Bridging curriculum gaps at Sacred Heart University using the GSE

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Bridging curriculum gaps

Sacred Heart University in New England has a diverse student population, with undergraduate and graduate students from over 40 countries. The University’s English Language Institute (ELI) offers high quality English Language instruction to non-native speaker students. The program helps learners to improve their English levels and become accustomed to US culture. Crucially, it also recognizes the students’ individual language learning needs and cultural backgrounds.

The Institute’s mission is to help its students fulfil their personal, academic and professional potential. One way in which the University wanted to help their students realize their potential through improving their English language skills, was by adopting the Global Scale of English (GSE).

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Curriculum challenges

Alla Schlate, the Academic Director of ELI, found that curriculum development was problematic:

“I had all these different books, but when I tried to put the curriculum together and gear it towards different students, I had a lot of mismatched gaps that are very difficult both for students to comprehend and for teachers to cover,” Schlate says. 

The diversity of the students’ multi-level backgrounds required a constant hands-on approach to customize the course to meet individual student needs. Even though it was clear that the current course content was not a good match, too many new course offerings required detailed curriculum revision, which would trigger an accreditation review by The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA)

These curriculum development challenges were further compounded by the staffing system at ELI. Often in language institutes attached to universities, many of the professors are part time affiliate staff with different training backgrounds. While a new program would solve many problems for students, it would be difficult to create both the time and appropriate staff incentives to allow for additional professional development. 

The final mountain to climb lay in the State curriculum objectives of the program, which were vague and difficult to measure. That meant teachers struggled to adjust their syllabi for new students entering their classes. 

How the GSE transformed the curriculum 

Sacred Heart University

Ms. Schlate knew she had a world-class program at Sacred Heart University. But the challenge was to deliver that consistently, with an ever-evolving curriculum and affiliate staff. So she decided to adopt the GSE as a way of solving her curriculum challenges. It would allow teachers to select content that suited the learning needs of their individual students in a cohesive and measurable way, thus lessening the Institution’s concern about gaps or levelling because of the nature of the GSE.

“Because the GSE is coordinated and correlated with the CEFR, and most of the books we’ve been using so far have been based on this approach, that makes it much easier for the teachers to see which level their students are – and to know where they’re hoping to be,” she says.

Introducing teachers to the GSE 

Bridging curriculum gaps at Sacred Heart University

Ms. Schlate was apprehensive about introducing a new system at ELI. “I introduced the GSE to the department very carefully, anticipating some resistance from the teachers,” she says. “We identified the major difficult areas, and then I created a curriculum handbook.” 

However, she needn’t have worried. The staff quickly realized the benefits of the GSE. Elizabeth McDonald, an adjunct professor, commented:

“If anyone is thinking of using the GSE and maybe wondering if it’s going to create more work for them, it’ll actually create less work because it’ll create a real system to help all your teachers understand what the progression is across skills and across levels.”

“It helps us teach because we know what we have to assess, what our targets are, what we’re aiming for, and it’s really nice. I had never ever seen an ESL program do that before and do it so systematically.”

Ms. Schlate found that the GSE empowered staff to feel more confident. And not just in their own jobs, but also when assisting colleagues with class cover. 

As Ms. McDonald says, “Once I saw it all laid out and mapped out it made so much sense. So much so that I could even walk into differently levelled classes that I don’t normally teach and feel perfectly fine. The GSE is the backbone: Everything is clear and transparent across different levels about what the goals are, what the students can hope to achieve.”

What’s more, the students were happy with the changes too.

“Everybody likes predictability and continuity,” Ms. Schlate says. “So students see from, term to term, that these are the objectives and these are the outcomes that they need to achieve, which gives them a sense of empowerment and ownership.” 

The GSE and accreditation

The implementation of the GSE into ELI’s curriculum wasn’t just popular with the teachers and students. It was also a big success as far as CEA accreditation was considered. 

The Institute not only met, but actually surpassed the requirements. While most CEA accredited institutions receive a three or six year status, ELI was accredited for nine years – three years longer than the usual accreditation. The CEA team were impressed with the thoroughness of the institute’s approach to curriculum design, which was all down to the hard work of the teaching staff in implementing the GSE as a successful teaching tool. 

Elizabeth McDonald puts the success of the Institute down to their skillful use of the GSE. “I think it’s a real advantage that the Institute has and the reason why they’ve been so successful in attracting students here to this program,” she says.  

Further reading

For further information about the Global Scale of English, visit our webpage where you’ll find lots of information on using the GSE, the GSE Teacher Toolkit, assessment and learning objectives

If you want to learn more about curriculum review and auditing with the GSE, check out the following resources: 

Discover all our case studies for more insight into how the GSE works within institutions. 

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