Course Design Specifications in Tertiary Education

Subject: Education
Pages: 30
Words: 8159
Reading time:
30 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Literature overview

Literature review of English courses in the tertiary education in first place concerns the analysis of research devoted to the role of English for specific purposes, issues of curriculum development including its definition and objectives, approaches, types, underlying methodology and components of syllabus design and finally the literature relating to skills development which contains such issues as academic reading, writing, speaking, listening, developing grammar and vocabulary. Moreover, this literature review specifically includes such issues presented in the literature as students’ assessment methodology and the models of cultural teaching. These issues are very crucial given current changes in society and the system of education. In sum, the discussion of literature and available up-to-date research of these topics will provide us with a comprehensive overview of current scientific processes in English courses development in tertiary education.

Before we proceed to the analysis of English course development it is important to assess the notion and the role of English for Specific Purposes as it is reflected in the research and literature in the field.

As Singh (2005) argues, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is a concept that tailors English courses for the development of specific academic and professional skills necessary for the success of the students. The basic issues taken into account are the identity of the English learners, their linguistic backgrounds and the level of language competence, their goals, purposes and expectations, which skills are needed in terms of their present/future job and other circumstances. Thus, unlike basic secondary or primary education where English course development address the issues of standardized and obligatory education, English for Specific Purposes centers on need approaches and is more flexible.

Curriculum development and syllabus design

The development of an adequate curriculum and designing syllabus for English for Specific Purposes students in first place presupposes analysis of basic concepts and approaches to syllabus and curriculum design which are the main components of effective organization English course. Thus, before discussing the literature and approaches to English courses constitution we must pay attention to general methodology of syllabus and curriculum development in secondary and tertiary education.

As Ellis (2003) suggests in the existing literature on English education the notions of curriculum and syllabus are often utilized interchangeably and sometimes in a differentiated manner and more often misused and poorly understood. Thus, curriculum development and syllabus design cause misinterpretations between theoreticians and practitioners. These problems are in part caused by recent changes of curriculum perception. Thus, the term curriculum is currently used in two main senses. First it refers to the essence and substance of the programs of studies of educational institution or system. Therefore, we can refer to school curriculum, university curriculums or for instance the curriculum of Soviet system of education.

If taken in more restricted sense it means the same as ‘syllabus’ i.e. the course and material content of a certain subject presented in the educational process.

Douglas (2000) a prominent researcher of English for Specific Purposes argues that recently “curriculum” is usually referred to as not only a subject matter but as the whole instructional process comprising equipment, various materials, exams and teachers’ training – in sum all pedagogical activities and measures tied with schooling and substance of course studies (p. 434).

As Stevens & Mcguinn (2004) suggest, notwithstanding the crucial role that syllabus plays in organization of current process of education the research into this issue can not be regarded as being sufficient for practitioners, educators and other stakeholders. Various research propose considerably similar understanding of syllabus role and function in the educational process but nevertheless there exist several distinctions between different approaches to syllabus design in the English for Specific Purposes education that must be addressed in our literature overview.

According to Littlefield (1999) syllabus in the tertiary education has seven purposes. First of all, it is aimed to set the parameters and tone of the course, give motivation to students, set and realize adequate goals during the process of education, serves as a planning instrument for faculty, give structure for students’ work, help meet course goals in a good and timely manner, play the role of contract between students and faculty through coordination of educational entity’s ‘services’ and students’ course responsibilities, and represent a portfolio tool for promotion, job applications and tenure.

According to Slattery (2003) it is necessary that tertiary students in English courses read and discuss syllabus at the starting meeting of the course. Its discussion helps set motivation for students and orients them for necessary activities during the course. It is always interesting and thrilling for the students to overview the whole contours of their future activities. Furthermore the discussion of syllabus with students is a good possibility for the teacher to set the tone of their meetings and to get primary impression on students’ background and capabilities. The form of syllabus may differ depending on the nature of the course it refers to. If the course presents strictly theoretical material the tone of syllabus narration is generally formal. For the English courses, as such authors as Coombe, C. & Barlow, L. (2004) Douglas-Brown, H. (2003) and others claim, the most relevant style of narration must be set in friendly fashion which is the main means of encouraging and motivating students for their future work in the class. It is a proactive approach that helps not only to prevent problems but stimulate positive educational outcomes. If the information presented in syllabus is delivered in a friendly manner the students are more likely to form positive attitudes to the English course and realize its importance. If formal syllabus is presented to the students they are likely to think that they would not be successful in this particular course which in turn may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As Costa et al. (2005) suggests that the main element of syllabus is its structure which is crucial both for faculty and students since it may be regarded as a cognitive map for realizing students’ responsibilities, the scope and orientation of activities both in spatial and temporal dimensions. It includes the dates for writing papers, examinations and readings and various other assignments which help faculty define what educational services they must perform and provide students with opportunity for planning their study in the view of achieving positive grades. Syllabus thus may be used by those English Language Learners who have work and family demands to plan their limited time, which is specifically important in the tertiary education. A good syllabus in tertiary education is helpful not only for the students but for the faculty staff and professors as well for it helps outline and follow specific educational philosophy and methodology.

