English Teacher Article Rt/L1.2a, 3a, 5a; Rs/L1.1a; Rw/L1.2a

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The UK government has been plugging its ESOL curriculum for some time and the materials designed to accompany it are coming through now, and are even worse than I had imagined. Unit 1 of the Level 1 course, which is not beginner level, but high intermediate, starts with a unit on 'Life in the UK'.

It lists the skills students will practise and asks them tick the more important ones. The very first is the ability to 'understand and give a factual account of social trends'. I honestly find it hard to believe that many students are flocking to FE Colleges and other places in order to brush up their ability to 'give a factual account of social trends'. The other choices for Listening and speaking are to 'listen to explanations and presentations' and 'giving and following a talk'. The aim of the unit clear; students are going to learn about talks and presentations. In 'Reading and writing' it states 'plan a talk' as one of the choices.

In the right-hand side of the page, they have a column entitled 'Skills code', and here the real nightmare begins. The Skills code for 'understand and give a factual account of social trends' is 'Lr/L1.1a; Sc/LT.3a, 3b, 3e' (I kid you not). The title of this blog is the Skills code for 'read about statistics and social trends'.

The codes are, of course, references to the ESOL Curriculum. The materials have been mapped in. However, what does this look like through a student's eyes? Most text books have indexes with columns with each unit broken down into grammar, structure, vocabulary, skills, themes, etc. From this, a student can look ahead to what they are going to be learning over the year in a plain form. But what about 'Rt/L1.2a, 3a, 5a; Rs/L1.1a; Rw/L1.2a'? To me it's just gibberish, so what is it to a student? Are they seriously expected to go to the curriculum and work out what they mean? Do many teachers know what they mean without looking them up? How does such a string of letters help a student? I cannot for the life of me think that these Skills codes are of any use whatsoever; they just give it a pseudoscientific gloss and make it look mysterious and supposedly impressive.

As a warm-up, students get a picture of a family in their living room fifty years ago and one of today to compare and discuss. It also tells the student what the aim of the unit is and what their project work is to be:

At the end of this unit you will choose an area to research relating to life in the UK. You will then give a talk and write a short report.

And that's it for the first page. Two photos to discuss, prioritising the skills to practise, along with the incomprehensible Skills codes, and an indication of the task ahead. This content-lite approach runs through the materials. Even at advanced level, listening exercises are frequently based simply around word\phrase recognition, rather than comprehension. Grammar exists in tiny sections, without much of a core, mentioned in passing rather than tackled. These books look grim to me. I shall try using some next week to see how they go.

Categories: General

6 Comments

Your account seems very dire. If there is not much motivation now, then just looking at a code like the example you gave would be enough to put a student off from the start. And where is the start? That is not clear.
If you, a teacher, are discouraged having to follow this illogical unrealistic ESOL Curriculum,
then however hard you might try to hide it, your students are bound to pick up on your vibes. What would you tell a student if he said, "You're our teacher, we just don't get this stuff. What do you think about it?"
If you said, "It's revolutionary, it's wonderful, I fully endorse it. A fresh breeze and welcome at that", then you (according to your misgivings above) would either lie or tell the truth. Since you are highly unlikely to tell a lie, how would you field such a question? I'd imagine the question would arise at some point.
If a teacher thinks the method/curriculum is awful, then how can students have confidence in it?And by extension, their teacher?
What about parents? Would they perhaps revolt?
If the Ministry has sunk a lot of money into this, then there can hardly be a probationary period.
It's the fleeting, "oh, by the way, here's a bit of grammar" that worries me.
Good luck, Tdol:-)

I've decided to avoid the question by not using the materials. Other teachers have taken the same route. Listening exercises consist of ticking things you here- one is a list of numbers to tick- but where is any comprehension being checked?
This is teaching by bureaucracy and, as there are plenty of good materials on the market, I shall ignore the government materials.

Tdol, I don't quite understand how you can avoid using the materials provided. Could you explain a little, please, or is it just so bureaucratically complicated?
By "materials", I understand texts/papers/(bureaucratically regulated ones with the codes all over them), and an accountability of their use to the Ministry. If you bypass the materials, (and thus, I presume, the accountability) would not the Ministry send in a wizened , trunkless, souless bureaucrat with a fat briefcase to observe and report that teachers were having the nerve to ignore their codes etc?
If you don't use "their" materials", don't you have to create your own? If you can bypass the materials then this gives you some freedom and control in the classroom, but for Bureaucracy, this is shockingly revolutionary, isn't it?;-) Is no one going to pop in unexpectedly to see that you're not all doing your own thing?
;-)

I've never let that sort of thing trouble me.

Hello,

Is there a link on the internet where this skills codes are clearly explained or do we have to order the book?

I'm using the Inside out, Macmillan, series. I do have the mapping but it's all Greek to me.

Thank you

You can download pdf versions here: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/readwriteplus/ESOL
And there's an interactive version here:
http://www.dfes.gov.uk/curriculum_esol/

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