TASK - Consider the "aims and objectives" of a language module/course/learning event with which you are familiar. Reflect on their strength and weaknesses and propose a revision. Justify your proposal on the basis of this week's readings or any other resource you have found particularly useful. Your reflection can be in any format you like.
For this task I would like to examine The University of Cambridge CELTA Syllabus as I am familiar with it because of my work as a tutor on these courses both F2F and online versions.
First of all, I would agree with Victoria and Jen in that it's not fully clear whether using the term 'objectives' or 'aims' should be abandoned so I'll also opt for 'learning outcomes' (LO) here so as to be in line with Moon's suggestion (2002:63) even if aims, objectives and learning outcomes seem to be used interchangeably in the literature (apart from Moon's 2002 where aims are said to be related to teaching and learning outcomes to learning) as shown in the example given below. In my personal experience as a teacher and teacher educator, I think the difference between the different terms lie more in the actual writing and perspective given of these e.g. using an infinitive (To learn the present simple tense) or the future (Students will learn how to use the present simple tense) or future perfect to give a sense of accomplishment (By the end of the lesson the students will have a. been able to do x, y and z; b. used the present simple; c. practised the present simple, etc.) which are in lines with Moon's (2002:53,64) prospective and retrospective terms, and a focus on what the students do not the teacher rather than in the terms themselves. The Cambridge dictionary online defines aims and objectives as follows:
Aims: a result that your plans or actions are intended to achieve.
Objectives: something you plan to do or achieve.
Learning Outcomes are listed as separate entries so after a web search one of the definitions given by the University of Illinois is that they 'are statements of what students will learn in a class or in a class session'.
In general, I would argue that aims, objectives, goals or learning outcomes are all synonyms in light of their dictionary definitions and that their format or structure is what determines their clarity or I dare say perspective (Teaching vs Learning) as mentioned above and argued by Moon (2002). For instance, course books and syllabi often phrase aims or objectives using infinitives as shown below in the CELTA Syllabus:
Further on in the document the term Learning Outcomes is used interchangeably:
Other materials such as NEFE do not state them altogether as seen in the different screen shots of some units below:
Or are simply missing from the Teacher's Book, which is supposed to be of support for novice teachers, as shown in the screen shot below:
I would also argue that this dismissal of aims and learning outcomes by NEFE is both their biggest weakness and a potential strength depending on the context in which the materials are used. The former as this means that teachers are left to their own devices and without any guidance thus making it impossible for anyone without enough training and understanding of pedagogical principles to align their teaching so as to provide opportunities for learners to construct meaning as suggested by (Biggs 2003:2). The latter because in my own context this allows teacher trainers to focus on the development of learning outcomes writing skills giving trainee teachers space for reflection and awareness raising so as to 'have a clear idea of what we want our students to learn' (op.cit. p2). The student-centred approach emphasised by the methodology of the CELTA course could be argued to be a fertile ground for Bigg's constructive alignment as there is a strong emphasis on fostering lesson planning skills which dwell in the teacher's understanding of the Guided Discovery framework (this is specifically true of my centre as it is the preferred - not only - framework trainees are exposed to) and are not dependent on pre established course book objectives. This in turn allows for Bigg's (op.cit. p4) qualities of performance in terms of assessment of trainee teacher's ability to define clear 'Intended Learning Outcomes' (ILOs).
Proposed Revision of Aims and Objectives
As far as the CELTA Syllabus is concerned, I would argue that the current wording (Successful candidates are able to understand the range of...) and focus on the student (candidates) requires minimal revision as they seem to be in line with Bigg's (2003) constructive alignment and Moon's (2002) LOs based on a behaviourist approach which places the onus on the individual's learning process.
In relation to NEFE, I would argue that such revision may be determined and required by the context. For instance, if the course is used at a language school where a mix of novice and experienced teachers are employed (a typical scenario in many private language schools), then clear definition of learning outcomes should be implemented to provide clear guidance. Conversely, in a Teacher Training context like mine and as argued before, the very fact that ILOs are missing provides a positive opportunity to inform, train and shape trainee's awareness of the importance of ILOs.
Finally, Bigg's SOLO Levels (2011) are already recognisable to some extent in the CELTA scheme in terms of assessment as all four assignments incorporate different SOLO levels to some extent so further application of the same may be unnecessary. For instance, Assignment 1 Focus on the Learner poses questions which require responses that range from multi-structural (several aspects of the chosen learner's learning experiences must be discussed and not only listed) to extended abstract (discussion of the learner's strengths and weaknesses in language learning based on the theory and observation of the same in class must be generalised to diagnose the source of specific linguistic problems and their treatment). These SOLO Levels also allow for work on metacognition and strategy training (Oxford 2011) as an understanding of the different levels by trainee teachers can enhance their understanding of their own learning, how it takes place and what is required of them.
Biggs, J., 2003. Aligning teaching for constructing learning. , pp.1–4.
Biggs, J., 2011. Biggs’ structure of the observed learning outcome (SOLO) taxonomy. Teaching and Educational Development Institute., pp.1–5. Available at: www.tedi.uq.edu.au/downloads/biggs_solo.pdf.
Moon, J., 2002. Writing and using learning outcomes. The Module and Programme Development Handbook: A Practical Guide to Linking Levels, Outcomes and Assessment Criteria, pp.50–78.
Oxford, R., L. (2011). Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. Applied Linguistics in Action Series. Eds. C.N. Candlin and D.R. Hall. Oxford University Press, Oxford.