These goals had been previously addressed via our four-skills-based Integrated English Program with, of course, an emphasis on communication / speaking. We had had a functional situation syllabus for quite a long time when the administration decided they wanted to institute a Pre-1 Eiken test goal. We looked at our program and we said, Students have to achieve this goal to move to their third year. Is our existing program going to give them what they need to do that? And we realized the answer was no.
We had maybe six months to develop an alternative for 60 classes over two years, to get students from an A-2 level to an Eiken Pre-1 which is around a B-1 plus. That's quite a leap.
Analyzing What We Need
Now, for Eiken Pre-1 the language ability required includes:
- general academic skills
- narrative and descriptive skills
- opinion stating and discussion skills
(The above was adapted from Oberg, 2009)
However, we did not want to create a curriculum that was aimed at a specific test – or teach to that test. So, we looked at the skills required to pass the test – and a lot of these skills are useful skills –and we added additional skills such as presentation skills. Skills that would be useful when our students go out in the world. And we would still meet the university's test requirements. In addition, we really wanted students to come away being able to talk about subjects like the environment, gender, human migration and other global topics. That was our starting point.
Matching Skills and Can-Do Descriptors
Having defined the necessary skills, we now needed to develop the curriculum. Luckily, we had been involved with evaluating GSE Can-Do descriptors – understanding where a particular descriptor lies in terms of difficulty or level. We had also looked at case studies where the GSE had been used to help develop curricula. We realized that the set of skills we wanted students to learn could be matched up with a relevant set of Can-Do descriptors. Given the level of our students and their goals, this meant descriptors ranging from A2 to B1+.
If you're not familiar with Can-Do descriptors, typical ones would be as follows:
- Can tell a story or describe something in a simple list of points.
- Can get information from a tourist office of a straight-forward non-specialized nature
- Can initiate, maintain and close simple, restricted face-to-face discussions
- Can give simple instructions to complete a basic task, given a model
- Can leave simple phone messages using fixed expressions
There are a lot of descriptors. It's impossible to do them all. So it requires a teacher's sensitivity, knowledge and experience to choose the appropriate descriptors for their curriculum and their students. You can download GSE CAN-DO descriptor lists from here. It's pick and mix – but it's this process of adapting the GSE which is really empowering for teachers and which shows its usefulness and flexibility.
Below is a list of some of the descriptors for our Integrated English Program.
Map of IE Language Learning Objectives