The landscape of ESL teaching has changed dramatically over the past 5 years or so, and Smrt is in the forefront of this exciting change in the way students are learning.
The following document will clearly lay out the theoretical foundations of the Smrt curriculum, discussing elements of classroom teaching and the rationale of mixing traditional teacher-student instruction with a technologically blended form of classroom learning.
The Smrt curriculum currently in place at CCEL comprises the following levels:
- ENG 110 (equivalent to Beginners, CEFR A1 (see appendix below))
- ENG 115 (Low-Intermediate, A2)
- ENG 120 (Intermediate, B1)
- ENG 125 (Upper-Intermediate, B2)
- ENG 130 (Advanced, C1)
- ENG 140 (EAP, B2-C1)
- ENG 145 (EAP, C1+)
The content of each level is consistent throughout the curriculum so that students move seamlessly from one level to the next. Examples of content are:
- Media: TED talks, YouTube video clips, news clips from varied sources, audio clips featuring a selection of accents
- Unit structure: grammar with targeted exercises, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary, media
- Tasks: Cloze exercises, sentence transformation, vocabulary extension, listening comprehension, note-taking, discussions, task-solving
- Classroom practice: teacher-student interaction, student-student interaction, individual work, pair work, small groups, peer correction
The learning and teaching approach enabled by Smrt is informed by many of the principles derived from a sociocultural approach to language learning, including recognising the importance of context, interaction and dialogue in the teaching process, scaffolding learning, and mediation of language and culture. An underlying principle is that ‘language and culture learning is considered to be a fundamentally collaborative process whereby socially formed knowledge and skills are transformed into individual abilities.’ (Hall 2012, p.48) Incorporating this perspective in classroom practice results in the teaching approach commonly known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) (Savignon 1991) . This developed as a reaction to cognitive approaches that frame language learning as a mechanistic process of acquiring linguistic structures. The focus moved away from repetition and substitution drills to a realisation that students needed to be able to produce meaningful utterances that were relevant to their everyday situation. The goal is to enable students to make meaning, as opposed to scoring well on tests of discrete grammatical knowledge (Savignon 1991).
Two of the important elements of this approach that relate to Smrt are collaborative learning and the fact that Smrt is responsive to the needs of the students.
Smrt was designed to encourage students to work together (in pairs and/or small groups) as a way of using the target language in a real and meaningful way. This can be seen in every unit of every level where students work together on practice activities focusing on correct usage of the target grammar structure, for example, and then move on to production activities based on Smrt-provided situations. During these activities, the teacher’s role is often that of a prompter and/or resource (Harmer 2007), and the aim is the successful scaffolding of learning. Within the classroom scaffolding is the process by which the teacher guides and supports the student within the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky 1994), to master the skills which they would have been unable to without guidance. Scaffolding is here a process of simplifying, directing, marking task-critical features, controlling frustration, and demonstrating. (Wood et al. 1976) This allows the students to develop learner autonomy, something which is central to the theory of CLT.
Scaffolding can, and should, be both designed-in to the curriculum at the course design and learning materials level, and performed by the teacher in the classroom, dependent on students’ needs at that moment. Thus a distinction can be made between macro-level scaffolding and micro-level scaffolding, between the teacher’s ability to ‘plan, select and sequence tasks’ that take account of different student needs, and their ability to take advantage of the ‘teachable moment’, the contingent situation in the classroom (Hammond and Gibbons 2005, pp. 10-11). Smrt offers the facility to do this.
Participation - student/student and student/teacher – is enabled through verbal and textual collaboration on shared documents. For example, students can peer-edit each other’s written work via Google docs, either in the classroom or as off-site self study. Within each unit the material is organised in a non-linear fashion which allows teachers to select and plan lessons which best meet the students’ needs and gives students the opportunity to work on areas of interest outside the classroom, thus increasing motivation for learning through greater student autonomy.
The teacher’s role is to enable the process of mediation of culture and language by which students are able to internalise knowledge and skills: ‘this process involves the cognitive and linguistic socialisation of students as they are initiated by their teachers into ... educational discourse’ (Hammond and Gibbons 2005, p.8). Mediation is also enabled by tools or mediating artefacts, such as technologies (Motteram and Sharma 2009).
Responsive to the needs of the student – digital literacy
Language use and technology use are increasingly inseparable, resulting in the need for language teachers to develop digital literacy skills in their students. The motivating factor in English language learning is the desire and necessity to use web-based digital tools in future academic and professional careers, and for social purposes. Thus the normalisation of technology in the classroom reflects normalisation in the students’ lives. Technology provides a connection to the real world outside the classroom walls which contextualises language use (Motteram and Sharma 2009). Smrt embodies a method of blended learning that combines face-to-face interaction with the teacher in the classroom and online content; thus technology is both integrated into tasks and embedded in the classroom. Digital tools support the mediation of language and culture.
Smrt is extremely flexible and allows the students to work at their own speed in the classroom setting. Teachers can monitor the classroom situation and adjust the pace instantly to maximise the learning experience for all the students. This could take the form of extra activities or research opportunities for a writing assignment, for example, or allowing faster students to access finer grammatical points through the teacher’s blog. This allows the students to develop their competencies to a deeper level. The combination of face-to-face and online material gives the teacher the facility to use the medium most appropriate for the students’ needs and match the delivery to the activity (Motteram and Sharma 2009). Classroom time can be used for developing fluency and teacher clarification of ‘fuzzy’ areas such as grammar, whereas student self-study can concentrate on ‘crisp’ areas, such as acquiring vocabulary via an interactive website that can give a clear yes/no answer, and for pre-class reading activities. This is an invaluable aid for both students and teachers in providing a full-service learning environment.
