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A learner-centred syllabus

September 14, 2006

Surely it is the responsibility of the teaching staff to devise the syllabus?

Hello again.

I had a lively discussion recently about how far it is feasible to have a learner-centred syllabus. Some people felt very strongly that students did not have the necessary professional expertise to be involved in syllabus design. However, while the teachers...

...will need to plan the structural, lexical and functional input of the syllabus, there is no reason at all why students should not plan the topics.

I suggest that each new class should have a sheet of paper with a series of concentric circles. At the centre the student writes his or her name. The teacher can then address each circle layer in turn. The first circle relate to personal information. Around that circle the students put the kind of personal details they need to express: name, age, sex, nationality, physical appearance, likes and dislikes, aims and ambitions, past history, achievements. The next circle relates to home, family and relationships. The third circle relates to the actual environment of the student: town, country, geography, systems in the town and country, infrastructure, history, etc. In other words as a circle is added so is a generic heading and students can fill in the details to suit their needs.

Teachers can then collate these and at the end of a lesson, can point out how the lesson content has related to a topic area. If the class has to follow a specific course, book, then the topics selected by the students will be a guide for the teacher showing where to omit material that does suit the learners’ preferences and where to add in material to fill gaps.

Of course, with groups there will be both overlap and individual preferences. The trick is to deal with common topics first and individual topics by negotiation. Let’s say two students wish to be able to talk about and read texts concerning endangered species and three have expressed an interest in the history of medicine. First try to see how these topics might be widened into general interest. If the group is not prepared to adopt the minority topics, then let them do individual and group work on their specific interests.

I would love to hear from schools that give learners choice in this way.

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