Singh (2005) in his analysis claims that a methodology that may be used in the syllabus design depends on many interdependent factors. The first concerns the type of English course presented for the students. The emphasis on studying English for Specific Purposes Presupposes is conditioned by the basic knowledge of English which allows them to further gain proficiency in the specific spheres such as technical, scientific, literary English etc. The choice of methodology also depends on students’ current capabilities and educational background. If the knowledge of their basic specialty is sufficient faculty can attract teachers who are both good specialists in English and major subjects that students study. This is very important for realizing the task of connecting the process of studying language with getting professional level in a given field of science or practical activities.

The methodology implemented in a syllabus design according to Singh (2005) may further refer to the place given to different types of in-class activities. It may be lectures-oriented if the general purpose of a course is realized in the facultative way or be more communicative which means more seminars, round-tables and discussions. An important element of syllabus methodology is assessment system which configures the process of educational material assimilation, correcting students’ errors and evaluating their performance. Without a viable system of assessment successful course is impossible since if it is not relevant the students are poorly motivated. The analysis of assessment methodology will be presented later. It must be noted that there exist several approaches to the length of material presented in the syllabus.

As Gross (1993) suggests good syllabus must be definitely detailed. In the first place it reduces students’ uncertainty and anxiety and makes him familiar with course available resources and future perspectives. In general English course are likely to pass more effectively and smoothly if the syllabus structure is well-outlined. Furthermore, it avoids the risk of constantly changing deadlines which places disorder in the centre of educational process. Efficient syllabi includes ways of contacting and communicating with professors on the relevant to educational process issues, method for grading students’ performance, schedule of the course events. Other crucial elements of the syllabus include also the prerequisites for a course, various disclaimers and relevant bibliography. Besides this syllabus may contain various motivating statements that are necessary for successful students’ orientations.

As Slattery (2003) suggests course description provides various information on the course structure. The most wide-spread element of this section refers to the formal role of the course, its place and role in the educational process and relation to other courses in a given educational entity. Sometimes quotations may be used to orient the students to the course and positively excite them. For instance, Slattery (2003) proposes to use this interesting tactics in her “Techniques in Interviewing and Casework”. According to this author, the most effective words for articulating the goal of English course are ‘evaluate, create, analyze’ rather than passive words such as ‘understand, learn, recognize’. Various action words can be especially important when a course contains various groups of assignments and not only choice examination.

According to Coffman (2003) a syllabus should be designed in a way to ensure students’ taking right approach to the educational process. Their future activities must be based on the solid knowledge of syllabus’s instructions and ability to realize them properly in the view of achieving necessary grade. In this way students attain leadership over the process of learning. According to Coffman (2003) the section describing faculty expectations, which includes various assignments and readings and necessary means for assessing the progress of students. The majority of the students though sometimes not fully understand the goal of this section but they should in contrary have positive attitude to it since it presents a variety of ways by which faculty assesses students’ learning. This section is very important for all assignments given to students in class and home and must be tied with concrete course goals. If opposite is the case the students are likely to misinterpret or simply do not understand the objectives and necessity of specific assignments. This is especially relevant for a course of English for Specific Purposes. English Language Learners should fully understand the interrelation of grammar, reading, comprehension, speaking exercises they do in terms how they meet the need of tertiary education. Thus, all assignments and exercises and their specific objectives must be presented in detail in course syllabus. Assignments given to the students which are not related to the course objectives may prove to be superfluous and unnecessary.

On the contrary, as Herrel and Jordan (2004) in their analysis of 50 strategies for teaching English language claim, every goal outlined in a course syllabus should be accompanied by unique group of assignments and exercises necessary for its realization. If opposite is the case than the objectives stated in the syllabus will prove to be just empty sound. Ideally, a syllabus for English for Specific Purposes must comprehensively cover all activities presented during the course. Of course, syllabus shouldn’t be regarded as the only way of communication and it is possible for faculty to share information in other ways, though hand-out is definitely the most compact and convenient way of organization of students’ study.

In literature generally 6 types of English teaching syllabi are presented and analyzed but usually they are the combination of 2-3 basic types most widely used among educators. In the tertiary education usually one type of syllabus dominates though other supplementary material may be used (Johnson, 2003). Sometimes the distinction between different types of syllabi is marginal and thus mainly concerns the instructional matters. Parkes & Harris (2002) propose following classification which is followed by the majority of researchers of syllabus types.

