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IELTS Syllabus Design Essay

1. Introduction The attached English for academic purpose (EAP) syllabus is designed for an IELTS preparation course, which particularly focuses on the listening test. The reasons behind this choice are that IELTS preparation course is very popular in China, and to be a specialist on teaching IELTS listening aligns with the author’s career plan.

All learners are male and female Chinese student aged between 18 and 25, who seek tertiary education in English-speaking countries. Additionally, all of them are in the intermediate level, and they wish to get a good grade in the listening test. This will be a five-week teaching, and three hours per week with a different unit. Additionally, it will be used in a hypothetical class in a private language school, and the approximate number of students for each class is 25.

In the following parts, the author will first give the definition of syllabus, and the importance and necessity of undertaking needs analysis. Then there will be a demonstration of the attached syllabus design, which include the justification of the selected types of syllabuses and the choice of the selection and grading of content. At last, a conclusion will be given to summarise the key points in this essay.

2. The definition of syllabus Basically, a syllabus is a specification of what is to be included in a language course; and it concerns the selection of items to be learnt and the grading of those items into an appropriate sequence (Jordan, 2003; Hamer, 2002). Additionally, Nunan (1988) defines syllabus to a broad and a narrow approach. In a broad view, the syllabus and methodology should be together, because the difficulty of distinguishing content and tasks with the development of communicative language teaching (CLT). Whereas, a narrow view considers distinguishing syllabus design and methodology: syllabus design essentially focuses on the selection and grading of content, while methodology is more about the selection of learning tasks and activities (Nunan, 1988).

Linking to the attached syllabus, because listening is regarded as a receptive skill, and it requires few activities than productive skills, such as writing and speaking (Hyland, 2006). Hence, the attached syllabus is designed under the narrow view, and it is orientated with the selection and grading of content.

3. Needs analysis The term ‘analysis of needs’ first appears in a published survey report of language teaching by Michael West in 1926 (West, 1994). However, there was little attention given to the needs analysis in the following decades. The reason could be the traditional belief of basing curricula on language structures rather than on individual learner needs at that time (Richards and Rodgers, 1986). With the development of language teaching, the term ‘need analysis’ was re-raised by the Council of Europe Modern Language Projects group in the 1970s, and needs analysis is recognised as the starting point for devising syllabuses, courses, martials and the kind of teaching and learning that takes place (Strevens, 1977; Coffey, 1984; Fatihi, 2003).

Similarly, Jordan (2003) also suggests that designing a syllabus should involve examining needs analyses and establishing goals. In the meanwhile, the concept of learners’ needs becomes more broader, which refers not only to the language knowledge and skills that for certain target situation purposes, but also refers to necessities, lacks, wants, desires, motivations, constraints and requirements, which could be linguistic, affective, material or institutional (Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Allwright, 1982).

According to Brown (1995:36), needs analysis is defined as “the systematic collection and analysis of all subjective and objective information necessary to define and validate defensible curriculum purposes that satisfy the language learning requirements of students within the context of particular institutions that influence the learning and teaching situation”. And there are several fundamental questions need to consider when conducting a needs analysis. As Jordan (2003) suggests and further summarises in the Figure 1, they are:

* Why is the analysis being undertaken? (E.g. to determine the type of syllabus and content) * Whose needs are to be analysed? (E.g. the learners’; the teachers’; the sponsors’) * Who performs the analysis? (E.g. sponsor; teacher; student) * What is to be analysed? (E.g. target situation; present situation; deficiencies) * How is the analysis to be conducted? (E.g. questionnaires; tests) * When is the analysis to be undertaken? (E.g. before the EAP course) * Where is the EAP course to be held? (E.g. the learners’ own country)

Figure 1. Needs analysis: summary

Source: Jordan (2003), Chapter 2, pp. 29.

The significance of conducting a needs analysis is that it is a device to know the learners’ necessities, needs and lacks, which directly determines the type of syllabus and content, as well as the appropriateness and effectiveness of the course (Fatihi, 2003). Also it is a process for identifying the instructional objectives in a valid curriculum, in order to facilitate the learning for language learners (Jordan, 2003). However, there are also some limitations of needs analysis, which include

1) the complicity of converting needs into goals since “an assessment of individual needs could result in multiple course objectives” (Dubin and Olshtain, 1986: 102);

2) the lack of an effective needs analysis procedure, as most needs analysis procedures fail to solve the leap between needs analysis and materials development (West, 1994); 3) the validity and reliability of the instruments used in a needs analysis and the results obtained (Van Hest and Oud-de Glas, 1990). Despite those limitations, it is still worth doing needs analysis because some studies have showed that it can be beneficial for the development of curriculum (Bosher & Smalkowski, 2002; Chaudron et al., 2005).

4. Demonstrating syllabus design 4.1 Selecting syllabus types

There are various types of syllabus design that have been used over the last few decades (Yalden, 1987). Generally, a number of different types of syllabus can be subsumed under two broad headings; namely, the product-oriented syllabus which focuses on the end result, and the process-oriented syllabus which focuses on the means to an end (Nunan, 1988). The various types syllabus under these two broad headings have been listed in the Figure 2. Additionally, a skills-based syllabus that is based on one or more of the four traditional language skills is highlighted in Jordan (2003). It seems that this type of syllabus is on the half way between product syllabuses and process syllabuses as suggested by Robinson (1991). Furthermore, another independent syllabus is lexical syllabus which was initially done by the work of COBUILD since 1980; and it is on the basis of vocabulary and lexis (Lewis, 1993; Harmer, 2002).


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