TeachingEnglish
My opinion of the article “How Learners’ Needs Affect Syllabus Design”

Recently I've had a lucky chance to become familiar with the article entitled “How Learners’ Needs Affect Syllabus Design” and written by Maribel G. Valdez. So in this blog entry I would like to share with you some thoughts and ideas which I've got while reading the article and which are directly connected with the local actual practice of EFL-teaching. So as in the 21st century our educational system seems to become much more flexible than, for example, at Soviet times, there appear more or less real possibilities to introduce changes and modifications in the syllabus we are given at the institutions where we teach English. In my opinion, one of the most crucial factors making strong impact on the objectives, content and techniques of EFL-teaching is , learners’ needs and interests in terms of learning English for their further career, for tourism, for studying abroad, and so on. In this connection the article I selected for discussing seems to be really thought-provoking and up-to-date in our present teaching environment.
While reading the article I found several ideas expressed there especially interesting and practical for me, as well as for most EFL-teachers working at local educational institutions. First of all, I paid attention to the description of criteria which can be used while grouping learners. The author suggests grouping students on the base of their language proficiency, learning purposes and learning strategies which are typical of them. Probably, it’s not a new idea for us that at many institutions (although still not at all of them, unfortunately) students are placed in different groups on the base of their language proficiency which can be identified and assessed with the help of numerous texts, interviews and conversations organized between teachers and their prospective learners, and so on. However, when grouping learners mostly it’s still not traditional here to pay much attention to students’ real learning purposes and learning strategies. So getting familiar with these ideas made me think more about different “extra-classroom” factors which may influence learners’ progress and interest in learning English while studying in this or that group. I’m sure that in some cases when it appears still to be possible here many EFL teachers would try to take all these factors into account while grouping their future students, and especially while working with them further on.
Another interesting idea which I found in the article discussed was the succession of steps which teachers are supposed to undertake when developing a semester course. The author recommends to plan the whole course – including the unit objectives and its contents, – as well as adaptation, structuring, sequencing and production of appropriate materials, – only after the needs analysis done by the teacher beforehand. I can assume that later introducing such a system of work when developing a course or preparing its syllabus might become a good starting point for the lessons as in this case the teacher would have more or less complete picture of students’ current level of English proficiency, learning purposes and strategies, as well as of students’ further plans about using English in their further life and career.
Some other ideas mentioned in the article leapt to the eye too when I was reading it. For example, at the end of the article the author quotes the ideas of Holt who suggests several techniques for involving beginning level learners as active participants in selecting topics, language, and materials. I would prefer the technique in which teachers use learners as resources by letting them share their knowledge and expertise with others in the class. Due to this teachers can focus the entire group on a theme that later involves various individual and small group tasks. Probably, in this case students would become more open, active and enthusiastic during the whole process of learning English. I liked also the author’s statement that a variety of techniques appealing to diverse learning styles can be included if a needs analysis has been done before. Certainly, it’s logical to assume that when we know learners’ real needs and learning purposes or strategies we know better what methods and techniques we can use while working with them. Otherwise, when these aspects are disregarded and completely ignored this choice may be not optimal or not correct and effective at all in a concrete teaching situation and environment, perhaps.
Thus I would conclude that, alongside with the author of the article, I believe that a syllabus based on students’ needs analysis provides an effective stimulus for structuring both the syllabus and the lessons based on it around the language proficiency, the learning preferences, purposes and strategies typical of this or that group of students. As we know at present the learner-centered approach is actively discussed and introduced in the Russian system of teaching English and other foreign languages. Therefore I am sure that it would be interesting, useful and up-to-date to read this article for other local EFL teachers too. As all ideas expressed in the article are provided with sufficient explanations and illustrative examples or quotations from other sources related to the subject I would recommend my colleagues to read this article as well.

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