  1. A structural or formal syllabus. It usually contains the forms and various structures by large grammatical of concrete language that is taught. It includes various examples of exercises and also verbs, nouns, statements, adjectives, clauses etc.
  2. Functional/Notional syllabus. In this case the teaching process is presented in a functional way, which means that the structural elements of a course are presented as objectives in a wider context of English for Specific Purposes education.
  3. Situational Syllabus. The content of the teaching process places primary emphasis on the imaginary or real situation in which language occurs. The primary focus of situational syllabus is teaching directed at adapting students to using English in specific situations which occur in professional and day-to-day activities. This doesn’t mean that the course is reduced to mere situational approach to English study. On the contrary it is embedded in the comprehensive system which involves various instruments of language skills improvements.
  4. Skill-based approach to syllabus design. This type of syllabus focuses on developing relevant language skills such as vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation with coherent assignments and exercises including listening to language speakers for finding main idea, creating well-formed paragraphs, giving oral presentations etc. The general purpose of such syllabus is to develop language competence.
  5. Task-based syllabus. This approach was in depth elaborated by Nunan (2004) who outlined its main purposes, tools and ways of implementing in his book Task-based Language teaching. This approach presupposes fulfilling various tasks not directly connected with English study. The process of language learning is dependent on task realization and performance and language study occurs when it is needed for the performance of a given task. It is natural that this approach presupposes considerably high level of language education and can be used for studying language for specific purposes. The realization of a given task integrates language skills in a unique framework of language utilization. Task-based structure of syllabus thus differs significantly from situational approach which is aimed to teach already defined language tools occurring in various situations. Unlike situational approach the main emphasis here is given on using available language resources for realization of a given task. The students are required to use a variety of English forms, functional tools and their own skills in unpredictable and spontaneous manner to fulfill an individual or group task. The tasks may include such as application for a job, writing memos on a specific topic, speaking to a social worker, getting necessary information over a telephone etc.

Van der Branden (2006) claims that for the successful realization of a task-based approach more emphasis must be placed on theory elaboration. The theory should be based on comparative analysis of task-based syllabuses used in different educational institutions as well as the analysis of task-based courses with English courses based on other approaches to syllabus development. This according to the author helps evaluate the comparative advantages of a given approach to syllabus design in terms of course effectiveness in learning English for Specific Purposes. Van der Branden (2006) also proposes to evaluate various tactics of approaches’ combinations and interrelation in order to create comprehensive integral models. It is important to note though that all theoretical findings should be probed in practical settings in order to correct wrong assumptions and improve syllabus structure. Thus, the important unity between theory and practice is postulated.

  1. Content-based syllabus. The thing is that students are simultaneously English Language Learners and future specialists in a given field. Thus, according to this approach language learning has to go in line with major specialty. The subject matter is regarded as primary and language study is incidental to the content education. The content education is not organized around language teachers but on the contrary. The teaching is based on content focuses on information unlike task-based approaches which pay more attention to communication and cognitive practices. As an example of content-based approach to syllabus design one should mention the scientific course studied in language students want to master.

The actual process of syllabus design should draw on abovementioned methodology which is the most relevant in the modern tertiary education. Current educational standards allow educators and teachers to freely choose among various methods and combine them in the view of meeting the goals of the English course.

Curriculum development should be based on the syllabus elaborated and represent the time frame of its objectives realization. Various researchers into the issue of syllabus design provide practitioners with valuable guidelines for syllabus construction. Some of them are outlined in our literature review. Scrivener, J (2005) for instance proposes the following guidelines:

  1. It is necessary to determine what outcomes and results are relevant and desired for the students in the outline of instructional problem. It is crucial to define what activities the students should perform during English course.
  2. Determine what syllabus methods and approaches are the most relevant in terms of achieving course goals and provide their rankings and analysis. All approaches must be measured in terms of their coherence for the students with certain cultural, educational, professional background.
  3. Assess available educational and administrative resources through scientific expertise. The resources evaluated should be related to teaching methods, needs analysis, choice of study materials and techniques for teachers’ training.
  4. After comprehensive analysis of available resources it is needed to determine what type of syllabus design is the most affordable under certain educational conditions. The available resources then should be distributed according to the syllabus’ structure.
  5. Analyze information available and make necessary corrections in the view of effective allocation of the existing resources and overcoming resource constraints.
  6. Make corrections to the syllabus structure taking into consideration students’ and teachers’ information. Integrate these changes in the comprehensive course syllabus.
  7. The final stage of syllabus design presupposes final ranking paying attention to all the information produced during the earlier stages.
  8. Define one or more syllabus designs as dominant and several as secondary. This would allow you to take easy and reasonable actions.
  9. Determining necessary combination of syllabus structure and translating taken decisions into actual teaching materials and units.

As Woodward (2002) in his analysis of planning methods for lessons and courses argues, all necessary limitations and factors that may possibly affect teachability of a designed syllabus must be taken into consideration. By examining each syllabus model, tailoring necessary choice and integrating different types in the view of meeting local needs one would possibly find the decisions for the difficult task of creating viable syllabus for English for Specific Purposes.

