Chapter One of James Dean Brown’s “Elements Of Language Curriculum” describes a system of teaching that classifies all teaching activities into syllabuses, approaches, techniques, packaged pedagogies, or exercises. The author then explores the roles played by these categories in the systematic design of teaching curriculum, which is characterized by specific elements such as goals, objectives, needs assessment, materials, testing, and program evaluation. Borrowing from renowned writers, Brown observes that teachers of language have over the years been forced to adapt by pursuing baffling terms, which reflect the activities they engage in and their overall beliefs.
Brown attempts to trace the patterns of change that have occurred in language teaching, particularly the syllabus. Borrowing from an article, Brown outlines various methods of organization that have been witnessed in the history of syllabus design: situational syllabus, structural syllabuses, and national syllabuses. In categorizing language teaching activities to establish a pattern, Brown deciphers a trend. He concludes that teachers have demonstrated a pattern of taking sequential and static steps in developing curriculum. They set off with assumptions and theory of the language learning and then design requirements for the curriculum. He, however, observes that efficient teachers seek new ways of doing things by adjusting delivery in light of new information.
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While challenging the rigid nature of language teaching categories outlined by other authors, Brown outlines four categories of dividing language-teaching activities: how to define the needs of students: ways of designing instructions to meet these needs; how to present lessons; and ways of putting lessons learned into practice. He identifies the communicative approach, which champions students to take the center-stage in language-learning activities by recognizing them as pragmatics. Although there exist several approaches to language teaching, Brown notes that a teacher must organize their syllabus by deciding on what to teach in chronological order. For instance, in designing a topical syllabus, a teacher may organize topics to be learned in the order of importance, or relevance to practice if designing functional syllabuses.
Upon the development of syllabuses, lessons are then presented to students, and according to Brown, there are specific techniques that teachers might use to present language to students. He, however, notes that the specific needs of students dictate which type of techniques are best suited to meeting those needs. The author then outlines examples of techniques that might me used to present language to students, including discussion, bridging activities, object-centered lesson, verb-centered lesson, and directed dialogue among others. For Brown effective language learning does not end in presentation, as learners must practise what they are being taught. While acknowledging that language presentation and language practice often overlap in good teaching, Brown argues that there are specific ways of language practice. He suggests viewing practice methods as exercises that allow for testing students upon completion of the unit. Copying, chain dialogue, matching, replacement, and speed writing are just some of the ways that language practice can be done.
The notion that syllabuses, techniques, exercises, and approaches occur simultaneously demands teachers always remain flexible and keep their options open. In so doing, Brown argues that teachers learn to pick from the available options, in what is often referred to as eclecticism. Eclecticism, according to the author is the practice of making informed decisions aided by availability of approaches, techniques, exercises, and syllabuses. While acknowledging that this approach has often been labeled chaotic and disorganized, Brown observes that effective eclecticism is characterized by rationality and making informed choices from an informed position and with experience.
Brown acknowledges that language teaching is a daunting task given the several and equally important choices that teachers must contend with in their teaching activities. Whether a teacher chooses to use only one approach or combine a number of presentation approaches, the bottom-line is that all decisions are made to help the students practice language. Even so, decisions made by teachers are primarily political in nature as they dictate what students do as they learn. The ultimate challenge, however, is fitting techniques, exercises, approaches, and syllabuses within a framework that ensures efficiency in learning given the varying needs of students.
Brown provides a framework that professional can use in language teaching. In his view, the framework is independent of the techniques, exercises, syllabuses, and approaches described before. Although Brown overs an insight into what he considers as good teaching, he appreciates the indispensable role of teaching professionals in choosing a suitable method that reflects the specific needs of their students. Although the framework, according to the author, is independent of four language-teaching activities, it is vital to achieving a finer focus of language teaching activities. It helps teachers make informed decisions on viable curriculum activities.
On curriculum development, Brown offers that, it is primarily a political activity given the number of teachers involved in the process. In his view, curriculum development provides a platform for administrators and teachers to pursue a compromise. He views curriculum design as a process consisting of people and operations that enable teaching and learning. He then explores how curriculum development has evolved in the past thirty years. As the chapter concludes, the author highlights the importance of program evaluation in determining the effectiveness of teaching activities and offers examples of language programs in Guangzhou English Language Center at Zhongshan University and the University of Hawaii’s English Language Institute.
From reading Chapter One of James Dean Brown’s “Elements Of Language Curriculum,” readers can identify a clear line of thought held by the author. Brown throughout this chapter is attempting to offer a comprehensive overview of the various activities and phases involved in developing sound, rational, and effective language teaching program. To do so, the author offered an overview of how practices and beliefs among teachers have changed over the years to accommodate the ever-changing needs of theirs students. While acknowledging the existence of a myriad of teaching and learning activities, his resounding argument is that the teacher must make an informed and rational decision as to what is suitable for his or her students.
In program design and implementation, Brown has the learners and their special interests at heart. Therefore, Brown emphasizes the need to take students needs in curriculum development despite teachers assuming a somewhat political role in the process. Overall, teachers and administrators have to contend with several approaches and techniques to teaching, and it is upon them to decide which is best given the circumstances. In exploring the various theories, practices, and beliefs that teachers have adopted and adapted over the years, the author intends to communicate a particular message: that approaches and beliefs may differ, but choice of teaching tools have always been based on the perceived needs of the students. In presenting this view, Brown offers that the influence of the student on program design has remained constant over the years, as student needs dictate the way that language teaching is conducted.
Brown’s approach to language teaching and curriculum development borrows significantly from other models. The key to designing an effective curriculum is involving teachers in the process, as they have first-hand knowledge of their students’ needs. From reading chapter one, one would argue that students take a center stage role in language teaching activities, as the failure to capture their needs renders all efforts hopeless.