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.