According to Richards (2001) new trends are obvious in the syllabus design for English Courses in the tertiary education. More emphasis is now put not on the product but on the process of language education which is considered to be the value in itself. These categories of syllabus sometimes are termed as process-oriented and are widely used in the modern tertiary education. According to Richards (2001) non-linguistic purposes of the course rapidly developed in the view of reaching the goal of comprehensive development of students’ personality and giving them right professional and life orientation. More emphasis now is put on the thinking methods, interpersonal relations, cultural differences and understanding.

Taking into considerations the fact that no of the existing types of syllabus taking separately is adequate for effective English for Specific Purpose education “decisions about a suitable syllabus framework for a [language] course reflect different priorities in teaching rather than absolute choices…. In most courses there will generally be a number of different syllabus strands, such as grammar linked to skills and texts, tasks linked to topics and functions, or skills linked to topics and texts” (Richards, 2001:164, italics original).

As Storey (2007) plainly puts it, the interconnection and combination of various types of syllabus shouldn’t be regarded as mechanical aggregation of different designs of syllabuses elements. Rather, it must be regarded as a matter of choice of various priorities. In current education the practice of using one type of a syllabus in the English for Specific Purposes programs is rather rare. More often educators choose to utilize multisyllabus approaches. Two ways are possible and currently the most wide-spread for designing such kind of multisyllabus. The first one is combining the elements of popular syllabuses. Secondly, different types of syllabuses may be adopted for different stages of a course or a program. As Richards (2001, p. 164) notes, for instance syllabus may be organized in a grammatical way at the first stage and afterwards the grammatical section is presented in a functional way. Or take another situation when the first stage or level of organization is functional with grammar units and items chosen in line with grammatical needs of various functions.

McDonough and Shaw (2003) say that effectively structured and developed multi-syllabus approaches foster systematic development of 4 major English skills placing more emphasis on the pronunciation, various study skills and learning of a vocabulary, semi-authentic and authentic reading exercises, listening and developing language of spontaneous communication. It provides with organizational capabilities for effective teaching of English tense system through practices in core structures of grammar and other elements’ of language’s deeper levels. Moreover, it is considered to be more relevant for the students’ preparing for professional career and various hardships to meet in today’s world. This approach is effective for development of both functional reading skills and reading for pleasure and promotes selectivity in students’ vocabulary development which is particularly crucial in the tertiary English education. Due to placing emphasis on communicative skills it is also according to the abovementioned authors more relevant for improving students’ existing knowledge and skills, fostering their independence and developing their confidence and accuracy.

Current tendencies in the materials development

As Herrel and Jordan (2004) claim, not only the evolution of approaches to material development came about but the materials themselves which became more complex objects. If earlier the bulk of the courses used teacher’s and student’s book now there exist the whole set of various materials such as workbook, student’s books, teacher’s books, cassettes and CD-ROMs, test (evaluation) books, and books for reading (readers) etc.

The process of technical advancement led to the sophistication and development of ESL/EFL course books and what is the most crucial created wider division of those who develop materials and those who use them. The amount of time and resources needed for elaboration of modern learning materials filled with complex system of expertise is alienating teachers as possible material writers since they have no time for this in the teaching context. There is no denying the importance of the fact that those materials that teachers make for concrete local class purposes may be more relevant in terms of meeting the needs of the course’s syllabus but nevertheless current trends seem to go contrary to this view. Commercial and colorful textbooks are more often used by teachers who do not have abilities to provide students with such comprehensive materials. Teaching English for Specific Purposes thus needs more profound participation of teachers in materials elaboration because these courses are sometimes very sophisticated and tailored for the needs of students with unique background.

Johnson (2003) in his analysis of materials development argues that commercial materials are elaborated in a way to lessen teachers’ responsibilities in creating materials’ for the course work which may be positive in the case of standardized syllabuses and curriculums. Materials are considered to be the most relevant tools for spreading certain methodologies, aims, values in teaching English for Specific Purposes. Developing materials is a way of spreading certain cultural patterns and thus should be accurately measured with existing students’ backgrounds and cultural orientations. Cultural elements of materials should not be disturbing for the students and distract them from the main task of studying language. It is important to ensure that the material provided is not superfluous and unnecessary for achieving set tasks – a big flow of information can be sometimes harmful for the students.

Parkes & Harris (2002) in their analysis of syllabus purposes and approaches to its design claim that syllabus represents educational contract between learner and educational institution which takes responsibility for providing educational services embedded in definite structure of lectures, courses and seminars. According to this author the syllabus structure consists of its purpose and content. The purpose is creating formal process of giving and evaluating knowledge of the students in certain discipline. Depending on general educational tasks the content of syllabus varies much. It can be strictly designed to provide one-sided process of education by placing more emphasis on lectures or in contrary may put more attention to interpersonal communication through seminars, trainings and round-tables.

