Building a curriculum for young learners

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A curriculum is vital in any educational institution. It guides teachers in their daily work in class and standardises teaching by focusing on the objectives and goals every school needs to achieve.

A curriculum has a broad scope: it not only considers what students need to learn, but also their previous knowledge; content in course books;, assessment tools; and  abilities according to nationalities or backgrounds. For example, Asian students tend to find speaking English more challenging than European students for a variety of linguistic and cultural reasons.

English language teachers of young learners face specific challenges around planning and delivering lessons for their students. For example, it is essential to engage students with fun learning. Other factors to consider include: teaching mixed ability classes; classroom management; and coping with the syllabus. For example, there are often time constraints on completing an entire course book, meaning that teachers sometimes have to rush and feel that students are not necessarily mastering the information – which then results in gaps in their learning. So how can teachers overcome these challenges?

Building a personalised curriculum for young learners

Taking all of this into consideration, teachers and coordinators need to work together to build a curriculum. Unfortunately, a curriculum is usually built around a course book and the key goal is to pass an exam, which then has a washback effect on the language that is taught. Are we teaching learners to speak English or to pass exams? Ideally, a curriculum should be built based on students’ needs and, at the end of the day, it is the teacher who is in the classroom in front of the learners and is best placed to say what their learners need from a course.

I call a personalised curriculum a ‘background-based curriculum’, and I find this helps teachers to challenge students by including additional activities that meet their needs instead of simply using the materials from course book. What students learn in class has to be relevant to them. An English class has to be lively, challenging and engaging – so the curriculum has to reflect this. Of course, building our own curriculum can be time-consuming and there are some teachers who may lack the confidence to build one.  However, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and the result is the opportunity to create engaging lessons for our students.

If we go deeper into this topic, we also need to consider that in some countries, such as Peru and Argentina, new legislation says we must include those with special needs in the same classes as those without. Can a course book work in this scenario? No, and this is one of the main reasons why building our own curriculum for young learners is a must.

Time spent on exam preparation doesn’t necessarily need to be considered at this stage. Young learners have to firstly understand language, produce it, manipulate it, feel confident using it – then exams will follow.

Nowadays, we have a number of free resources to help us with building a curriculum for young learners. One such resource are the Global Scale of English (GSE) Learning Objectives for Young Learners, which provide ready-made learning objectives to benchmark our learners’ progress against. At the very beginning of the language learning journey, our learners will have very little language and it will be impossible – and unnecessary – for them to take formal assessments. The GSE Learning Objectives, however, describe language functions in a granular way, enabling educators to give their learners credit for small achievements. They also clearly show the language functions to target next in order to take learners to the next level.

Have you used the GSE Learning Objectives for Young Learners to build your curriculum? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below…

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