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LCC International University > News and Events > Your textbook is not the curriculum

Your textbook is not the curriculum


“Open your books to page 24. Today we are going to learn about passive voice.” But your textbook is not the curriculum.

I get it. Language teachers in public schools are often overwhelmed with students, tests, grades, meetings, paperwork, and classroom management. Sometimes it takes all the effort that one can muster just to move from class to class knowing that administrative paperwork, skeptical students, opinionated parents, and preparation for the standard exams are calling your attention. It’s just too tempting to pick up the textbook and turn to the next page and continue from yesterday.

However, ideally, curriculum is a carefully designed plan of instruction with the purpose to meet the language learning needs of the particular students who arrive to your class daily.

There are two basic types of curriculum planning. Forward design starts with the content or the tasks that the teacher hopes to teach the learners. Teachers organize the content (scope) into a syllabus (sequence) and select the materials for the lessons and accompanying methods and activities. The aim is to move the students through the content with appropriate lessons. Typically, teachers use a forward curriculum design for task-based instruction, large classes, at the introductory level, or with a very general course. Forward design is inventive; the teacher knows the content and asks, “how can I teach this content well?”

Alternatively, a backward curriculum design begins with the end point in mind. A teacher may conduct a needs analysis to discover information about his students in relationship to the goals of the course. Only after the goals of the course are determined and the needs assessment analyzed does the instructor select materials and methods. The materials and methods purposefully move students to meet the goals. In starting with the ending, a backward design prioritizes the goals and helps students to reach those stated goals.

In reality, curriculum is negotiated between school/ state requirements and the individual teachers. Many public-school administrations mandated a national or standardized framework that identifies what students should be learning at certain levels. In Europe, two examples of language frameworks are the Common European Reference of Languages (CEFR) from Cambridge and the Global Scale of English (Pearson). Ministries of education also have their standards of frameworks for pupils in schools. In a backwards curriculum design, a teacher’s job is to translate those overarching standards into a syllabus that refines the goals, content, and methods for a block or unit of time into a syllabus. The syllabus is then fine turned to daily lesson plans.

So back to those textbooks. At what point can teachers balance the creation of a thoughtful curriculum with a textbook that provides an answer key? In the best-case scenario, the chosen standard, the goals of the course, and the textbook align. However, textbooks are only one tool in the teachers’ toolbox that will assist him to help the students reach the goals of the course.

I am not saying “throw out the textbook.” In our course, Curriculum Design, we learn about curriculum development in a variety of contexts. Although we know that it is difficult, we aim for informed teachers to find that near-perfect balance of goals, materials, student needs, methods, and assessment.

If you thought teaching was just a matter of opening to page 24? Think again. But that is what LCC’s MA TESOL master’s degree is all about: developing well-informed teachers who can purposefully negotiate the curriculum making significant decisions in their unique contexts.

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

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