Curriculum development

Curriculum development

For Richards (2001) curriculum is “the range of planning and implementation processes involved in developing or renewing a curriculum” ( p.41). He defines these processes as focus on “needs analysis, situational analysis, planning learning outcomes, course organization, selecting and preparing teaching materials, providing for effective teaching and evaluation”. Richards’ understanding of the curriculum development may be presented in the following graph.

Storey, C. W. (2007) and Pinar (2003) in his International handbook of curriculum research provides comprehensive analysis of the current scholarly developments in curriculum development in the educational institutions all over the world. Much attention is paid to different approaches used in distinct educational systems and analysis of their outcomes for the English for Specific Purposes courses.

Costa et al (2005) in their analysis of curriculum development for English Language learners claim that the main purpose of current English tertiary education is to transform teacher education curriculum in the view of meeting the need to prepare better teachers and other educators to work with multicultural and linguistically diverse students. According to authors a successful English course should contain a syllabus with the reading needed for each session and the observation protocol which is to be utilized during observation activity in class. Syllabus must be comprehensive and describe all exercises, assessment instruments and include methodological components. Students should be fully aware of the course structure in order to assess their own abilities and do changes to their educational process accordingly.

Syllabus structures proposed by abovementioned authors include methodological innovations for education of bilingual students, such as more emphasis on speaking activities, which presupposes the extended participation in various seminars and round-tables. It is important to note that authors present a two-folded approach to syllabus design. If a group of English learners amounts to more than 10 students educators are advised to create general syllabus without differentiation for each student but engage in individual work with students in the course of studying. If a group is less than 10 students it is more relevant to tailor individual syllabus for each of them though designed in line with general syllabus. In the individual syllabus more attention must be paid to specific fields and areas of knowledge that need to be enhanced in the view of mastering English for a given student. Though this methodology requires more time consumption and analytical measures on the part of the teacher as authors nevertheless it can be regarded as a definite advantage in the English for Specific Purposes education. This approach to syllabus design for English in tertiary education delineate the objectives of the students, core knowledge and topics to study, reading material, various in-class and home assignments and assessment approaches to evaluate students’ performance.

Besides this according to the analysis of these authors efficient syllabus design must contain instructions for administrative workers of the faculty regarding organization of special course events like seminars, presentations, outclass meetings, conferences and round-tables. In this view an overall organization of the educational process is considered as the relevant element for success of English learners. The syllabus design according to this viable methodological perspective must be created not behind closed doors but through active communication of all stakeholders. The elaboration of the core knowledge priorities, creating the list of necessary literature to be acquainted with and agreeing on the best way of course presentation for the students must be regarded as an intrinsic part of course construction and by no means must be underestimated both by educators who perform organizational task and students who engage in studying under a syllabus. Noteworthy that the proposed systems of syllabus design creates possibility for smooth passage from one stage of course to another with guaranteeing good assimilation of educational material.

Unruh (1975) claims that the developing of curriculum for English speaking courses in the tertiary education must follow well-outlined methodological principles of logical coherence, meeting students’ educational purposes, creating rational system for improving language skills and providing framework for teacher-student communication through viable assessment system. The author comes forth with a systematic approach to curriculum development which presupposes the creation of complex system of interrelated English course components meeting specific purposes. Depending on the purposes of English course the interrelation between such elements of course as fostering writing, speaking and comprehension skills, vocabulary development can be changed in a harmonic manner in order to provide necessary framework for students’ success.

Hoover and Patton (2005) postulate the need to modify and differentiate curriculum and syllabus for English-language learners. These changes concern special education students and various English Language Learners (ELL) and other students having both learning and behavioral problems. These authors, thus, have elaborated comprehensive instructions and guidelines and curricular principals for educators working with English Language Learners with specific purposes. Hoover and Patton claim that the existing system of tests and exercises for ELLs is inappropriate and someway flawed because it fails to accurately assess the level of students’ progress in English. Authors claim that curriculum for this group of students must be constructed to address the issues of cultural and linguistic diversity and understand the necessity for differentiating syllabus. Among different factors that cause behavioral and educational problems for ELL students are sociolinguistic and cultural processes and backgrounds, the possible presence of a disability and various other combinations of these factors. Thus, according to the authors’ approach new syllabus and curricula strategies must deal with the issue of adapting educational conditions for creating appropriate conditions for these kinds of students. New strategies help articulate hidden students’ strength and reduce their weaknesses which are the main precondition for successful and efficient educational process in tertiary education.

Cultural curriculum development

Yan Xiao (2005) in his analysis of necessity of cultural curriculum development claims that global world and growing multicultural difference of those people that learn English for Specific Purposes must be addressed in English courses’ curriculums. The emphasis on culture though must be put depending on the circumstances and students’ background. This will determine the form of curriculum design.

