Planning for success with the GSE

Pearson Languages
University students sat in a classroom at desks with a teacher speaking to them

The Global Scale of English (GSE) is the first truly global English language standard.

It consists of a detailed scale of language ability and learning objectives, forming the foundations of our courses and assessments at Pearson English.

The GSE was developed based on research involving over 6000 language teachers worldwide. The objective was to extend the current CEFR descriptor sets to enable the measurement of progression within a CEFR level – and also to address the learning needs of a wider group of students.

It can be used in conjunction with a current school curriculum and allows teachers to accurately measure their learners’ progress in all four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

GSE was introduced at the American Language Institute – an English language school run by the University of Toledo in Ohio, USA – with impressive results.

The American Language Institute

The Institute provides English courses for students who want to improve their English and prepares students to take the International Student English exam. They offer an intensive language program consisting of 20 hours of classes every week and 40 hours of self-study. This 60-hour week is designed to fast-track students from a lower level of English to a standard which allows them to participate successfully in college courses. There are five course levels offered, from A2+ to B2+ and class sizes average at around 10 students.

Most students at the Institute are full-time international students planning to attend the University of Toledo once their English language proficiency reaches the required standard. On average, they are between 18 and 20 years old, and enter the language program with a B1 level of English.

A mission statement

At the Institute, the main aim of the language courses is to help students develop their English skills to a level that will allow them to integrate successfully into the university community, not just academically but socially. In their own words; “Our ultimate goal isn’t to teach them how to take and pass language tests, but to teach them how to use English and engage themselves with the local communities.”

So how did the GSE, in conjunction with the Versant test and other Pearson products, help to achieve this goal?

Transitioning to a objectives-based curriculum

First, the course coordinator Dr Ting Li adopted the GSE for a more detailed approach to the CEFR. She found that the GSE “made the CEFR more manageable because it broke out the levels and outlined CEFR goals into different categories.”

Next, she replaced the current course materials with NorthStar Speaking & Listening, NorthStar Reading & Writing, and Focus on Grammar. These courses covered the areas taught in the previous curriculum, as well as the three key areas of study; literacy, speaking and listening, and grammar.

The instructors also began using Pearson English Connect, a digital platform for teachers and students.This gave them the flexibility to revise questions and reduce administrative burden due to the automatic grading feature.

Finally, the Institute started using the Versant English placement test to decide which level students should enter when they first begin studying at the Institute.

Key findings from the case study

The new curriculum was a great success. Students, teachers and administrators all found that the courses and assessments, all underpinned by the GSE, made the language learning experience smoother and easier. Once students had completed the highest level of the course and achieved a 3.0 GPA, they were able to transition smoothly into their courses at the University of Toledo.

The alignment between the NorthStar courses, the grammar study books and the Versant test was informed by the GSE. This meant students didn’t have to sit as many assessments as before, reducing time teachers had to spend setting and marking exams, and allowing them to focus more on supporting learners and the quality of their lessons.

Dr Li highlighted the following key benefits:

  • The Global Scale of English supports the development of a standardized curriculum and a consistent framework for teaching English
  • The average student GPA was highly related to the University of Toledo’s undergraduate GPA, which indicates that if students do well at the Institute, they will have a successful academic career. 
  • There was no group difference between graduates of the Institute and the average University of Toledo student GPA, which indicates that the Institute’s students perform as well as other international students who have been directly admitted to the university. 
  • There was no difference between credits earned 2 years into the university program compared with the general student population.

What’s more, the Institute was recently recognized by the Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA), meaning that the course run by Dr Li is now nationally recognized. Using the GSE to inform the organization of the course curriculum made the accreditation process smoother and easier.

Working as a team

One of the main pieces of feedback from Dr Li and the Institute was how helpful they found the Pearson representatives, who offered excellent customer support, building a sense of a team between their representatives and the school. This very teamwork helped the Institute to fulfill the ambition in their mission statement. It makes for an inspiring story of how one school used the GSE to transform their curriculum, and achieved their goal of helping students to improve their English and achieve their academic ambitions.  

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