Smrt contextualises language in a meaningful way: a huge amount of real-life input, from listening activities on demand from the internet, to immediate reading material from live websites such as news sources. The students live in a connected environment and learning through using these same resources has an immediate and relevant connection to their everyday lives. Smrt mediates access to web- based materials for learners in non-English speaking countries, thus scaffolding their encounters through careful selection of appropriate material combined with related tasks and activities to enable learning. The affordances of technology facilitate a curriculum experience that is collaborative and communicative.
Smrt is forward moving and progress-oriented. Krashen’s Input Hypothesis (i+1) (Krashen 1982) encourages students to continually challenge themselves and others to develop their communicative competence, and Smrt promotes this in a safe, team environment. Smrt builds the students’ competence level by level and leads the students from using language for concrete purposes (such as describing habits and routines at ENG 110 level) to contemplation and expression of abstract ideas and concepts (such as speculating and hypothesising about causes at ENG 130 level). (See appendix for full list of indicative functions.) The system incorporates both weekly and monthly tests. The weekly tests are formative and are specifically written to assess the students’ understanding of that week’s grammar, vocabulary and functions. These provide students and teachers with clear feedback on what has and has not been understood and internalised. In turn, this allows teachers to focus on those aspects of that week’s lessons that need to be looked at again. The monthly tests are summative and, as well as giving an accurate assessment of the individual student’s level which assists in ascertaining if s/he should move to a different class level, can also be used for monthly reports (as required by some government agencies). Tests give students, especially at higher levels, experience of questions types they are likely to encounter in internationally recognised language testing systems. Testing, however, also includes qualitative evaluation of written and oral expression thus providing an holistic evaluation of progress.
Attending to communicative competences gives a principled basis for decisions about what to include in a curriculum (Hall 2012, p.117). Developing communicative language competence is key to Smrt and to a student’s progress. This can be divided into four dimensions: linguistic, textual, socio-cultural and functional. Furthermore, strategic competence is regarded as an overarching competence which ‘manages the integration and application of all the other language competence components to the specific context and situation of language use’ (Pawlikowska - Smith 2002, p.6).
Linguistic competence comprises lexical, phonological and syntactical knowledge and skills - in other words, things to do with forming and producing utterances, knowing the words and the rules. These are of vital importance to students as they progress in their studies, and this is specifically targeted by Smrt. Vocabulary building activities, grammatical structure practice, sentence transformation, pronunciation practice all feature at every level of Smrt.
This develops how students manage both written and spoken discourse, for example the use of cohesive devices, coherence, discourse markers, conversational gambits etc., especially in longer stretches of discourse or text. There is increasing emphasis on this at higher levels.
This deals with how students use language in specific situations and the sociocultural aspects of this use. Included are rules of politeness; sensitivity to register, dialect or variety; norms of stylistic appropriateness; sensitivity to "naturalness"; knowledge of idioms and figurative language; knowledge of culture, custom and institutions; knowledge of cultural references; and uses of language through interactional skills to establish and maintain social relationships. These are featured from the very beginning of Smrt 110, where students learn appropriate ways to meet and greet, through Smrt 130 where more emphasis is placed on the appropriateness of academic and formal use of language. Throughout the program, this is achieved via role play situations, video clips, reading and writing activities.
Functional use concerns the language resources available to the students and how learners use certain aspects of language to accomplish specific functions in life, such as requesting, offering, inviting, etc. These are progressively introduced in Smrt, working towards competency by the time students have moved through all the levels. In short, Smrt brings all of these together in what has been called strategic competence whereby teacher and students work towards assessing their communication abilities and repairing any actual difficulties and/or breakdowns in the students’ communication, leading to improved effectiveness of language functionality.
Hall, J.K. (2012) Teaching and Researching Language and Culture, (2nd edition), Harlow, Pearson Longman
Hammond, J. and Gibbons, P. (2005) ‘Putting scaffolding to work: the contribution of scaffolding in articulating ESL education’, Prospect, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 6–30.
Harmer, J. (2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching (4th edition), Harlow, Longman
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and practices in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon
Motteram, G. and Sharma, P. (2009) ‘Blending learning in a Web 2.0 world’, International Journal of Emerging Technologies & Society, vol.7, no .2, pp. 83–96
Pawlikowska - Smith, G. (2002) Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000: Theoretical Framework. Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks
Savignon, S.J. (1991) ‘Communicative Language Teaching: State of the Art’ TESOL Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 261-277
Vygotsky, L.S. (1994) ‘Interaction between learning and development’ in Stierer, B. and Maybin, J., (eds) Language, Literacy and Learning in Educational Practice, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters Limited.
Wood, D., Bruner, J.S. and Ross, G. (1976) ‘The role of tutoring in problem solving’, Journal of Child Psychology, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 89–100
Appendix to Smrt curriculum theory document
Smrt levels mapped against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Link
English Equivalency Table
||A1 - A2
||3.0 - 3.5
||A2 - B1
||4.0 - 4.5
||32 - 41
||B1 - B2
||5.0 - 5.5
||42 - 59
||B2 - C1
||5.5 - 6.0
||60 - 78
||B2 - C1
||5.5 - 6.0
||60 - 78
||6.0 - 6.5 +
||79 - 95 +