Cultural development in English for Specific Purposes according to this author occurs through communication between teacher and students. By means of including cultural material in the process of learning and adapting it to the needs of learning English new cultural discourse is created. Yan Xiao (2005) describes the objectives of cultural teaching in terms of several skills developed in a English Learner.

  1. Culturally determined behavior and a sense of cultural tradition embedded in the process of learning.
  2. Interrelation of language and socially determined variables.
  3. Adequate behavior in commonly met situations.
  4. Cultural connotations and meaning of different words and phrases.
  5. Assessing statements concerning culture.
  6. studying another culture and cultivating respect for different cultural traditions and mindsets.
  7. Developing positive attitudes towards other societies.

Pang (2005) in his analysis of the multicultural education claims that the first thing to do for a teacher who wants to create necessary conditions for cultural teaching in English classes is getting to know of native speaker’s perspective. Teacher should find a permanent ground on which her/she relations with the students will rest which includes analysis of their views on different matters, their attitudes to different norms and traditions and even making insight into conflicting view that cause sometimes contradictions. It is crucial also to come to know more about geographical region or community a student comes from in order to understand his cultural background and orientations.

Dart (2003) proposes six facets of culture teaching in English courses in the tertiary education. The first one concerns the choice of place which would allow a learner to reduce a distance between cultures in the view of studying target language. Thus, is a curriculum or syllabus design certain country or geographic area must be considered as the main objects of interest. The second aspect is people with their values, traditions, attitudes, lifestyles and other socio-cultural characteristic which are crucial in the cultural education. If there is a possibility students should communicate with native speakers that would allow them to plunge into atmosphere of cultural relations. The third facet of culture teaching concerns people and society and general which cultivates in English Language Learners certain markers and skills which are necessary for identifying various social, cultural, professional situations and the ways for dealing with certain problems. To know how identify certain problems and their reasons is the main prerequisite of successful culture teaching in English courses in the tertiary education. The forth aspect concerns an important issue of history.

Students who have more knowledge of important historical events of the country, its historical benchmarks and tragedies are likely to be more emphatic to the culture of this country which means creating more inspiration for studying English. Moreover, the views and attitudes of native speakers should be also studies since it allows student to get a comprehensive picture of historical developments in certain country. The fifth important aspect of cultural teaching includes studying the structure of institutions of a given cultural entity such as the system of government, judicial and legislative system, educational system, social services and welfare, economic institutions, tourism, political parties, media including periodicals, television, radio etc. The institutional organization of society is very important to know in terms of genuine cultural education for they represent the societal fabric of society i.e. the systems which influence daily lives of different people. At last the six facet of effective culture teaching refers to literature, music and other major cultural achievements and requires English learners to get knowledge about various musicians, writers and their works as well as major cultural sites that are worth of mentioning. This category of knowledge is the most important since it is well documented fact that arts deeply affect students’ personal relation to a given culture or country.

Dart (2003) elaborated three basic stages cultural teaching for the English curriculum in the tertiary education. The first step referred to by Dart as ‘literature’ aims at creating positive relation of students to a given culture. The second concerns the analysis of this text in terms of achieving necessary language skills by implementing syllabus methodology. And finally the third stage relates to integrating cultural teaching with other important facets of learning process.

Thus according to the abovementioned author current education when the classrooms are composed of students originating from different cultural environment the earlier dominant tradition of giving uniform material is no longer adequate. Therefore English for Specific Purposes can’t be built on common teaching habits and conversational styles. Various differences in gender, religion, class, and ethnicity must be taken into attention to design a comprehensive and viable curriculum for English courses.

Assessment issues

The issues of assessment methodology in English tertiary education is an important tool for comprehensive English course construction and taking into consideration the abovementioned features of ESP various approaches to organization of assessment process are represented in the modern literature on the topic.

Douglas (2000) suggests the importance of alternative assessment for evaluating the efficiency of education at the tertiary level. It both includes the coordinated and well-organized collection of the learner’s works, exercises and special instruments for his self assessment. The basic feature of alternative assessment is personal participation of the student in the process of his performance appraisal which includes reflective and communicative approach to education. Syllabus and curriculum design for English thus must pay attention to this methodology, which offers creative and not traditional approaches to tertiary and specific education.

Douglas-Brown (2003) analyzes the difference between traditional and alternative assessment which according to the author is difficult to find in the pure form and more often they coexist in a kind of mixture. Among the instrument used for the alterative assessment this author points to ‘language portfolio’ which represents current student’s successes, weakness in a comprehensive way and orient educational process on satisfying his/her needs. The dissemination of these new forms of assessment in the English tertiary education is regarded by many authors as the positive signal for change.

