Planning for Success at London Central
Our Assistant Director of Studies at St Giles London Central, Andy Gaskins, explains how their new planning process will work and how it will benefit students.
Language schools in the UK welcome students from different backgrounds and cultures with different course lengths and different goals. This makes for a vibrant and dynamic learning environment but it also throws up a huge challenge; how can we plan courses to meet the individual needs of such a diverse range of students?
At St Giles International we have always believed that our learner-centred approach enables us to rise to this challenge. Classes are given long-term structure through the use of CEFR based syllabi and published coursebooks and our two-week cycle with regular testing and one-to-one feedback sessions allows teachers to track individual student progress, and to tailor lesson content accordingly.
Over the last couple of years, and particularly following feedback from EAQUALS, we have been looking for ways to improve the process of planning by involving students more directly. Research (e.g. Ushioda, 2008) shows that students who are involved in choosing course content will be more satisfied and committed with higher levels of motivation.
We are also very aware of the role that learning to learn has on student outcomes, with research by the Education Endowment Foundation (2018) rating it as one of the most effective ways of helping students to succeed. Students who can reflect on their own performance, identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, become more effective learners, and make faster and more personally relevant progress. Consequently, whilst reviewing how course planning works at St Giles, we have also been looking at ways to help our students think about how they are learning.
The result of this work is our new two-week plan, which, following extensive piloting, launches across the school this September.
The new two-week plan is designed to be used in three ways:
1. To plan course content in consultation with the class
2. To track coverage of content by both the class as a whole and by individual students
3. To evaluate learning
The most obvious difference is the layout: rather than planning each day separately, the new system sets out topics, language and skills to be covered over the two week period. This represents what actually happens in the classroom, allowing teachers to spend as much or as little time as is required to effectively teach the whole class. The new plan should also raise student awareness of separate language competencies, as set out in the CEFR, so that opportunities for step-by-step progress are more visible and thus more often achieved.
The teacher creates a plan based on student feedback, coursebook content and their own observations of student performance. This plan is then shared, and following Breen and Littlejohn (2000), students and teacher discuss what the focus of the work should be, and also think about why students are learning the language and how the learning should be carried out. Although this can be challenging, research suggests that once students get used to working in this way it can bring real benefits. As well as having a positive impact on motivation, involving the learners in decisions about course content helps to raise awareness of learning goals and is an excellent authentic task.
Once the content and learning pathways for the two weeks have been agreed, students are given copies of the plan so that they can reflect on their own progress over the two weeks. As content is covered students rate their confidence with skills and language points. This can be done as a class, leading to discussion and alerting the teacher to problems when more time may need to be spent on particular items.
At the end of each two week period, the plan is used during one-to-one feedback to evaluate student progress, highlighting areas that may need to be revisited in the following weeks. This then feeds back into the plan for the next two weeks.
Over time, the plans will build together to show students how they are progressing, both in terms of language and skills covered and in their growing confidence with the CEFR competencies. It is hoped that this increased awareness, both of course content and their own progress will in turn make the students into more pro-active and more successful learners, leaving St Giles not only with better English but also with the skills required to continue their learning when they return home.
Breen, M. and Littlejohn, A. (2000) The significance of negotiation. In Breen, M. and Littlejohn, A. (2000) Classroom decision-making, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Educational Endowment Foundation (2018) retrieved from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/meta-cognition-and-self-regulation/
Ushioda, E. (2008) Motivation and good language learners. In Griffiths, C. (ed.), Lessons from good language learners (pp. 19-34), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press