because of the emphasis on following a communicative approach which gives precedence to what the students can or cannot do, linguistic behaviours which determine their competence. Choice and organisation of content traits are seen in the Practical English sections of the coursebook which focus on skills and knowledge most valuable within the discipline or the ability to successfully interact with others in given situations. Purpose of assessment and methods which include frequent feedback in or outside class can be identified in the progress checks available after each unit. In my current context, teachers are trained and encouraged to adopt and use continuous and integrated assessment, that is, all work done through the Term (there are 2 Terms in a school year) is ongoing and taken into consideration as a whole along with any summative assessment established for the course. Resources and infrastructure are far more flexible as we encourage to use at least 70% of the coursebook mainly because of parents’ concerns with paying for a resource which if not used to a good extent then it is seen as a waste of money. Teachers are given flexibility and encouraged to use a wide range of technology and resources to supplement their teaching as best fitting their students’ needs.
As far as other approaches are concerned, I would say that the Cognitive Approach remains a desire of mine to be more clearly integrated into my current curriculum. I believe NEFE tries to address some of these traits (Process of Learning) by trying to incorporate real world examples of issues and problems and a gradual incorporation of previous information into new topics to provide opportunities for revision. Group work and also analysis (of language in this case) is provided through a guided discovery approach which requires students to observe the language in context in order to see patterns and rules. Unfortunately, I believe that goals and how they are expressed, choice and organisation of content, purpose of assessment and methods as typical of a Cognitive approach fall short here with resources and infrastructure being more typical of a communicative teaching approach rather than that of the coursebook itself.
Traits of an Experiential Approach can be seen in a focus on personal relevance and learning from experience as tasks in NEFE tend to lend themselves to allow students to experiment through in class collaboration. Again, I would argue that this would also be typical of a communicative approach and of informed decisions made by the teacher rather than being part of the coursebook itself.
Finally, no traits of Socially Critical Approaches are identifiable in this coursebook which seems to be in line with the purpose and field of study: language.
- Does technology have a place in the design of your chosen course? The first edition of NEFE did not have an online component and this was introduced subsequently which shows that course designers have adapted to a growing trend. I think the technology now available is of a good quality and saves time for the informed teacher who is aware of how it can support their students’ learning. Used as self study alone, I believe, can easily reduce the value of the materials themselves as it would be better exploited if some guidance from the teacher was given as to how to best use it.
- If yes, does technology support the overall approach of your chosen course? I believe it does. However, I would say that tech available would only be a small part of what is there already and as such can help the teacher save time in a restricted way.