According to Nunes (2004) five basic characteristics of ‘language portfolio’ are 1. the alternative for traditional approaches to testing; 2. represents comprehensive way for assessing students skills and knowledge; 3. maintains the validity of assessment; 4. presupposes student’s active participation in evaluation process; 5.helps develop students’ reflective capabilities. As Nunes (2004) states ‘language portfolio’ includes student’s records, best works and exercises and perspectives for future education. Also they may include the information with analyzed examples of his speaking, grammar, writing and other language skills and teacher instruction for improving student’s performance.

For instance, one of the most comprehensive portfolios for language learning is European Language Portfolio which includes language passport and language biography – language knowledge and various cultural experiences. This information is extremely important for educational and pedagogical purposes for it gives educator proper directions and orientation concerning aspirations, abilities and interests of the students.

As Nunes (2004) claims that there exist several reasons for learners’ engagement in the process of self-assessment. The first reason refers to so-called learner-centerdness, the second to self-evaluation and the third reason is that this engagement constitutes a major tool for the life-long language learning. Thus, according to Little ‘language portfolios’ can both save student’s time and provide him with necessary contours of his future work and outline those steps and efforts he/she must take to achieve the goals in English for Specific Purposes.

Besides evident advantages of ‘language portfolios’ acknowledged by many researchers some scientists such as McCabe (2004) for instance claims that portfolios have some drawbacks because they place supplementary time and attention pressures on teachers and students. Teachers have to spend additional time on developing strategies and materials, holding meetings with individual students and various small groups, creating reviews and giving comments on student work. Therefore, many consider ‘language portfolios’ to be a burden while quite worthy due to abovementioned advantages. Portfolio appraisals according to Coombe and Barlow (2004) are closely linked to instructional and curriculum processes since they help enhance the process of instruction individualization. Though as authors note without due reflection and analysis the portfolio are destined to be just paper loads not helpful in the educational process. As Nunes (2004) for instance notes the most wide-spread areas of student reflections are: 1. syllabus (7%), instruction (36%), learning process (43%) and assessment process (14%).

Beckett & Slater investigated student experiences in the course of implementation of portfolio framework through analysis of learners’ written reflections. The findings show that only 1/5 of 73 participants enjoyed English course work using such mechanisms of assessment,1/4 had undetermined feelings and nearly 57 % thought that it had negative effects on the process of education. Many students simply were dropped out the educational process since they thought that English courses must follow traditional schema of linguistic exercises in reading, speaking and shouldn’t include nonlinguistic tasks. Among other drawbacks of portfolio assessment emphasized by researchers one should mention such as lower comparability, reliability and difficulty in ensuring standard testing conditions. Besides this, scoring problem is also evident because it need training of additional staff and is more time-consuming as noted for instance by such authors as Gomer (2001). According to the same author, there exist definite misconception between English teachers and learners on the importance and efficiency of various skills improvement activities. Learners often rate grammar exercises, pronunciation and their error correction higher than their educators and teachers do, who are more interested and comfortable with individual and group exercises and courses and performing various communicational tasks. As Gomer (2001) shows the correlation between teachers and students understanding of the learning process is 50%. According to McDonough (2002) English learners also dislike listening to English tapes and English manual’s dialogue and in contrary preferred such priorities as reading, translation, speaking and considered them as of being useful for the educational process.

Skills Development: Academic reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Grammar and other fields

Skills development represents separate part of analysis in the view of English for Specific purposes course construction. Governing from the course’s objectives and students’ English background and capabilities an emphasis must be put on harmonic development of English skills in grammar, reading, vocabulary and other components of English proficiency. Special exercises for each element of English skills development are elaborated and are properly represented in the literature on the topic. It is important to note that adequate correlation between elements of English skills development in the tertiary education often depends on many factors such as future job orientations, current student’s skills, his cultural and language background etc. All this must be carefully evaluated in the view of finding effective combination of exercises and course stages.

Hickman (2004) argues that the development of English skills in tertiary education must focus on such as academic, language and cognitive development which are regarded as the main precondition for success in tertiary education taking into consideration current standardized patterns of assessment of student’s performance in English for Specific Purposes. The ensemble of necessary skills can be according to the author’s stance be characterized as Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills. These skills include those associated with comprehending and utilizing academic language in various forms depending on the students’ backgrounds and professional preferences. According to the author comprehension and vocabulary development are the centerpiece of successful English language education.

There is an evident correlation between student’s level of vocabulary knowledge and his/her reading abilities (fluency). Some other specific fields of English proficiency include the development of English-language utilization flexibility; improving vocabulary through context; definition of importance or irrelevance of special text situations, phrases or words; development of speaking skills through oral description of the text read and making dialogue with other students and overall fostering students’ conversations tied with text. These capabilities and skills are regarded by the majority of research into these issues as critical means of developing an improving English proficiency and fluency. Various practices for improvement of English skills in the secondary and tertiary education are presented in the literature on this topic.

Ulanoff and Pucci (1999) postulate the importance of mobilizing and drawing on student’s background language knowledge which aims to support comprehensive skills and vocabulary development. According to Hickman (2004) advise educators to integrate teaching of the word meaning with context and content area and other conditions of their use, rather than studying separate list of various word definitions. In this view it is significantly important to provide activities showing words connection and interrelation as well as providing them with adequate semantic mapping and analyzing world family relations and associations. Besides this an important practice for students studying English for Specific Purposes concerns the developing of skills for reflective notions assimilation – i.e. those notions that are very difficult to visualize. This would develop the capacities in student’s for thinking English language mental structures and schemas. Related to this practice is the exercises aimed to providing organized discussions with students directed at mobilization of received vocabulary potential in speaking, dialogues and answering teachers’ questions. Another important issue concerning developing English skills may seem to deal with marginal issue at first sight but in reality a quite important one – namely, cultural issues. Cultural approach to English education focuses on the importance of providing relevant cultural material in the view of meeting needs and specifics of culturally diverse students, which is very important tool in the modern multicultural society.

Beck et al. (2002) propose a comprehensive approach focusing on the essence of whole word definition rather than paying attention to parts which can be sometimes misleading for the English Language Learners. Their book Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction gives contrast for two definitions of the word ‘meticulous’. In the case when the word is straightforwardly defined as “being ex extremely careful about small details’, English learners are likely to focus on the word ‘careful’ often used in other contexts and meanings than the word ‘meticulous’. Therefore, the students may be disoriented. Thus, authors suggest that more accurate and semantically articulated definitions of the words must be articulated by the teachers in order to provide students with comprehensive and differentiated vocabulary, which would utilize right words and meanings depending on the context of their usage. The same is true of idiomatic utterances and more complex syntactical structures.

Extensive research in the analyzed field had shown the crucial role of reading in the development of English skills. As Tran (2006) suggests that extensive reading in tertiary English learning has to major characteristics – reading and discussing a large scope of reading material and focusing on the meaning of text rather than on language. Extensive reading especially in English for future economists, technical specialists etc. helps to develop articulated sight vocabulary, special terms definitions and meaning and the overall knowledge of target language. Success for English Language Learners making extensive reading exercises on the permanent basis was reported by such researchers as Herrel and Jordan (2004), and Pang (2005).

According to Eskey (2005), one of the leading specialists in English for Specific research states that for the extensive reading to be effective text must be chosen slightly more difficult than current students’ capabilities. This of course presupposes preliminary assessment of students’ performance in different components of English proficiency. After this is done teacher may feel comfortable to engage his/her students in the reading exercises. The more new words are learnt in specific context the most appropriate for the tertiary education purposes the more effective extensive reading will be. Texts chosen must go in line with students’ specialty but not necessarily reduced to it. For the second-language students the scope of material utilized in reading exercises may vary from fiction to serious scientific texts with difficult terminology. The majority of the abovementioned authors argue that educators must pay more attention to authentic text though if it is appropriate adopted text may be used.

Obvious connection between reading and vocabulary development sheds light on the role of instruction in English for Specific Purposes education. As research proves the explicit instruction helps develop good English language skills especially the scope of vocabulary. Eskey research shows that mechanical learning of words without context and reading exercises is not very efficient in terms of enhancing vocabulary. It is important to note that students studying by the means of interactive instructions are more likely to assimilate more new words and thus enhance their vocabulary than those studying without specific instructions. This approach proves to be effective in terms of making vocabulary reserve more flexible so that student can utilize it speaking and comprehension exercises. This is specifically important for technical, computing and medical language educations which are the most common orientations in the English for specific purpose courses. The same is true for learning vocabulary by means of listening, which help student develop language audio perception techniques and skills.


The literature overview provided us with abundant and relevant material concerning the issue of developing English courses in the tertiary education. The purpose of literature overview was revealing multifaceted structure of English for Specific Purpose courses and current debates in academic world concerning future innovations in this field. Such issues as the role of English for Specific Purposes in tertiary education, methodology and approaches to syllabus design and curriculum development were analyzed. Different researchers as the overview shows proceed from different theoretical standpoints in curriculum development and syllabus design and thus, the review attempted to analyze their relevance for English tertiary education. Moreover such issue as method of students’ performance assessment was tackled. Various approaches and assessment techniques proposed by practitioners and researchers were discussed in the view of finding the most adequate. Finally, such important aspect as English skills development extensively presented in the literature was analyzed with the focus on the methodology of improvement grammar, reading, comprehension, communicative skills in the English learners. The analysis of the current debates in the literature couldn’t also help without addressing the issue of cultural education which shapes current English courses in tertiary education. It shouldn’t be regarded as a secondary and unimportant issue because it is located in the core of the modern system of language education.


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